Thursday, December 31, 2015

Best of 2015 - The Epic Conclusion




Ok, time to finish thing and put 2015 in the books. Follow me.

11.  I AM BIG BIRD



There was a documentary a few years ago about the guy who famously played Elmo and how he was one of the last few muppeteers to work under Henson that were still around and working today. Well we all know how THAT worked out. Carroll Spinney, who has been playing the character since 1969 was right in the middle of the Henson renaissance but it’s not a story of a group of people changing the world. It’s the story of a single man who felt like he never felt like he was part of the gang while the character he was playing was touching the hearts of millions of children. His life story is fascinating, overwhelming and a little bittersweet. I mean, they reveal that Big Bird was supposed to go up in the space shuttle Challenger! Can you imagine the unbearable tragedy of explaining to your child what happened to Big Bird? Thankfully he is still doing what he does, into his 90’s. A stalwart humble figure that has spent decades making people happy.

10. STEVE JOBS



Aaron Sorkin reinvented the biopic and people didn’t seem to pay attention. Even with all it’s behind the scenes problems, changing directors, changing studios, changing leads, the script was still served superbly. Everyone wanted Leonardo DiCaprio or Christian Bale to play Jobs and that isn’t hard to imagine but Michael Fassbender got the job. He’s great but not the ideal choice. WELL, IT TURNS OUT HE PROBABLY DID IT BETTER THEM ALL THEMS. His performance brings out that sympathy to Jobs’ cold personality that we saw in all the interviews and documentaries. The structure of only showing the unveiling of key products in his career was something I had read about for years and was always excited to see it but to anchor the entire thing with the relationship with his daughter is what really got me. I’ve read up a lot on Jobs and his denial of paternity was always gutwrenching. But the fact that he named one of his computers the LISA is just one of those real complex emotions that the movie tries to decode and I loved every minute of it. I was planning to explain to the people I saw the movie with about the amazing Apple Newton joke that The Simpsons once had but the movie flat out showed the clip. This is being at the top of your game if you’re a filmmaker.

9. TANGERINE



I love the LA story. Most people that live and work in LA are not from here and resent every minute they have to spend in the sprawl and take every opportunity they can to leave it. If you ever spent more than 10 minutes in the East Hollywood area, you’ve been privy to some kind of madness or weird altercation, especially if the sun isn’t out. Usually you just leave the area and hope for the best. This movie is that area, and you can’t leave. Because it’s about the people that are that area and they can’t leave either. At one point, the movie spends a long shot walking down the bad part of Santa Monica Blvd. and you feel it. It’s like the opening of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, feeling the burn of something people ACTUALLY went through from the safety of your plush movie theater seat. Unfolding on these streets, is a story very human story of friendship and loyalty in the harshest of conditions. You probably will never know this kind of life and you wonder what could be gained by getting a glimpse but to me, that’s the entire point of life and cinema. Gathering people’s stories in your head and getting something from them. As impressive as the movie was, the final credit was that the entire thing was shot on an iPhone, which absolutely stunned me. From the filmmakers of previous Top Ten list dweller, STARLET, it offers another look at human beings you probably wouldn’t give a second thought to.

8. SHAUN THE SHEEP



Aardman, the studio that gave us CHICKEN RUN and WALLACE AND GROMIT return to give us this movie, apparently based off a kid’s show that has run for several seasons. But you don’t need to know that. You just have to enjoy the antics and action of one of the best streamlined emotional and hysterical stories of the year. The simplicity is one of it’s more appealing aspects. Not a single word of dialogue is spoken yet the humor is flawless. It has hands down the best long con joke of the year. There is something about British farm life that I will always call to me.

7. JURASSIC WORLD



JURASSIC PARK is one of my top 5 favorite films of all time. I have read the book several times. I have many curiously emotional attachments to the ride of the same name. I’ve seen sequels miss the mark and I was ready for nostalgia to just get me through this life without every getting that magic repackaged and shoved into my eyes again. I loved being wrong about this. A wonderful idea for a sequel with fun new characters and exciting action and a cheer worthy finale was one of the funnest theater experiences of my life. It’s June and I’m watching raptors jump into battle with their Chris Pratt trainer. This is the way it ought to be.  Michael Giacchino’s brilliant score emulating the themes of John Williams while adding intense new ones encapsulate how well these ideas have been given a shot in the arm and are revitalized and ready to tear our arms out once again. It’s kind of worth it for Star Wars to suck to give me ammo to all those JW naysayers out there. Hail to the king, baby.

6. DANNY COLLINS



Al Pacino has unfortunately spent a lot of time being in bad movies over the last decade or so. That means that his comeback was always destined to be lost in the shuffle but I’m here to tell you here it is. His very own JERRY MAGUIRE shot at redemption on and off the screen. I hesitate to tell you much more about it, because a great story unfolds, and this does a great job of it. All the way to it’s brilliant ending. I’ll just persuade you with the fact that Supergirl is in it beaming and giggling and who doesn’t need more of that in their lives?

5. INSIDE OUT



I kept wanting INSIDE OUT to get darker. Get a little harder to watch. To twist the knife a little more. Pixar has been coasting for a while and this was the movie that brought them back to greatness but I always want them to go a little further. But for the first time, I realized why they didn’t. This young girl, who’s spectrum of emotion is getting more complicated and intricate, like everyone, is going to feel pain in more diverse ways in her life. And we don’t have to drop it all on her now, even though that happens to far too many people. The beginning of it all is enough, and the message that even though the feelings will get become tougher to process, and maybe too many to handle, that the ways of coping and figuring them out will also be abundant as well. Pixar has a way of making you miss the characters and really hope they end up okay. I wouldn’t mind a sequel where Riley gets older and they have to deal with heavier stuff. Or maybe a prequel where he emotions go to college or something. Wait, scratch that one.

4. GRANDMA



Lily Tomlin deserves an Oscar this year and way more attention than she’s getting. I fear that most of the young and attractive people will remember her from yelling at David O. Russell on YouTube. But she was nice enough to remind us why we’re all dumb for not thinking about her more. She plays an actual old person who doesn’t rap or smoke pot in this movie (or maybe she does smoke pot, but she doesn’t make a big deal about it) with a history that she unknowingly starts exposing her granddaughter to as they scour the town looking for money to pay for her abortion. If anything, the academy should at least give her the “body of work” Oscar for snubbing her legendary performance as Ms. Hathaway in THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES movie.

3. THE HATEFUL EIGHT



I’ve reviewed this very recently, so the only thing I can add is to tell you that this movie plants seeds in you that start growing right away and you end up feasting on the juicy fruit for days. We are lucky to have Quentin Tarantino making movies. We are lucky he cares so much about the exhibition of film. We are lucky he cares about film because I get to watch so many great films at his theater on glorious celluloid. Those of us that love movies are always rewarded with him. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

2. THE INTERN



I’m so happy that Hollywood has focused so much on non-romantic relationships over the last couple of years. The idea that we can make each other better has always inspired me and kept me going. This is a movie like BIG or PLEASANTVILLE that transcends its premise and gives you something beyond an extended joke. Robert DeNiro has decided he’s going to do comedies until he hits the grave but the one or two light dramas he’s done in the last few years have really blown me away. Who knew mid-level energy DeNiro is where it’s at son. And Anne Hathaway, my great love, bogged down by a bunch of Oscar bait nonsense pays homage and builds on the phantom career of the person who was gonna make movies like PRINCESS DIARIES her whole life. I like the version of reality where THAT happens. Despite everything that this movie does, despite my breaking out in tears at it’s beauty, there is another film that grabbed me and wouldn’t let go for months on end…

1.     MAD MAX: FURY ROAD



I love George Miller. He’s a goddamn beast. And he had a hand in the BABE movies so he has a heart too. Who knew that in his 70’s he’d be THIS hungry? Hungry to jump back in his world and slap shot your brain into a goal made of razor wire and dipped in Taco Bell fire sauce. Imperetor Furiosa. Fuck yes. She lost an arm and she’s willing to lose everything else to get her women to freedom. Max, floats on in like a post-apocalyptic Forrest Gump, and one of three great 2015 performances by the flawless Tom Hardy, has nothing left to lose and together they both reach purpose. And along the way is the coolest imagery and stunts of the year. The second I saw the Pole Cats in the trailer, I knew I was gonna be hooked. When you can be convinced that they actually murdered people in order to accomplish stunts than you’ve done your job as a filmmaker. And it’s one of those movies that only gets more kinetic and potent upon each viewing. That rarely happens with me but in the 3 times I watched it in a theater this year it only became harder to see where the seams are. There isn’t a second of this movie where you aren’t sucked in and there isn’t a moment or action taken for granted. It is the most satisfying of the classically told cinema epics I’ve seen in a long time and it’s the fourth in a franchise. I feel it changed the way we should look at “reboots” in the way BATMAN BEGINS invented them. It’s everything we needed to see and hear at exactly the right time. To me, nothing can eclipse the accomplishment this was this year. Even Robert DeNiro watching Gene Kelly on the television and realizing he’s having a moment he thought he’d never have again. Even Joy (the emotion, not the Jennifer Lawrence character) realize that a memory can change context over time. Or a man riding a motorcycle with his trained raptors to take down a genetically enhanced super dino. Or a girl selling Fruit Brute ice cream. It bests every great moment I saw in a movie this year but I had a hell of time seeing them fight for the top of the heap. I can’t wait to see what will be better than all of those things so I’m never gonna stop looking for it.

- D

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Best of 2015 - Part 1


It’s that time again for the guy who saw too many movies to tell you which ones he thought were good enough to talk about and gush over. I will say that these movies are good but I think the year suffered from a real lack of stand-outs. The best this year didn’t move me like other year’s but that tends to happen during years with so many big anticipated releases. Let’s start with some honorable mentions:

DRUNK STONED BRILLIANT DEAD: THE STORY OF THE NATIONAL LAMPOON



We are probably all way past the prime of any of us being someone that actually read this when it was out. But the importance of not only the content but the talent behind it sent shockwaves throughout the comedy world still being felt today and probably for a long time coming. The institutions of Saturday Night Live and MAD Magazine owe a lot from this publication and all that’s left of it’s legacy is about 1000 terrible direct to video Will Friedle movies with it’s name on it. They discovered so much talent that went on to become icons of the industry and they were all pilfered and pillaged away toward more successful and notable ventures. Now their bittersweet story finally gets told. I sort of wish it was available to me when I was in my teens as a way to continue my humor mag education. I could have really benefitted from that vicious bite as a lad.

KRAMPUS



My era of horror preference is the 1980’s. That’s when I was most frightened of what they could do to my impressionable imagination. The video boxes told entire stories in my head that were far worse than what was actually inside. For most cases, as I would find out years later. Christmas horror is a particular favorite of mine because of the juxtaposition of hopeless against the background of the season of hope. KRAMPUS is inspired from this era and does it’s inspiration proud. It never forgets the fun and humor in the ridiculously tragic circumstances and takes delicious pleasure in the tried and true horror principle. This is all your fault.

SPECTRE



I haven’t loved a Bond movie in almost 20 years. I love the franchise and the characters. I’ve seen every (LICENSED!!!) Bond movie made. I of course have a taste for a certain kind of Bond. The fun of being a fan is that it will always steer back to what you loved about the movies eventually when it gets tired of being a certain way. Bond has finally given up on his self importance and learned to have fun again. Learned how to do great cinematic set pieces again. And use its strengths again. It may have veered toward it’s classic sensibilities a bit too early for everyone else’s tastes, but tell them to meet me in the toilet of the facility and we’ll hash it out there.

CREED



This has become a year of the return of classic heroes. Not everyone made it through but one of the best premises managed to get executed beautifully even with a change of creative team. All of the heart and soul of the franchise beginnings return through new eyes, and Rocky Balboa, the man that has been getting knocked around for his whole life, has a new reason to keep punching.

WHERE TO INVADE NEXT



Michael Moore returns after five years to do something we’ve seen him do a little bit of in previous films but really hammers it home with this one. In this, he goes to different counties to “invade” and take the ideals and practices of the country back home to America to use. He wants us to have 8 weeks paid vacation. Better nutrition for our public schools. Better prisons and better acknowledgement of our checkered past as a nation. All of the ideas these counties have all came from American principles and it’s a very entertaining reminder that we can always do better. There’s a sequence in a Norwegian prison that is right out of a Christopher Guest movie and made me laugh like a maniac. Can’t even credit Moore for it. It’s reality.

20. THE DEATH OF “SUPERMAN LIVES”: WHAT HAPPENED?



Another documentary and it’s not just about a version of a 90’s Superman movie that didn’t happen. It captured a time and era of filmmaking that brought forth the edgy and gritty epics of the 2000’s due to it being the stark opposite of complete ridiculousness. The Tim Burton directed Nicolas Cage starrer based off the massively popular “Death of Superman” storyline that was not only the height of the sales for the comic book industry but also brought about the major implosion it has since to fully recover from. The movie’s story mirrors this pretty closely. Not only was it the corporate brand emphasized committee filmmaking that caused the destruction of this movie, it was that it was going to be yet another high concept oddity in a steady stream of high concept oddities that failed miserably. Even though I followed every leaked bit of concept art or script drafts or costume tests throughout the years, this movie still told me tons of new information of just how close we got to a movie that for better or worse, could have been talked about for decades after. I mean it was never made, and we’re doing just that.

19. PEANUTS



The Peanuts gang was one of the many beloved batch of characters that came back to us this year sans its creator at the helm. But due diligence and capturing of a certain spirit lead to a successful return. Peanuts seems to be the one exception when it comes to riding art and commerce harmoniously. They are critically lauded for changing the medium they bore from with an exceptional style and wit that cannot be duplicated, and they also appear in insurance commercials. It would be easy to sell these kids out, to change them for these app obsessed kids but they don’t need to. They are timeless and still get more character added to them in this. How do you make Snoopy even better than he was? They did it. They plussed Snoopy.


18.  THE AGE OF ADALINE



Blake Lively gets struck by lightning in the 1920’s and has gained the power to stop aging. I’m not entirely sure this isn’t a documentary based off her real life. Having to restart your life every couple of years is the nomadic life that I know all too well. This is a real dirge of the lonely. Of the empathetic. And the pain of the abundance of time. Blake Lively really gets to do her best work here. I mean, for Blake Lively. I really respect when an actor's personality shines in a character and even though she's a robot, she's a pleasant one. And this is the best Harrison Ford performance of the last few decades. And certainly of the year. It feels like if Philip K. Dick was a hopeless romantic and wrote this. There is a decadence to emptiness that feels like if Lana Del Rey was directing movies, they would be like this. This is what I wanted Benjamin Button to be. How come only severely hot people are the ones stuck with the aging diseases?

17. UNFRIENDED



Last year we got a real boon of quality horror. This year, not so much. But we did get this, which was fun and tense and actually frightening. They attacked us at our most vulnerable. In our beds with our laptops. The premise of this being unfolding all in the screen of a laptop is so powerful that it was also a Modern Family episode this season and it made me a fan of that show for life. I feel this will hold up to the passing in time in the way that horror used the phone to terrorize us. This one uses our warm inviting screens. People think I don’t use video chat because I don’t want to remind people my head is shaped like Gumby’s but the real reason is that I don’t want this to happen to me. Okay, maybe both reasons.

16. INFINITELY POLAR BEAR



I have a friend named Ameesh. I have probably told you stories about Ameesh. They are always wild and hilarious. I am convinced Mark Ruffalo found and decided to base this character based of good ol’ Ameesh. I can’t prove it but I just know it in my heart. This is a movie about a father who has had a mental break down getting back into the groove of taking care of his kids in the 1970’s. It doesn’t always work out and could get kind of crazy. And not burn the soufflé crazy either. Characters that have parents you come to resent but can’t really truly dismiss also speaks directly to my inner most kindlings. Mark Ruffalo racks up another amazing performance that makes you even wonder why you’re surprised, but it still surprises you. Like when we saw his debut in YOU CAN COUNT ON ME fifteen years ago and didn’t know why were so dazzled because he is always surprising, rarely repeats himself and is always sincere. I can’t believe Edward Norton was the Hulk once.

15. CHAPPiE



Sony remade ROBOCOP last year to typically unsatisfying results. This year, they remade ROBOCOP a lot better with CHAPPIE. Built to be a police robot, experimented on to have artificial intelligence and emotions, becomes a liability and then must take on a bigger more military skewed robot in a David and Goliath like square off. Sharlto Copley comes at it from a much more sympathetic angle playing Chappie as a naïve newborn instead of Peter Weller playing the cold and sterile dead soul. What Copley had to do in this movie was pretty magic, and you kind of wish there was more charming robots out there for him to play. Or at least babies. Can he motion capture a baby or something for a LOOK WHO’S TALKING reboot set in post-apocolypic South Africa staring Aqua as Molly and James? Why is Hollywood not paying me?

14. ALL THINGS MUST PASS: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOWER RECORDS



I have never felt such affection for a dead past time as much as I have watching this. If you live in Los Angeles or pretty much near any big cities I can tell you with much certainty that there is most likely a record store around. But it’s not a corporate run discount big box run by hippies that jumped on the big business boom just as it was leaving the station. To feel nostalgic for a company that set up it’s own demise with greed is such an odd occurrence. But the America Dream is built up so much in our heads that we can’t help but admire the story of a small band of trouble makers that managed to put their love and attitude into every corner of the country. I think the 80’s and 90’s, their heyday was also a time where mainstream media as we know it peaked before it got splintered in all kinds of different directions by the internet. There was this manufactured rebellion that us Tower customers all fed into, as we roamed their well stocked aisles of infinite discovery. We are at the point where mourning the tragedy of the baby boomer generation and I think that’s a perfect ending to their story.

13. RICKI AND THE FLASH



A woman abandons her well to do family to play in dive bars in the deep valley. It’s hard to be mad at this woman when Meryl Streep is the one playing her. Then you’re just kind of mad at everyone that gives her a hard time. Her daughter justifiably is furious at her and is having a hard time with life and won’t let her mom show her the attitude it takes to handle a steady diet of humble pie. Diablo Cody has made this list 3 times in a row now, after her debut ended up on the worst list. And we’re not even paying attention to her. We’re really bad at this kind of thing. Blowing our wad on a debut and not even following up with your darling. Well, I am Diablo. And so is Jonathan Demme who really puts his RACHEL GETTING MARRIED chops to good use here. Especially with the musical sequences.

12. BURYING THE EX



Joe Dante was forged in low budget horror and that's where you can find him these days. Not even going through the ringer on a corporate Looney Tunes commercial can ruin him. Even with little money for budget, he can still take a charming group of actors and an outlandish premise and make it one of the most fun rides of the year. There are so many things in this movie that are tailor made to pander to me. Th LA small business. The pop culture obsessed characters. The Alexandra Daddario. I can't even fully recommend this to non-me's but you should really get in my head some time. It's a riot.

Next up, THE TOP 11 OF THE YEAR!

 - D

Monday, December 28, 2015

The Top 5 films of 2015 That Weren’t As Bad As You Thought They Were Gonna Be

Instead of doing a worst list this year, I’ve decided to highlight a few movies that didn’t set the world on fire but were kind of worth your time anyway with

The Top 5 films of 2015 That Weren’t As Bad As You Thought They Were Gonna Be

5. JEM & THE HOLOGRAMS



A lot of purists and fans of the cartoon didn’t even bother to see what Hollywood had cooked up for them. There really shouldn’t even be a Jem movie because the last movement of the needle on Jem interest was sometime before the Soviet Union fell. These aren’t real fans, because if you love Jem, you gotta at least answer the ransom note that Universal was sending to you. If you did, you would have seen that they at least tried to introduce the character and the same elements of the show into a modern live action setting for new kids to enjoy. It was like the SUPER MARIO BROS. movie (which isn’t exactly helping my case) but I find it interesting how to interpret things in new ways and the soundtrack brought the hot traxxx. It’s actually pretty impressive how many parts of the Jem lore they put in here and made make sense. And you really have to give them props when you realize they did all this with a 5 million dollar budget. They also gave you the best end credits tease since Skeletor promised to come back and kill He-Man and you didn’t even care. Sometimes you guys are too spoiled.

4.  50 SHADES OF GREY



This was a big hit primarily because of couples with no imaginations having nothing better to do than to go see this on Valentine’s Day weekend, but if anyone was familiar with the novel on which the movie was based, you’d know that a lot of lambs would have to be sacrificed to make something that even resembled a movie. Well, consider the desolate one please, because they managed to even surpass that high benchmark. A lot of the malarkey was excised and Dakota Johnson delivered a performance that took this from a Lifetime movie to a film truly worthy of a February release. Her, the screenwriter, and the director (all females) managed to tell the story of withdrawn girl with no life experience being thrown into an overwhelming situation and coming out stronger and wiser from it. They even made this doomed romance something that I thought about FOR MONTHS after I saw the movie. In the end, despite all the sex gimmicks, anyone could relate to the problem of loving something that isn’t good for you. Another killer soundtrack here as well. I have no hope for the sequel because the book is based off of is even more insane and the nutty author who hated this movie now has more control. Be thankful it kind of worked once.

3. ALOHA



A lot of you got caught up in the politics of this one, one way or another and never allowed yourself to get into the amazing cast conducted by the Crowe. Entertaining and all sorts of feely even though not at the levels of what he was at in his prime, the cast makes it work. I’ve seen far worse from him and he makes a ground rule double feel like a triple. I also think Emma Stone’s work this year was largely ignored. Going into dicey territory again by working with Woody Allen in IRRATIONAL MAN, she really showed this year that she was worth every bit of ink written about her in 2011 about how she was gonna save us all. We never treat our saviors well, anyway.

2. PAPER TOWNS



The fact that we’re at the point where we need to put teens in a post-apocalyptic society or give them cancer to take them seriously is a sad thing. There have been a very small group of teen films in the last few years with no outward gimmicks that really do a good job of the low-key angsty tone that these kind of movies deserve. The film doesn’t know what it wants to be, but who does when you’re that age? It gets a lot of the feelings right and has two great performances with Nat Wolff and Cara Delevingne. The movie takes her away just as you’re starting to fall for her and she becomes a siren of your own design at that point, and when the movie catches up to her? It’s one of the best bits of reality done this year.

1.     SCOUTS GUIDE TO THE ZOMBIE APOCOLYPSE



Saying that you had any preconceived opinion about this movie is saying too much. Because implies you even heard of this movie before now. But this Paramount Pictures release was kind of dumped into a Halloween slot without warning (prints of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 12 touted a special preview of this movie after the end credits, and didn’t even deliver, that’s how against the movie fate was). But just because Paramount had a movie they didn’t know how to market, didn’t mean they had a bad one. It’s actually one of the more fun surprises of the year. It’s fun, a bit bawdy but often clever and rather satisfying. This really was a movie for a small distributor to build an audience for, but it was instead the small fish in the gigantic ocean planet Splashoria. This is the best possible thing you can get from a Red Box blind rental.

Coming soon: The best 20 or so films of the year!

- D

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Best of 2014 - Part II - There And Back Again




And now for the biggest time of year for my opinion, the official Top Ten Films of the Year.

10. MALEFICENT



The best part of seeing this for the first time was my complete indifference to it at first. Even walking in, I thought, “Why do I bother to see things I have no real interest in seeing”. The answer was “Because it’s 7 o’clock and you don’t have anything better to do”. Well, that was all I needed because I was completely sucked in and even got emotional during it. I knew that Paul Dini had been involved with a draft ages ago and he even said things were changed around but the tragic heart that made HEART OF ICE and MAD LOVE such painfully good point of views from the villain is well represented here. It was so cleverly spun that even when the more obvious things were happening I was still surprised by them and even the audience was guffawing with emotion they clearly weren’t ready to handle yet. Angelina Jolie was never my favorite but I can see why she has a mass appeal beyond stark attractiveness. She even steals the show from known show stealer Elle Fanning. There is a moment with them toward the end that I was literally embarrassed to be tearing at. And a Lana Del Rey cover to boot. I spread the word on this a lot over the summer and I’m glad people enjoyed it.

9. CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER



Marvel at it’s Marveliest. The Agents of SHEILD weaving. The Gary Shandling senator from IRON MAN 2. The mysterious Stephen Strange surveillance. The Russo brothers, who directed, know their stuff. And love their stuff. They effectively broke the modern superhero movie formula and turned it more into a comic book formula. The references were never glaring but fit fluidly inside a universe you are now familiar and comfortable in. The Winter Solider storyline they adapted wasn’t as great as the comics but it was still great for the movie. And again, like GUARDIANS, still leaves much more to be explored. Which I’m fine with. And it looks like they are going to properly go into the next phase of the storyline with CAP 3: CIVIL WAR which will probably overtake the Marvelness to levels where people are mad at how inside baseball (or Speedball, right mah nerds?) it is. But Marvel is wicked smart, and probably knows how to not alienate people by going full dork on a project. I remember going to a local theater the weekend this came out and seeing “CAPTAIN AMERICA: SOLD OUT” all over the box office and it felt good and that we had come a long way. I felt like Forrest Whittiker at the end of THE BUTLER. If you understood this, please consider us engaged.

8. WHIPLASH



In an effort to fully review all of the top films, I tried to watch all that I could this week and I only really made it out to WHIPLASH. But that’s fine because it was still as taught and engaging the second time. It has an escalating tension matched only by the top movie of the year, but in favor of this movie, this never doesn’t let go until you see credits. There is no brief respite as you decompress for an epilogue. It just mounts until the final sequence which is one of the most unique I’ve seen, and is a full testament to the talent of Miles Teller, who is my new dreamboat, and the director who had the balls to finish like that and somehow succeed. Both times, people had to catch their breath by the end and audibly went “wow”. JK Simmons will get a lot of attention for being yelly, but it’ the quieter moments that make him scarier. His scene where he tearfully recounts the career of a former student or when he legitimately lays out his teaching philosophy in a bar towards the end are why Simmons really has the goods. And if there was a special Oscar for best 3 seconds of a movie, it goes to Paul Reiser to apologizing to some good that hits him in the head with a popcorn tub while carelessly walking down the row behind him. The best part of this movie and kind of this year is how I end up seeing logic in the sociopathic tendencies of the lead characters in things. This actually made what seemed like a hollow goal seem reasonable to me. Who am I to judge someone for not wanting the comforts of love and affection from family and friends in favor of becoming the best he can be at what he loves? If he’s willing to bleed for it, he should have it.

7. THE LEGO MOVIE



I was very annoyed when people were surprised at how good this was. Phil Lord and Chris Miller made CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS and 21 JUMP STREET. I know how good they are. I didn’t question it for a second and it was still better than expected. They were also the OTHER guys chose Chris Pratt as their hero lead and look how smart they look now? I also love how they present two completely different lines of thinking and make them both okay. In fact, make them seem equally as good. I even bought legos after this movie because now my brain is big enough to actually follow the instructions to make them properly. And when I walk into a toy store and buy a 70 dollar lego set, I proudly tell the 19 year old girl at the register that it is for ME, and if needs me, she’s gonna have to wait until I finish this Star Wars cantina set. That’s the kind of confidence you can’t buy, but is now the kind of confidence that will confound someone hard enough that it may seem appealing. Thank you, Warner Bros. for giving me the chance to be cool.

6. THE RAID 2



The original is one of the best action movies I’ve ever seen and this somehow tops it. A larger budget lets them go outside and instead of the back to basics small story of the first, it tells a larger epic one that features stunts that I can guarantee you killed some people. Poor Captain America came out a week after this, and while they had some good action in it, it looked like Ms. Tucker’s 9th grade stage combat class in comparison. In fact, the director of this should definitely be making Marvel movies. I suggest IRON FIST. It leads to a third movie, which apparently takes place DURING this one, BOURNE style. I fully expect them to top themselves once again.

5. BIRDMAN or (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE)



Some people like to be special little snowflakes with their best lists. Show off what you don’t know and lord it over your mainstream ass. There’s a bit of that in me, but I take a genuine pleasure in spreading the word of small things that should have a big audience and find it rewarding when people trust that opinion enough to experiment and it actually works. But when everyone, including the powder wigs whom control the Oscars are all agreeing on the same thing, I think that the system is working. I’ve known about this movie for sometime and got to see it about a month early and really feared that it sounded too weird for people to even think about giving a chance. But Fox Searchlight knows how to get eyes in front of a screen, and luckily they are the people that gambled on this. It’s weird to see so many of my favorite actors in one place (and one take) and for every single one of them to be giving the performance of their career. Amy Ryan is one of my favorites, but I had to be reminded that she was in this because even her awesomeness was blocked behind 7 other bright stars. I failed to mention Naomi Watts’ performance in ST. VINCENT as being one of the highlights of that movie. She was completely not herself in it and I think she even gave up a little dignity to do it but she’s just as good here. And my beloved Michael Keaton reminding everyone of what us true MULTIPLICITY fans knew for years, that this guy could do it all and can still be the best thing in a room full of best things if given the chance to do so. I feel so immensely proud of this guy that was the first guy on a screen I ever idolized, that it feels strange to have these feelings for someone you don’t even know. But heroes are just that, a lot of the time.

4. LIFE ITSELF



Roger Ebert became the one of the only film critics you could trust because he wasn’t trying to convince you of his own intelligence while reviewing a movie. This is a problem with a lot of critics. It wasn’t always this way, as we see in this documentary about his life and eventual death. He earned this respect and that attitude even if he gave the occasional MUMMY sequel a pass. I have to admit to a bias because of being so enchanted by seeing someone else’s passion for movies was just too much fun that it felt like I was doing something wrong. It even has a good healthy portion about his relationship with Siskel and how it defined them both, Kirk and Spock style. Bias or not, this is my list and here it shall stay. Although it’s not like I’m defending HEARTBREAKERS or anything here, I think anyone that sees it will come pretty close to how I felt when watching it.

3. BOYHOOD



It’s kind of heartbreaking to see any sort of age on the people or things that you love. Noticing it implies that you weren’t there for a portion of it’s existence where it changed without you. This is how some of the vignettes in BOYHOOD felt to me because the big huge events in the life of young Mason’s life move like a strong river current onto the next thing because that’s how life actually works. We’re glad it he got through it but we care enough to want to see how. It’s not always shown, but in other ways is. Richard Linklater has been pretty prolific throughout the last couple of years and he even has managed to make the Top Ten list for his third year in a row. I guess he always has a place on this list and in my heart. The real star however, is Ethan Hawke who should be given an Oscar for playing Mason’s dad as a confused kind of barely there dad all the way to “Let’s have a beer” at his graduation. At that party scene even I was a little anxious feeling that it was all “over” like probably a lot of parents do. The mom thing resonated sure but it was weird how the dad thing did. I seem to avoid my dad a lot more these days after realizing how rocky our history actually is. But I saw him for Christmas and for some odd reason hugged him a second time, tight and for longer than you’d expect. I can’t explain it and don’t really see much use in trying to analyze why someone like me would do that. I just accept the mystery and rhythm of life.

2. GOD HELP THE GIRL



It was really hard trying to choose what number one would be this year. The top five can practically be rotated any which way and it would still make sense to me. This one came with a soundtrack that was played often throughout the year and had musical sequences that were often viewed on YouTube. This one I kind of consider a bit of a failure because it didn’t really get in front of a lot of eyes despite my yelling from the mountain tops how much joy it brought me. Yet another bit about some young people starting a band. What came to me later is how much it represented friendship in your 20’s. By the time you’re 30 you’ve kind of lived 3 or 4 different lives with a different set of peers that came in each time. The short intense burst of creativity and energy that helped poor Eve out of her depression and onto the next phase of her life was great but of course all too brief. That doesn’t make it any less important than anything else she’ll do or what Cassie and James do either. Maybe on a smaller scale. Anytime things get too confusing for first time director Stuart Murdoch of Belle and Sebastian to articulate, a song comes on and it becomes crystal clear. I’ve never heard such catchy beautiful music fall out of mouths like it was effortless. This beacon of hope should maybe be the top film of year, I admit. But the truth is…

1. NIGHTCRAWLER


I have a dark side. Something about this movie called to me the second I saw the poster. I even refused to watch the trailer. Schedule did not permit a reasonable hour to watch the premiere of the film, so midnight on a school night it was and that’s kind of the only way to watch this movie. I had no idea where it was going to go as the tension built and built from the beginning all the way to the heart jumping climax. Jake Gyllenhaal had me completely spooked and constantly in awe of what his character was capable of in good ways and bad. It was a fantastic LA movie as the tagline suggests, some cities do shine brightest at night. It looks the best when you’re a ghost and you’re the only one around for blocks while driving around at 3am. I think that’s why I love COLLATERAL so much too. Having had several night jobs, I am well aware of the energy of what goes on in the dark and it’s my kind of energy most of the time. The power in the solitude of night is something you can kind of get drunk on and that happens to this character. I’d be a jerk to spoil any part of it so I’ll just say it’s flawless and endlessly fascinating and wish it was part of a larger world that I could check in on regularly. If Lou Bloom were a villain in the DRIVE universe, it would be my favorite thing ever. Someone make DRIVE comics, please. LA movies are another bias I am fully aware of as I love my dirty unsung mass of chaos. Most have adopted it, but I was born in it. I said early that it seems silly to expect scares in a movie when you’re an adult but this one had several. I was actually ready to barf right before the climax and I usually make fun of people like that but it made me feel alive so I want it always.

And that’s that for the year. 2015 looks to be a big bad catch match of crazy cool things, and hopefully it lives up to the hype. But 2014 earned a hearty pat on the back for having tons of great things come from nowhere. I hope there are surprises next year as well. Go to the movies more. Thanks.

- D

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Best of 2014: Mockingjay - Part 1


A quick preface. I thought I was going to write about WISH I WAS HERE for the worst list because Zach Braff's directorial follow up to GARDEN STATE was utter garbage, but I have an upcoming podcast about that and seeing how it only made 3 million dollars in theater, I think you're safe from it's crime.s Ok, I saw about the same amount of movies I did last year (roughly 140) and I think this accurately represents the best movies I saw of last year. Let’s get start with some honorable mentions:

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT



Black and white, I feel is something associated with pretense in an unfair way. I think it takes you a world that is just different enough to get lost in. Just real enough to believe and just imaginary enough to succumb to. This one is about an Iranian town (shot in California, actually. I was sitting there wondering why some parts of Iran look like the Valley) about a boy who meets and falls for a girl who’s dispensing her own kind of nocturnal and supernatural justice towards the people who are destroying the moral sanctity of the city. But her new found love is only conflicting her because she is a tool of revenge now and isn’t certain she deserves the love that’s coming to her. It’s a beautiful movie full of young angst and black and white views that are contested by reality and emotion. A better love story than any of the young adult crap that’s coming out of Barnes & Noble but something I think young people would find even more intense and even more poignant. It’s the first film from Ana Lily Amanpour and I can’t wait to see what she’ll do next.

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2



OKAY, SIT DOWN AND SHUT UP FOR A SECOND. I know you want to whine about this when you should have been whining about the last one but let me give you one last chance to redeem yourself about this. This has some of the best scenes coming out of any super hero movie, Marvel or otherwise and the only true legit Spider-Man story telling ever done on that silver screen you threw your medium icee at after this movie started to roll credits. Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacey made this movie great. Her relationship with Peter Parker finally had actual weight and chemistry and when her grim fate met her, it made it all the more heartbreaking. And that moment where the little boy in the Spider-Man costume tries to defend his city because that’s what Spider-Man taught him to do, and when the real Spidey tagged in and came at The Rhino, it’s everything you ever wanted out of your bedsheets and plastic dinette set. It’s what dreams are made of and what makes generations keep coming back to the same characters decades and decades later. Anything else kind of melts away because of it.

AS ABOVE, SO BELOW



Found footage horror is mostly miss but this one came with some legit creepy vibes as a bunch of people go beneath the streets of Paris to the ancient catacombs that may hold the fabled philosopher’s stone. But what they don’t realize is that they are descending further and further into the ACTUAL hell and now have to find a way to escape eternal damnation and the prison of their own greatest sins. It’s found footage THE MUMMY if that was actual horror. Scary and suspenseful and you actually care about the characters. The horror bubble bursting has kind of made the cream rise to the top if you’re not a movie about a haunted armoire or doll.

LIFE PARTNERS



This one wins the FRANCES HA award for the year. Speaking with some friends recently, they kind of scoffed at me saying that because it’s nowhere near the grace and elegance of FRANCES HA, and while I wanted to kiss them for thinking this, this doesn’t mean it doesn’t have it’s own place in the sun. That’s kind of the point of these movies. These little bursts of personality and emotion that get pushed to the side for what society seems grandiose or important. Two friends lives start to diverge when one gets serious with their boyfriend and the other one’s troubled life continues to be troubled and starting to not be as cute as it used to be. Coming from a life that is definitely the more unflattering side of that coin, I tend to deeply connect to stories like this. Wondering why romantic relationships have to mean more than platonic ones. If I’ll still think the same thing as I get older. If we romanticize this period in our lives too much or if it was the real deal. I guess the important thing is that this is the way we feel right now, and that we’ll take solace in the bond we have with everyone else who does.

BEGIN AGAIN



Ah, the first in 2014’s fantastic journey of musicals about bands starting their band. Mark Ruffalo and Kiera Knightley are two music industry hopefuls that have found themselves disenchanted and emotionally drained from their endeavors, but when they meet each other and collaborate create something that’s worthwhile to the both of them. Their relationship is unromantic, which immediately makes it more interesting in how they help each other become the best of what they are and Ms. Knightley highlights yet another talent on her resume with her heartwrenching rendition of Like A Fool into the answering machine of an ex-boyfriend. Creating a whole mess of tracks for a great soundtrack and a great uplifting movie that doesn’t feel disingenuous or grating.


TOP 20:

20. JOHN WICK



Keanu Reeves kind of owns the title of the zen warrior. It’s hard to believe there were any before him but here he is. Stalwartly trying to be passing when he’s so good at the destruction of human beings, he can not possibly escape it. This movie also doesn’t treat you like a dummy in that life and references to the past weave in and out of it without having to sit there and explain them all to you. This is all unfolding for you in a realer time. A movie constantly in the moment, even when his main quest gets finished early on, there is far more to it than originally thought. And the action is just incredible. America can still dazzle when it wants to. And it’s good to see the old school show you how it’s done after it’s been gone for too long. Kind of the whole point of the movie, really.

19. X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST



Not only is this a great movie. Not only does it right a sinking ship. Not only does it weave old and new into a triumphant celebration of a franchise but it’s like if BATMAN BEGINS weaved in and out of the Tim Burton universe. They’ve kept this continuity for 14 years now and Hugh Jackman has been the perfect Wolverine for 7 films now, even when the films were bad. The original director is back to reclaim his former glory and the glory of a franchise and they both help each other succeed. And they are using the original storylines of the comics to do it here (and beyond) in their own unique ways that are kind of better than the source material anyway. It also waves a flag that signals things to come which are far more exciting than they’ve ever been. Marvel is actually making their non-owned entitys step up to keep up with the rising quality of comic book feature adaptations and I just wish it would rub off on DC Comics.

18. ST. VINCENT



Everyone agrees that Bill Murray is great but he hasn’t been at his best in quite some time, usually taking the back seat in some indie movie where he barely gets to say anything because I think all the greats come to a point where they don’t think they have anything left to give anymore. Well, ol’ Bill tries again here in a comedy that he should have made several times over the last couple of years to hold us over. He has successfully transcended into our modern Walter Matthau where he gets to be the surly old man but still uniquely and bitingly funny and maybe with some more of the sweetness that he’s been hinting at for years now but never really gave into. That what this is mostly. A funny, still slightly edgy good time that will make you look back and think fond thoughts. A movie fit for the king (Murray, Murray being the king, you guys).

17. WE ARE THE BEST



More music from fresh talent. This time in the form of adolescent Russian girls are tired of not being taken serious and tired of conforming to a life that doesn’t suit them and isn’t much interested in having them in it. What does suit them is fucking up someone else’s band practice, which leads to them forming their own band with a sure fire hit single about how gym class can go fuck itself. If someone truly doesn’t take you for granted, then they know that being 13 grants you a little leeway. When you discover things at 13, chances are it’s well tread territory but for them it becomes a new way of life. It’s easy to be patronizing to this kind of spirit because it’s already been killed in yourself, which is well represented here, but if you look back and cheer on a hopeless dumb dream that doesn’t even have the dignity of talent, you may find it again in your stone heart, you awful awful person.

16. SNOWPIERCER



This movie is great and is a perfect summer film, that just so happens to be an arthouse blockbuster, that for no reason shouldn’t be a big 3000 theater opener at your local Regal Entertainment theater. It stars Captain America, and has great action, and compelling story from a great director and you can point to many members of it’s cast and say “Hey, I know them”. Is it because Hollywood is actually too afraid of non-existing properties when it comes to throwing the big summer dollars at them for wide release or is it because these characters have large sins on them that they are working on atoning for and that the average movie-goer doesn’t have the capacity in their heart or mind to consider a three dimensional character that is flawed to the point of changing what you think of them halfway through, maybe for the worse? Maybe it’s because people have already let go of the reality of rail travel. WHO KNOWS? I just like that it’s here for us to have and enjoy. It took a little bit work to find it, but it proves that you really can’t say “They don’t make movies like this anymore” because they do and they will always be waiting for those willing to find them.

15. THE IMITATION GAME



Thought to be a boring Weinstein awards grab, this is actually one of the best character pieces of the year. Benedict Cumberbatch plays the real life Alan Turing, who is recruited by the British government to help break the Nazi Enigma code and end the war. His methods are crazy at first but even his genius has consequences in this funny, captivating and ultimately sad portray of real life heroes and the toll it took on them. It’s also very super hero in the modern sense where their gifts and responsibility to humanity weigh heavy and it takes a lot of humanity to endure. Perfectly acted and written, and I think the tone will surprise you with how refreshing it is for this kind of movie. This is one of the few actual Oscar contenders that actually deserve it.

14. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY



The pendulum swings both ways, truly as this was a perfectly orchestrated hit, even if no one knew it at the time. In fact, they definitely didn’t. They took the good will Marvel has already earned and gave audiences something completely different with it but with the same great characters, fantastic action, genuine relationships and colorful imagry. Their genre-izing has really worked so far, and take it from a fan of the comic series in which this was based on, they really did a great job of making it thematic experience. And also, they just scratched the surface of what they could do. It’s the most popular movie of the year, and deservedly so and you all should actually pat yourself on the back for at least giving a talking tree and raccoon a try. This time you were rewarded for your efforts and next time you may not be. But remember it’s always important to try. It’s hard to expect Marvel to keep the momentum much less top itself but it looks like in the next few years, they are going to try very hard to.

13.  THE BABADOOK



Again, horror is getting better and better. This is another first time female filmmaker that kicked open the door and showed everyone in the room how to do it better. I always argue with people who say that this or that horror movie was “scary” and I counter with “How can any movie really scare you? We’re adults. What can scare you?” Well, the poor single mother who’s relentlessly tormented by some evil children’s book character as an allegory for what she’s going through in her life with her poor manic son is actually scary to me because it’s something a lot of people probably deal with. But it’s not worth knowing unless something flashy or scandalous is happening along with it. This woman and her son’s battle with their demons is presented in a way where they could very well lose and that’s what was truly horrifying about this. The stakes were “real” in a sense and the ending which I won’t spoil here, is maybe the best horror ending I’ve ever seen as it doesn’t rest on a single laurel or trope that is usually reserved for filler for this type of movie. This was a real achievement.

12. OBVIOUS CHILD



When I first saw Jenny Slate’s one woman show at the UCB theater in Los Angeles, I kind of fell in love with this quirky new personality and wished that I had any sort of creative juice so that I could work with her. She had a quick and uneventful season on Saturday Night Live and I feared that she’d be another one of those one season darlings that never got to live up to her full potential. Which is why I was so excited to see her star in a movie. It could have been another one and done week like forgettable run at the local indie theater but it found it’s audience and I feel like it took a minor miracle. Another first time female director (a lot of great debuts this year) Gillian Robespierre saw what I once saw and actually got it done and put her in a movie about a girl who’s one night stand ends in pregnancy and she actually makes use of one of her options and decides to go through the emotional process of getting an abortion. Oh, also it’s a silly comedy. Not only is she hilarious in this but she’s a fantastic actress. There is a moment where she hast this silent bit as a doctor is asking her a question that’s heart shattering and perfect and I couldn’t believe she had it in her but was so glad that she does. Hopefully, this continues a long and fruitful career for all involved and hopefully people keep taking chances and spreading the word on those indies.

11. WETLANDS



I described this as the German porno version of AMELIE as it exists in a hyper realistic world of whimsy and complete and utter filth. The second time I saw this, I saw it with friends and actually thought I was overselling the gross out factor but no. The movie really delivers on that end. And it’s in this world that somehow exudes a charm and innocence from a girl who’s family unit no longer exists, and she starts feeling like she shouldn’t either, being a product of that family. She accidently shaves a fissure into her poor butthole and uses this HIGHLY traumatic and painful and embarrassing experience to try and get her parents in the same room together again. I really related to this and even her uniquely self-destructive nature. The broken toys always seem like the most appealing to me. I wonder if it’s because they are the ones that are most ignored or the ones with the most genuinely interesting history. I generally don’t try to make myself seem more interesting because of these weird little bits about me but the finding parts of yourself you didn’t realize were there, in a grubby toilet that anyone with sense would avoid is kind of the meaning of life to me.

Annnnnnnd, come back tomorrow for the final part! The top ten of the year!!!

- D