Friday, August 28, 2015

End-Of-Year: Top 15 Films of 2014

Well this is a bit (a lot) embarrassing. After six whole months since starting my top movies list of 2014, I'm finally getting around to posting my Top 15. An important caveat as you peruse this stupidly belated list is that I haven't added to this list since the end of February which means the many 2014 films I've seen since then (about 28) aren't in here. I could easily include them as I see fit, but since I already posted the first part of my list a few months ago, my OCD-ness disallows me to do that. So without further a due (haha, shut up):

15. Nightcrawler -
First-time director Gilroy really delivered with this intense neo-noir film headlined by Gyllenhaal who truly put forth one of the best performances of the year with his ambitiously one-tracked mind creep of a character. LA night scenes have never felt so unnerving.

14. The Theory of Everything - What gave this love story its hook were the extraordinary real-life characters that both Redmayne and Jones brilliantly played and I totally bought into it all... the performances, the heartfelt journey, the answers to the universe. It's a biopic that really went for the stars and beyond.

13. Captain America: The Winter Soldier - I enjoyed the first film a lot and obviously loved The Avengers so me putting this film this high isn't a surprise. Still, this particular team really outdid themselves with a game-changer of a plot, creative action sequences, and more importantly, characters people actually give a damn about.

12. Selma - I saw this months ago and just thinking about the film now is still giving me all of the emotions. Ava DuVernay's masterpiece is an instant classic with a superb leading man turn from Oyelowo. The subject matter of the film is both timely and timeless and I'm still so impressed by how deftly and affectingly/effectively it was told.

11. Edge of Tomorrow - I'm saddened more people didn't see this in theaters, because this was THE action film of the year for me with Blunt surprisingly making a wonderful action heroine. Cruise was fine, even very good, and his unique blend of charms and offputtingness was perfect for this character that kept dying, dying, dying. But good golly if the entire film was just Blunt kicking alien ass, it would still be in my Top 15... probably higher.

10. Whiplash - This movie was a visual and auditory treat. It's smartly edited and specifically shot in complete service to the intensity happening on screen. Simmons as the overbearing instructor was a joy to watch albeit scary as hell while Teller really got into this role of super dedicated student. By the end, I was just as exhausted (in a good way).

9. How to Train Your Dragon 2 - Was I the only one that couldn't stop crying for a good portion of the film, because wow it was embarrassing? With that said, I *loved* the first film and this was a fantastic sequel expanding the world and the characters to both expected and unexpected ways. It's also a gorgeous film which wears its heart on its sleeve.

8. Lilting - The emotional gut punch I felt after the disarmingly heartfelt first scene was just a harbinger to the myriad of emotions that were to come. On the one end, it's a super lovely tale of a man trying to bond with his dead lover's mother-in-law. On the other end, OMGOD THIS MOVIE IS TOO DAMN DEPRESSING. The three leads of Whishaw, Cheng, and Leung were absolutely tremendous.

7. Guardians of the Galaxy - Fun. Fun. Fun. Sometimes movies can just be fun and that's good enough. Thankfully this Marvel flick had that in spades and more. I've always loved the whole "found family" trope and when it's a family that contains a talking raccoon and a tree, I'm all in. There really was much to love about the film--the colorful cinematography, the effortless humor, the kickass score/soundtrack. But in the end, it was just too damn fun to not fall in love with.

6. The Grand Budapest Hotel - I like and admire Anderson and his films more often than unabashedly love them, but there was just something about this film that hit the right chord with me. It was like Anderson's aesthetics finally made sense, not only to me, but also to these specific characters and settings. It's also redundant at this point to talk about how wonderful all the performances were, because they were especially career-best stuff from Fiennes which is saying a lot.

5. Locke - If I had to label a film that was the biggest shock for me, it would be this. I had NO IDEA what the film was about going into it. And even afterwards, if you had told me I would love a film that consisted of just ONE character talking on the phone while driving somewhere, I would think you nuts and yet... I was hooked from the first to the last scenes. The deceptively simple script did some of the heavy lifting as well, but it really rested on the shoulders of the one-man VIP that was Hardy.

4. The Guest - This film was barely on my radar until I saw a photo of Downton Abbey's newly fit and muscled Dan Stevens coming out of the shower wearing just a towel. That was all I needed to see the film! Stevens plays the hot/charming/deadly/scary titular character to perfection. Thankfully the rest of the film was fantastic as well. Others have compared it to Shaun of the Dead and Cabin in the Woods in that all of them took the horror genre and flipped it on its head and I completely agree.

3. Boyhood - Linklater's masterpiece, following a family of four for 12 years of their lives, is a must-watch. The technical achievement of filming the same actors in a 12-year span is impressive enough, but the film is really so much more than that. It's about self-discovery, growing up, the meaning of family, the power of love, and just simultaneously epic and intimate. It's life. Everyone rocked it, but Arquette's my MVP.

2. Gone Girl - When a film has all the right ingredients, it's hard not to create something special. This film had a riveting story from a popular and acclaimed book, a talented ensemble headlined by an actress on the rise in a juicy role (bonus: all the female actors were specially great), and a director perfectly suited to put it all together. This dark and twisty tale is so stylishly and deftly made, that you could hardly believe what has transpired by the final (and brilliant) shot.

1. Pride - My favorite film of 2014 is also my favorite gay film of the year. The story of the Miner's Strike across the pond back in the 80s is relatively well-known already, but see how the gay rights movement overlapped it was something new for me. The film then had a minefield of cliche storylines... closeted gay boy finding himself, conservative town learning acceptance... that they somehow overcame. Perhaps it was how grounded it all felt especially with real-life people in the mix. Overall, it was uplifting, inspirational, informative, heartfelt, joyous, and just plain wonderful.

And that's it! That's it! I'm done with 2014. Shout out to these handful of films that probably would've made my Top 35 if I had seen them much earlier: The Drop, Camp X-Ray, A Most Violent Year, In Your Eyes, and Two Days, One Night.

More year-end film posts:
- 2014 Film Winners
- Films ranked #16-35

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

People come and go so strangely here...

This post is part of Nathaniel's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" series in which the participants must post a single image from a movie he or she deems as the "best shot" for any particular reason.

This week we've been given the challenge to watch and pick our favorite shot from the 6-hour groundbreaking HBO miniseries Angels in America based on the highly acclaimed play of the same name by Tony Kushner. Directed by Mike Nichols, the miniseries premiered more than a decade ago in two 3-hour chunks and further divided into six total chapters. This extended TV movie is... a lot in themes, in time, in characters, in plot. I wish I could write more about it all, but for the sake of my own sanity ("In new century, I think we'll all be insane"), I'm just going to pick one shot from each of the chapters and go from there.

Actually, before I do that if I had to pick ONE shot from the whole miniseries then it would be the one above with the Angel America finally making her presence known to Prior Walter. It's an immediately iconic image that was used widely in the marketing of the film. Manuel over at The Film Experience already made a case for why this shot is so great and I also told myself even before I rewatched the film, that I would NOT be picking this shot. So onwards...

Chapter 1 - Bad News

This is what you call a non-money shot and yet it also features the beautiful face of Patrick Wilson's Joe Pitt, the deeply closeted Republican Mormon lawyer. No real reason why I chose this shot other than it simply took my breath away. It's also interesting that he's framed as some kind of angelic hero when he's anything but.

Chapter 2 -  In Vitro

I personally think Justin Kirk and Patrick Wilson were the two best actors in the miniseries, but Jeffrey Wright especially as Belize was right up there. So of course his sparkly, glittery entrance is my pick for best shot in this chapter. It's the sort of character introduction that's so perfect that you just have to nod your head in respect and move on to the next scene.

Chapter 3 - The Messenger

Just before Prior Walter gets his world rocked literally by meeting the Angel America, he has a vision where he dances with his former beau. I picked this shot towards the end where he realizes it's not real and it just beautifully highlights the tragic beauty that is Prior Walter's story, alone and sick but surviving and standing strong.

Chapter 4 - Stop Moving!

And then we have angel sex or Plasma Orgasmata. At this point, the audience has been well primed by the surreal and sometimes outlandish imagery of the film, but how can one really be prepared for mid-air fiery angel intercourse? It's ridiculous, scary, beautiful, and insane all at the same time.

Chapter 5 - Beyond Nelly

We're back to Joe Pitt. He just had sex with his estranged wife and now he feels like he's back from his self-imposed prison, beautifully conveyed by the shadows on his face and body. I mean any excuse to post more images of a shirtless Patrick Wilson, right?

Chapter 6 - Heaven, I'm in Heaven

This was the most difficult chapter to narrow down shots. I personally adore the final shot of Prior, Hannah, Louis, and Belize (lovers, friends, former enemies) hand in hand going up the Bethesda steps together. And almost every black-and-white shots of Prior in heaven were superbly beautiful. In the end, I went with a shot that made me laugh so much I had to pause for a few minutes to recover. The shot is of the Angel America challenging Prior to a fight. Look at her stance, her face. Emma Thompson is a gift.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

We've got to get out of here...

This post is part of Nathaniel's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" series in which the participants must post a single image from a movie he or she deems as the "best shot" for any particular reason.

Chicken Run is the first feature-length film from Aardman Animation essentially introducing their unique British brand of stop-motion claymation to the world. And what an introduction it is! Set in a chicken farm in Yorkshire, Chicken Run tells a delightful tale of a band of chickens trying to escape to greener pastures where they can live their lives in peace without giving up their eggs and with no fear of being "plucked, stuffed, and roasted." So yes a poultry take on The Great Escape.

And it's just such a fun movie (mostly from the delightfully empty-headed Babs), but with no less heart for it. In fact, my favorite moments are the slightly darker and somber ones that really give this film its depth from the opening sequences of their leader Ginger getting thrown into solitary over and over to that wonderful rainy scene towards the end where all hope seems lost. So with that said, my favorite show is perhaps the darkest of them all...

Best Shot

Here one of the chickens is literally being brought to the slaughter after the owners find out she hasn't been laying any eggs. We don't get to see the actual act, since of course this is a kid's movie, but we didn't need to. The axe tells us all we need to. I just love how the shot is composed with the axe dominant in frame while the chicken legs are omnipresent. This is also such a stark way to show the audience the real stakes, what it is the characters are actually fighting for. This moment isn't forgotten either as it becomes their motivation to forge ahead: "How many more empty nests would it take?" Brutal. Effective. Fantastic.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Five Emotions. Five Films.

This post is part of ConMan's "Film Emotion Blogathon" in which the participants must pick five films to represent the five emotions featured in the film Inside Out.

Saw this going around the blogosphere and decided to jump on board. The blogathon's concept is simple. You just have to pick five films to represent the five emotions featured in the latest Pixar film i.e. joy, sadness, fear, anger and disgust and write about them. Below are my picks!

JOY: First of all, you want to pick a movie that makes you happy. The kind of movie that you put on whenever you’re in a bad mood that never fails to lighten your spirits.

Billy Elliot (2000)
Directed by Stephen Daldry

From the very opening scene with Jamie Bell jumping to "Cosmic Dancer" by T. Rex, I knew the film was going to be a feel-good romp. Of course, it's not happiness and rainbows throughout, but I would still characterize it as a generally happy film. Just the concept of a boy wanting to be a ballet dancer in spite of what the world thinks is prime for grade-A inspiration. It's just so damn easy to root for Billy's dreams and with every dance number the film showcases, it's hard not to feel invested. Bell as the title character is still one of my favorite "child acting" examples of all time and his unflappable spirit and joy is infectious. By the time the final scene rolls, with adult Billy getting ready to go out on stage with his dad and brother watching, it's impossible not to smile.

SADNESS: Now for the movie that made you cry the most. Maybe a character dies, maybe the guy doesn’t get the girl, but your eyes should be pretty watery by the film’s end.

The Kite Runner (2007)
Directed by Marc Foster

Based on the extremely popular novel of the same name, The Kite Runner was a film that left me emotionally exhausted and completely dehydrated from all the tears I shed when I saw it in theaters. Most of this was due to timing since I had just finished reading the novel a few weeks prior to seeing the film so I was already crying even prior to all of the sad parts. The film itself is about two boys living in Kabul and their epic story of brotherly love, brutal betrayal, and heartfelt redemption. It's ultimately an uplifting film, but the twists and turns it takes in its narrative, like the book, is quite heartbreaking in parts. There's a line in the novel, and in the film, that when I still see it written out or hear, I turn to blubber. It ultimately speaks to the unbreakable bond between the two boys in spite of all of the shit life has thrown at them and yeah, I'm crying right now just thinking about it. "For you, a thousand times over."

FEAR:  This is the movie that gave you the most nightmares. Pretty self explanatory. Whether blunt or subtle, this is the movie that scares the **** out of you.

Donnie Darko (2001)
Directed by Richard Kelly

This film was a trip. I remember seeing it for the first time and not even realizing what I had just watched. What I did know was that the character of Frank aka the protagonist's mysterious imaginary friend dressed in a truly grotesque bunny costume was one of the scariest things I've seen on screen, up there with the shower scene from Psycho, Hannibal Lecter, the clown Pennywise from It, and whatever happens to Gremlins after you feed them after midnight. As generally innocuous as Frank was in the film, his unaffected and ominous voice, his penchant to show up randomly, and his terrifying face all combine to still scare me to this day.

ANGER: This is a movie that you flat out hated. Not a movie that was dull or boring, but a movie that just fills you up with rage just thinking about it.

X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)
Directed by Brett Ratner

Here's the thing, I love the X-Men. I was obsessed with them when I was a kid and the animated show the aired on TV during the 90s was my jam. Back in 2000 when the first live action X-Men film debut, it not only started the Age of Superheroes, but it was the first time I got to see actors playing characters that I've loved from the comics. AND it was great. It was then followed up by an even better sequel which ended with a tantalizing tease for the third film that promised fans the long-awaited and super popular Phoenix storyline. Unfortunately, that third film was an abysmal bloated mess with a truncated Phoenix storyline wedged in along other plot threads that could've easily been left out for their own films. It angers me, because it essentially dissipated any goodwill the first fantastic two films garnered that the franchise is STILL trying to recover from even with pretty good films recently.

DISGUST: This last one is a bit tricky, I’ll let you interpret it the way you want. This film should make you cringe.

The Passion of the Christ (2004)
Directed by Mel Gibson

I went to Catholic school for most of my non-adult life so the judgment and subsequent crucifixion and death of Jesus has been hammered into my psyche for as long as I can remember. And yet it was never hammered as gorily and as torturously the way Gibson's film did. I'm not qualified at all to say if all of that was accurate in any way, but I do know that it was just TOO MUCH for my own sensibilities. To literally see bits and pieces of skin pulled apart and blood coating everything was quite sickening. On the other hand, seeing this man get tortured so violently for humanity's sins made me disgusted in another way. Just think about how many people have used and STILL use Jesus' name to enact equally violent and disturbing acts as well as use faith and religion to promote inequality and hate. It frankly just makes me want to vomit on the human race.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Sense8 Renewed!

I haven't really talked about the show Sense8, which looks increasingly likely to be my favorite new show of the summer. It's original and epic in its scope and narrative and the cast is 100% perfection from the kickass ladies to the seriously hot guys. It's not a perfect show at all (the government conspiracy plot is thin and slightly convoluted) but it's the kind of show that aims high and its characters are one of a kind. Anyways, I'll find a reason sometime soon hopefully to talk more about the show. I mostly wanted to post a quick video that Netflix posted on their twitter today, 8/8 (which not so coincidentally is an important date for the show's mythos), announcing the show's 2nd season renewal!

So with the renewal in the bag, it's great to know I'll be getting some more wonderful stories with these fantastic characters. And if you haven't seen the show yet, do yourself a favor and get right on that.