Top Ten Films of 2014

January 27, 2015

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What a year of films we just had! It was somewhat more of the same in regards to the highest grossing films of the year. Last year, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire grossed the most ($424 million) and the money-makers were dominated by superheroes, animations, and an Oscar front-runner. This year… The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 led all movies ($334 million), the box office was dominated by Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America, Transformers, and X-Men, The LEGO Movie and Big Hero 6 both grossed over $200 million, and American Sniper was a huge hit.

And once again there were a bajillion sequels and remakes that cluttered the summer, such as another Spider-Man film, Godzilla, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and 22 Jump Street. There were also a number of book adaptations that were critically acclaimed, like Gone Girl, The Fault in Our Stars, and even The Maze Runner.

But what 2014 will be remembered for most is for its smaller films that will certainly be embraced by larger audiences once the word of mouth really starts to spread. A lot of those films made my list this year so let’s just get on with it. Below are my favorite ten films of the year…

10. American Sniper

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Clint Eastwood returns to form by telling the story of Chris Kyle, America’s deadliest sniper in history. Bradley Cooper gives the performance of his life portraying the Navy SEAL with a Southern drawl, but the power of the film comes two-fold: one for the incredibly tense war sequences when Kyle has seconds to decide whether or not to pull the trigger, and two for the trauma from the war that affects Kyle’s personal life. Is this a pro-war or an anti-war movie? It doesn’t matter because it’s one that everyone should see.

9. The Imitation Game

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Benedict Cumberbatch plays Alan Turing in this historical drama about the scientist and team who cracked the Nazi Enigma code that helped end WWII. The film was able to balance suspense, drama, and comedy quite well, keeping the tone mostly light-hearted until the end when Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley share a great scene together. But this is Cumberbatch’s show, as he plays the character with enough quirkiness for laughs but enough heart to win you over.

8. The Theory of Everything

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Behind every great man, there’s a great woman. That was shown during The Imitation Game and is even more¬† relevant in The Theory of Everything. Eddie Redmayne gives a career-changing performance as Stephen Hawking and while there’s no doubt he was a great man, the film focuses in on his counterpart, Jane Hawking. Felicity Jones also gives an exceptional performance as the wife who stood by Stephen’s side, motivating him and making sure he never gave up on his dreams despite a crippling disease. On top of the film being a celebration to Hawking’s accomplishments, it also tells the tale of his personal life, a story that is less known.

7. The Drop

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It might be known as James Gandolfini’s final appearance in a film, but The Drop is an excellent crime drama that was written by Dennis Lehane. Tom Hardy gives a powerful performance as Bob Saginowski, showing off some acting chops as he hones in on the quiet moments before the storm erupts. It’s a film that might feel like you’ve seen before, but will surprise you with plenty of unpredictable events. Nonetheless it was a solid, hidden gem in 2014.

6. Gone Girl

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There is so much going on in Gone Girl that it makes the 145 minutes go by in a flash. Credit that to the direction of David Fincher and the tight screenplay by Gillian Flynn for making a great thriller (just another great thriller to add to Fincher’s filmography). Rosamund Pike shines as Amy Elliott, the girl with dark secrets and a craving for revenge. It’s a grim film but it’s one of the year’s best.

5. The Grand Budapest Hotel

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Wes Anderson has always made quirky, small films for the indie-lover, but this year he hits a home-run with The Grand Budapest Hotel. The film is smart, quick, witty, and most of all entertaining as hell. Ralph Fiennes gives a fine performance as Gustave, one that you will thoroughly marvel at throughout but will possibly forget once the movie concludes. I thought Moonrise Kingdom was Anderson’s most mainstream to date, but Budapest trumps that film in all categories.

4. Interstellar

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Christopher Nolan’s most ambitious film to date (and that includes films told backwards and based in your dreams) had the wow-factor across the board. With stunning visuals of space and an in-depth understanding of different dimensions, universes, and time traveling, Interstellar packed a powerful punch and was relentless with its story-telling. While the ending has divided audiences and critics alike, it didn’t take away the tremendous impact the film had on me.

3. Whiplash

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I never would’ve imagined that a film about a student-teacher relationship in a prestigious music school would be so suspenseful. I was talking about JK Simmons’ performance for weeks after I saw this film, and the young Miles Teller is great in it as well. Damien Chazelle hits the jackpot with Whiplash and without a doubt it was one of the most memorable films of 2014. Now about sending your kid to band practice…

2. Birdman

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I love Inarritu, but Birdman steers away from his past, heavy dramas and towards a somewhat light-hearted, chaotic story of an actor trying to regain his status. Michael Keaton gives arguably the most important performance of the year (and of his career) as Riggan Thomson. And I must mention the direction of Inarritu that makes the film look like it was taken in one shot. Yeah, it’s quite mind-boggling and a daring decision to make. There was plenty of brilliance throughout Birdman, and to top it off, I love a film with a controversial ending.

1. Boyhood

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Richard Linklater has provided me with some of my favorite films with the Before series, and now with Boyhood, he’s proven to be the master at showing us the passage of time and how it affects everyone in different ways. This project was incredibly ambitious for Linklater and everyone else involved, with its 12-year period of shooting. It’s a no-brainer to say that it has never been done before because there are just so many risks and challenges to shooting a film this way. But Linklater pulls it off and was able to draw the world into his little movie with a big, big heart.

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Reaction: The Nominations (87th Academy Awards)

January 15, 2015

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Well, you can’t be shocked¬†by the amount of surprises that The Academy showed us this morning when the nominations were announced. The first surprise was how The Lego Movie wasn’t nominated for Best Animated Feature. Seriously, I thought that was a lock for a nomination, but it wasn’t acknowledged by The Academy. Then as the categories were getting announced, I noticed a few trends: American Sniper was receiving a lot of love (the exact opposite that I expected), Gone Girl and Selma was getting NOTHING, and how Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel were cleaning up the show (they both lead with 9 nominations). There are two other things that I noticed: with Bradley Cooper’s nomination for American Sniper, he’s been nominated three years in a row! Not too shabby at all. And finally, that there is not one film nominated for Best Picture that grossed over $100 million. Doesn’t that defeat the original purpose of expanding the Best Picture nominations? Anyway, let’s take a closer look at the Big 8 Categories:

Best Picture

  • American Sniper
  • Birdman
  • Boyhood
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • The Imitation Game
  • Selma
  • The Theory of Everything
  • Whiplash

First and foremost, there were only 8 nominees, instead of the 9 that a lot of people predicted. That being said, what surprised me was how Foxcatcher didn’t get a nomination. It’s even stranger because Bennett Miller was able to snag a Best Director nomination, which USUALLY means the film will get a Best Picture nod. On top of that, Steve Carell got a Best Actor nomination, so there was love for the film, but no Best Picture nod. Strange. Anyway, I’m so happy that Whiplash got a Best Picture nomination because it was one of my favorite films of the year, but it was certainly a smaller film that wasn’t getting the support or campaign from Sony Pictures Classics (who supported Foxcatcher instead). And finally, it was good to see Selma get a nomination, but for a movie that was receiving a lot of momentum heading into the Oscar nominations, it really limped its way into the big award. More to come about that.

Best Director

  • Alejandro Inarritu (Birdman)
  • Richard Linklater (Boyhood)
  • Bennett Miller (Foxcatcher)
  • Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
  • Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game)

While it was sure that Inarritu, Linklater, and Anderson was going to receive nominations, the final two were a bit up in the air. I’m glad Tyldum received a nod, reassuring The Imitation Game’s strength through awards season, but Miller was certainly the surprise here. The way The Academy supported American Sniper, I couldn’t believe that it received a Best Picture nod without a Best Director nod to Clint Eastwood. And Miller gets in without a Best Picture nod for Foxcatcher? Seriously, something doesn’t make sense here. Also, Ava DuVernay (Selma) was snubbed, which would’ve been the first African American female nominated for this category. This year’s Oscars is certainly a white-wash. To be fair, I haven’t seen Selma yet so maybe it didn’t deserve the nominations that a lot of people predicted.

Best Actor

  • Steve Carell (Foxcatcher)
  • Bradley Cooper (American Sniper)
  • Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game)
  • Michael Keaton (Birdman)
  • Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything)

The snub: David Oyelowo of Selma. This is going to be a hard pill to swallow for fans of Selma, because Oyelowo was considered a lock for a nomination. Still, this race is between Keaton and Redmayne (who both won on the Golden Globes) with the edge going to Keaton. But if Keaton loses at the SAG Awards, then it’ll be a whole new ball game for Best Actor.

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)

The snub: Jennifer Aniston (Cake). That was really it. I feel like there wasn’t enough people who saw Cake and therefore Aniston didn’t get enough votes. Though it wasn’t like Two Days, One Night was a big movie but The Academy loves her so they swung her way.

Best Supporting Actor

  • Robert Duvall (The Judge)
  • Ethan Hawke (Boyhood)
  • Edward Norton (Birdman)
  • Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher)
  • J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)

These were the nominees expected and The Academy came through. Nothing else to say here.

Best Supporting Actress

  • Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)
  • Laura Dern (Wild)
  • Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game)
  • Emma Stone (Birdman)
  • Meryl Streep (Into the Woods)

The snub: Jessica Chastain (A Most Violent Year). While Chastain can be considered a snub, these five women who received the nomination are all deserving. I’m glad Laura Dern snuck into the category because she was great in Wild. And this is Streep’s 19th Oscar nomination. Just wow!

Best Adapted Screenplay

  • American Sniper
  • The Imitation Game
  • Inherent Vice
  • The Theory of Everything
  • Whiplash

Again, I was a fool to think The Academy wasn’t going to go for American Sniper, but I guess that’s what happens when I don’t get to see a movie before the nominations. I’m glad that Whiplash got a nomination here, but I really felt Wild and Gone Girl would get a nod. But like I said above, there was love for American Sniper and none for Gone Girl.

Best Original Screenplay

  • Birdman
  • Boyhood
  • Foxcatcher
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Nightcrawler

The snub: Selma and Mr. Turner. Mike Leigh has been nominated five times before for his screenplays, so I was a bit surprised to see that Mr. Turner wasn’t in the mix for Best Original Screenplay. And of course, the lack of love for Selma from The Academy. I am glad that Gilroy’s Nightcrawler got in here because that was certainly one of the most underrated films of the year.

So those are the major awards. Some other things to point out: I couldn’t believe that Life Itself wasn’t nominated for Best Documentary. It was about the best movie critic of all time for crying out loud! And to me, I always look at the Film Editing category to see which films are really in the race for Best Picture. All five Best Editing nominations are also in for Best Picture, so in a way that’s a better standard than Best Director (especially from the past few years). And finally, Roger Deakins gets his 11th nomination for his cinematography work for Unbroken. He has yet to win. Come on Academy, throw the guy a bone! That’s all for now.


Predicting the Nominees (87th Academy Awards)

January 13, 2015

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While it’s certainly fun to predict the winners, it’s even more challenging to try and predict the nominees and that’s what I’ll try to do right here, right now! Like I’ve said in my previous posts, 2014 had a great number of movies that are Oscar-worthy, but unfortunately not all of them can receiving nominations. No matter how the race shapes up on the announcement Thursday morning, there will be plenty of snubs. So without anything else, here are my predictions:

Best Picture

  • Boyhood
  • Birdman
  • The Imitation Game
  • The Theory of Everything
  • Selma
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Gone Girl
  • Foxcatcher
  • Whiplash

The top six films here seem to be set and there seems to be a consensus that nine films will be nominated, so that means the last three spots are up in the air. I’m going first with Gone Girl to receive a nomination because 1. we found out two years ago how much the Academy loves Ben Affleck, 2. its excellence from Fincher (director), Pike (actress), and Flynn (screenplay), and 3. it received a PGA nod.

With two films remaining (and plenty of films), my next prediction goes to Foxcatcher. The SAG gave nods to Carell and Ruffalo and the PGA also gave it a nomination. I think it has just enough momentum to snag a Best Picture nomination.

This means with only one spot left, my guess will be for Whiplash. This prediction is highly personal since I loved this movie so much, but I think it’ll squeak in over the likes of American Sniper, Nightcrawler, and Into the Woods. The only thing that might hurt its chances is if not enough voters saw it, but if voters did see it then I believe they’ll fall for its power the way I did.

Best Director

  • Richard Linklater (Boyhood)
  • Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Birdman)
  • Ava DuVernay (Selma)
  • Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
  • David Fincher (Gone Girl)

With such a great year for cinema with plenty of talented directors, there will be a handful who get snubbed this year. It’s strange that with my predictions, I have directors such as Clint Eastwood, Bennett Miller, Mike Leigh, Christopher Nolan, and Paul Thomas Anderson not receiving a nomination. But that’s how it goes in such a competitive category. My slight upset in my predictions goes to Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game) being snubbed, even though it’s likely he’ll receive a nomination.

Best Actor

  • Michael Keaton (Birdman)
  • Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything)
  • Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game)
  • Steve Carell (Foxcatcher)
  • David Oyelowo (Selma)

There has to be some snubs in this category, so I think that Oyelowo and Carell will sneak in while Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler), Ralph Fiennes (The Grand Budapest Hotel), and Bradley Cooper (American Sniper) gets snubbed.

Best Actress

  • Julianne Moore (Still Alice)
  • Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything)
  • Jennifer Aniston (Cake)
  • Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl)
  • Reese Witherspoon (Wild)

I feel like these nominees are locks. Can Amy Adams or Emily Blunt spoil the party for one of these women? Maybe, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Best Supporting Actor

  • J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)
  • Ethan Hawke (Boyhood)
  • Edward Norton (Birdman)
  • Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher)
  • Christoph Waltz (Big Eyes)

Call me crazy, but the Academy loves Christoph Waltz so I think he’ll sneak in past Robert Duvall and Josh Brolin to snag another nomination.

Best Supporting Actress

  • Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)
  • Emma Stone (Birdman)
  • Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game)
  • Meryl Streep (Into the Woods)
  • Jessica Chastain (A Most Violent Year)

This category is probably the weakest of all the major ones, but this was the best I could come up with. Maybe Laura Dern will get a nod for Wild, maybe Rene Russo for Nightcrawler, but those are my predictions.

Best Original Screenplay

  • Birdman
  • Boyhood
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Selma
  • Mr. Turner

I feel like Selma will have a good showing and therefore will sneak into this category, bumping out either Foxcatcher or Nightcrawler. I originally had Mr. Turner off my predictions, but realized that Mike Leigh has been nominated five times before for his screenplays, so it’s hard to ignore that fact.

Best Adapted Screenplay

  • The Imitation Game
  • The Theory of Everything
  • Gone Girl
  • Whiplash
  • Wild

I really feel like the Academy isn’t going to go for American Sniper the way that some people believe. Therefore, I’m snubbing it for this category, along with the disappointing Inherent Vice and Unbroken.

Well those are my predictions. Like I said before, this is a pretty wide open year for Oscar nominations. I think that films like Unbroken and Into the woods won’t have much of an impact. Even films like Interstellar and American Sniper could have had strong showings on another year, but not this year. And I feel like Gone Girl and Foxcatcher are two films that are right on the edge of being snubbed, but will end up doing quite well. Tune into Thursday for the full list of nominees.


Best Picture Breakdown (87th Academy Awards)

January 10, 2015

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I’ve been slacking a bit this year during the awards season but I’ll try to make up with it from this point on. This year is quite unique in the sense that it seems like it’s a wide open race for Best Picture. At this point last year we knew that Gravity and 12 Years a Slave would be favorites. The year before we knew Lincoln would be a favorite, with Argo’s momentum pushing violently towards the top. But this year? Not only isn’t there a real favorite but there are so many films that have a legitimate shot at receiving a Best Picture nomination. I would guess that there are usually about 12 or so films that have a real chance at a Best Picture nod, but this year? I counted 18.

That’s not saying that there are certainly films that are more likely to receive a nod than others. So let’s start out with our first tier films that are locks to receive a nomination.

First Tier:

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  • Birdman
  • Boyhood
  • The Imitation Game

These are the cream of the crop during this year’s awards season. They all have the support from the SAG, the Golden Globes and plenty of critic circles. Simply put, there is no doubt that these films will be nominated for Best Picture, but at the same time there isn’t a clear front-runner from these three.

Second Tier:

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– The Grand Budapest Hotel
– The Theory of Everything

These two films in the second tier are practically locked to receive a nomination for Best Picture. The Theory of Everything always felt like a Best Picture nomination with its moving story and its incredible Oscar-worthy performances from the two leads, Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones. The Grand Budapest Hotel always had the quality to be a Best Picture nominee, but I was always skeptical because it was by the quirky Wes Anderson and because it was released so early on in the year that I thought it would be quickly forgotten. Thankfully it hasn’t and has been receiving a ton of support through awards season. Look for these films to be nominated, but don’t expect either to win unless it upsets during the Guild awards.

Third Tier:

– Whiplash
– Foxcatcher
– Selma
– Into the Woods

This is when the movies get tricky. In this third tier, I find that these films have a good chance at rounding out the Best Picture nominees, but I’m not overly confident about my picks. I loved Whiplash, but aside from JK Simmons receiving attention the film isn’t quite doing enough to lock down a nomination (I blame Sony Pictures Classics for backing Foxcatcher and Mr. Turner over Whiplash). As for Foxcatcher, it’s getting attention for its actors but not really for the movie as a whole. Selma has been receiving great reviews, but it’s the epitome of the difference of opinion between the critics and the Academy. And Into the Woods is close, but missing out on that SAG Ensemble nod really is hurting its chances.

Fourth Tier:

– Gone Girl
– Nightcrawler
– Unbroken
– American Sniper

All of the films here in the fourth tier have a chance to be nominated for Best Picture, but it’s an uphill battle. Gone Girl, Nightcrawler, and American Sniper all got boosts from the PGA nominees, but still don’t have enough momentum yet to be considered Best Picture material. As for Unbroken, it’s on very thin ice at this point but I’m not willing to completely give up on it yet.

Fifth Tier:

– Interstellar
– Wild
– Mr. Turner
– A Most Violent Year
– Inherent Vice

Interstellar was one of the most highly anticipated films of the year. Will that be enough? There usually is one sci-fi film that gets nominated, including Nolan’s Inception in 2010. Wild has been great for Reese Witherspoon and even for Adapted Screenplay, but remember when Into the Wild didn’t receive an expected Best Picture/Best Director nod? Wild could have the same fate. As for Mr. Turner, A Most Violent Year, and Inherent Vice, all are films from very talented directors but haven’t been as well-received from the Academy as they expected.


Movie Review: Whiplash

December 18, 2014

Whiplash (2014)
107 minutes
Rated – R
Directed by Damien Chazelle
Starring: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons

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Grade: A

What you know about Whiplash and what you’ve heard cannot do it enough justice. Here is a film that defies everything that you know about the teacher-student genre, or the underdog story. This is a film that will shock you to the edge of your seat, and just when you think you’ve seen this sort of movie before, Whiplash will prove you wrong.

Saying that this movie is intense is an understatement. Who would’ve imagined a movie about an aspiring jazz musician can make your heart beat so fast? Not me, but I was pleasantly surprised and happy to admit that I didn’t see it coming. This isn’t your conventional feel-good story about a teacher who embraces his student to achieve greatness. No, it’s a lot more complicated than that.

Starting with Miles Teller playing Andrew Neyman, a first year student at the prestigious Shaffer Conservatory, there’s no doubt he has talent. But how far can his talent take him? What are the limits to his success? That’s when J.K. Simmons comes into play as Terence Fletcher, the conductor who has a reputation that shows from the way his students react when he enters the room. They sit up and become so silent you can hear everyone breathe. Fletcher is their drill sergeant and he has them wrapped around his finger like a group of well-trained animals. Except that Andrew isn’t trained yet.

Fletcher and Andrew aren’t very different, but it’s clear that the elderly Fletcher is a master at manipulation while Andrew still has a few strands of uncontaminated life inside of him. But they’re both obsessed with being the best. How good is the best? There’s a dinner scene with Andrew’s family where we witness that question being asked. Andrew is being over-shadowed by his family, but as he points out they’re merely the best at a certain degree. He wants to be the absolute best in the world and wants to be remembered for it. The best isn’t good enough in Andrew’s mind. He wants to transcend it and become a legend.

The impressionable kid falls under Fletcher’s spell, even when he berates and physically abuses Andrew in front of the rest of the group. These tactics aren’t the ones you want to hear about if they were happening to your child, but Fletcher believes that society has lead the way to lazy and unfilling results. If you don’t try and push someone, how will you ever know what he’s capable of doing? Fletcher also doesn’t care for the phrase “good job.” And as frightening as he can be during many moments in the film, it’s hard to argue with his point.

I’m not sure if you’re going to see a better duo performance this year than Teller and Simmons. Also, writer/director Damien Chazelle must be given a lot of credit for constructing such a powerful and engaging drama. What it comes down to is figuring out the motives for these characters and why they’re doing what they’re doing. Depending on where you stand can alter your opinion on the conclusion of Whiplash, but one thing is certain for all: this is one memorable film.


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