Monday, January 19, 2015
If you haven't checked out the special two part 2014 Dorkies episode of ITMODcast, please head on over to Podbean (here: part 1, part 2), or check us out on iTunes. We count down our favorite films of the year, and discuss some of 2014's failures, too.
Sunday, January 18, 2015
After watching a bunch of wonderful 80s trash this past week, and owing to a particularly strong resurgence in my thinking about science fiction in general, I thought I’d tackle a subject near and dear to me; the wonderful worlds of trash sci-fi. This is the stuff one used to discover and cherish in the stacks of local video shops; something that younger folk will likely never experience again. To that end, here are some of my favorites. You’ll notice I don’t have Battle Beyond the Stars, or Enemy Mine, or The Last Star Fighter. First, I couldn’t include everything. And second, those all seemed a bit too mainstream…?
5. Gandahar (aka, Light Years) (1988): I think I first picked this up because of its connection to Isaac Asimov. But I loved it for two reasons. One, it’s chock full of animated boobs, and adolescent Matt was quite taken with that. And two, it’s a totally weird, alien world with lots of strange creatures and cultures. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that it’s a wicked mindf%#k. I’ve never seen the French version, only the English language one, with lots of famous folks lending their voice talents. This is one I really, really want to add to my collection.
4. Beyond the Rising Moon (aka, Outerworld) (1987): I stumbled across this in my early days of using NetFlix’s Instant service. Right away, I was baffled by how I’d never heard of the film. Absolutely, it’s a low budget thing, but it’s pretty darned good. A pretty good story and some cool miniature effects. Seek it out.
3. The Ice Pirates (1984): Before there were The Guardians of the Galaxy, there were the Ice Pirates. A goofy, fun, exciting and wacky film that dropped in the wake of Star Wars and has that film’s marks all over it. But so what? It’s a blast.
2. Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone (1983): A Han Solo type gets sent out so a backwater planet to rescue some damsels. OK. Whatever. While not an amazing film, to be sure, I enjoy the heck out of this Peter Strauss vehicle (yeah, there was a Peter Strauss vehicle). This feels like one of those space adventure novels you’d find in a used book store and knock out in an afternoon. It definitely felt like there should have been more films. I’d love to see the further adventures of Wolff. Alas.
1. Cyborg (1989): This movie is the phoenix that rose from the ashes of Cannon’s collapse. It was also their last theatrically released movie. Masters of the Universe II and an attempt at doing a live action Spider-Man movie had to die so that Cyborg might live. You can point to all the various technical issues the film has, to the bad acting and the weird pacing. You’re not wrong. But this is one of my all time favorites. I love it. And not with a single ounce of irony. This is the movie I’ll often point to when talking about the difference between movies that are ‘good’ and movies that I love. And there is a difference. Citizen Kane is a ‘good’ movie (well, it’s actually a great movie). Commando is a movie I love. Those two labels are neither mutually exclusive, nor mutually assured.
Growing up on classic films, few actors could stand next to Cary Grant when it came to embodying the Golden Age of Hollywood. Sure, my favorite actor since I was a boy has been Humphrey Bogart, but I think it's because I feel myself reflected in him, I can relate to him. Cary Grant, I don't relate to, not really. I look up to, I want to be, but I don't see myself reflected in him. I see an idealized version of me, maybe.
"Everyone wants to be Cary Grant. Even I want to be Cary Grant." -Cary Grant
Obviously, the man is among the most handsome men to ever be put on film, but handsome only goes so far. Grant has a humor and a charm that elevate him to what we think of when we think 'movie star.' And he's a fascinating guy, an engineered persona that he sort lived until it became real.
And he followed one of the oldest pieces of advice for any showman. He left us wanting more. Still a relatively young man, he retired and lived out the rest of his days doing what he pleased, I suppose. There are photos of him as an older man, going to events, on the street, with his child. But he never did another movie after Run, Don't Walk. Part of me laments the lack of great Old Man Grant performances. But then, in that day, how many great roles would there have been? No need to dwell on what might have been, because we have what was, and it is a heck of a body of work.
So, go check out some of the great Cary Grant films; North by Northwest, His Girl Friday, Holiday, Only Angels have Wings, Charade, or any number of others. I'm not gonna say every film he was in was gold, but the lion's share were darned entertaining. So, celebrate one of the titans of film, one of the greatest movie stars of all time, by just watching his movies. The man may be dead, but Cary Grant lives on.
Friday, January 9, 2015
2014 was a great year for first-time directors. If you’ve been listening to the ITMODCast, you’ve heard Brad and Darren rave about The Babadook, the feature film debut of actress-turned-director Jennifer Kent, and The One I Love, from Charlie McDowell, which Brad described as “marriage therapy as done by Ray Bradbury.” One of my favorites of last year was Dear White People, a searing debut from Justin Simien that hasn’t been talked about much on this blog or the podcast but that I found exceptionally wonderful, with its distinct point-of-view and sprawling cast of characters. And while it wouldn’t have made my top films list, Obvious Child from Gillian Robespierre holds the promise of films fronted by female characters that feel more real and robust than 99% of what is out there in the market currently.
With so many new directors coming out strong in the last year, I’ve been thinking about directorial debuts throughout film history that have so confidently and surely defined a director and introduced them onto the scene as a force that cannot be ignored. I’ve come up with a list of nine directorial debuts that I consider the best and must-see films for anyone who considers themselves a film nerd.
A few notes (because I like rules and structure): this list is unranked, as I’m looking specifically at the strength of the debut and how it relates to the directors’ filmography and not as interested in comparing or ranking the individual films. To be included, the film must be the director’s first feature length film with some sort of distribution or release- any shorts or television direction is irrelevant here as are unreleased student films. This is also purely a list based on my personal preferences and what I’ve seen, so there are definitely films missing. Please leave a comment or tweet me (@beccagrawl) or the blog (@ITMODCast) or write on the Facebook page to let me know what I’ve missed!
There is no way this isn’t the first debut that comes to mind when you think about directors releasing a film that announces that they have arrived. Citizen Kane has been discussed often on this blog and the podcast (and in the world of film nerdom) ad nauseum but everything that’s said is true. To think that this film - so beautifully constructed, the characters so richly drawn, the performances so memorable, and the technological aspects of the film so innovative and evocative - came from a first time director is mind-boggling.
Hard Eight (Sydney)
I love Paul Thomas Anderson and his films. It is hard to find a director with a body of work that is so overwhelmingly great, without a single true misstep or flop, and PTA has that in spades. You can debate and discuss the failings and merits of any given film but his entire body of work is some of the best ever put on film ever. And it all starts with Hard Eight. It is not big and bold the way other films on the list are but it has compelling, complex characters that feel real and honest and not particularly likeable, which is truly the hallmark of any given PTA film.
She’s Gotta Have It
Spike Lee is the opposite of PTA for me, in a many ways. His career has missteps and flops and films where he feels like he’s trying too hard to be “Spike Lee” and films where he feels like he’s trying too hard NOT to be “Spike Lee.” But he has directed some of my favorite films and some of the greatest American films ever. His debut, She’s Gotta Have It, gives the audience a great sense of what a “Spike Lee” film will be and what, at his best, that means for us and for society. Not to mention that this film reminds us that some of the best female film characters can be written by men and directed by male directors, if they take the time and energy to craft real representations of women for their movies.
This Is Spinal Tap
Comedic sensibility is a strange thing. It’s so specific to an individual - something I find hilarious might leave you cold or something that tickles me yesterday might enrage me tomorrow. But I’d have to say you’re an idiot or a fool if you don’t find This Is Spinal Tap hilarious. A lot of folks forget that while it features Christopher Guest and much of the crew who will appear in his films, this one is directed by Rob Reiner. And while I easily could have chosen The Big Picture (Guest’s debut), I chosen Spinal Tap because A) it still cracks me up after a few dozen viewings and B) it’s a wonderful harbinger of the memorable films Reiner gives us immediately following this one - Stand By Me, The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally, Misery, A Few Good Men, The American President. Reiner comes out strong as a director in this film and he showcases his ability to direct comedy, drama, satire, and just about everything else.
Some might say that Bottle Rocket is the least Wes Anderson-y film that Wes Anderson ever directed and that may be true. For me, the Wes Anderson elements are clearly fermenting in the film - his particular eye for casting against type or against audience expectations, his enjoyment in luxuriating in visual spaces, and his enjoyment of the comedy l’absurde. The filmmaking here shows confidence and a specific point-of-view, which defines Anderson’s work and if it’s good enough to be named one of Martin Scorcese’s best films of the 1990s, it’s good enough for me. (Also, gotta show some support for my fellow Houstonian.)
sex, lies, and videotape
I didn’t watch sex, lies, and videotape until college, so I was definitely experiencing this film through the eyes of “redefines independent film for a new era.” That doesn’t lessen the fact that Steven Soderbergh does redefine independent film with his debut. While it’s not my favorite Soderbergh and it might not be to everyone’s tastes, I love how nuanced and mature the script is without being tawdry or cheesy and it’s clear that Soderbergh has a command over his actors and an ability to pull interesting and deep performances from his cast.
If you’re about my age and share my interest in film, you usually fall into two categories - those who saw Pulp Fiction first or those who saw Reservoir Dogs first. I happened to have seen Reservoir Dogs first (a couple years after it came out) before I saw Pulp Fiction, so for me, this is the best Quentin Tarantino film, period. This film so distinctly showcases who Tarantino is as a director, who his influences are as a filmmaker, and what sort of films he’s going to give us over the course of his career. It is the defining film for several of the actors who appear and it has a timeless quality that is difficult to achieve for a first time filmmaker. Talk to anyone involved with this blog or the podcast and Reservoir Dogs will come up in the first 15 minutes, guaranteed.
So much about Terrence Malick and his films that don’t connect with viewers and are ripe for criticism. I have always loved Malick - so much that The Thin Red Line was part of my senior thesis and I hosted a film screening to try to lure people on the Malick train - but regardless of how you feel about the director, you can’t deny that Badlands is a stellar debut. Malick took a true crime story and spun a dark, gritty, sparse tale about two doomed lovers/killers, played brilliantly by Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek. This film is unique on this list as I find Badlands to be the least-Malick-y film he ever made, thus making more accessible to viewers and audiences that might not be inclined to connect to his other films. Many people I know who don’t care for Malick haven’t seen Badlands, and I implore you to check this out if you haven’t.
The Coen Brothers make great films. That’s just the truth of it. Not every film is a winner but they make great films. There is so much to love about this film - the debut of the Coens, the first feature for Barry Sonnenfeld, incredible performances from a fantastic cast, and a story that brings neo-Film Noir back in the 1980s. It might not be your favorite Coens Brothers movie and it isn’t the best Coens Brothers movie but it’s a fantastic introduction to what the Coens Brothers are best at, which is redefining and subverting genre expectations. It’s equally violent and funny and a film that I find myself constantly recommending to folks who love the Coens but seemed to have missed it.
Tuesday, January 6, 2015
It’s that time of year again. Time for me to look at my viewing history and find some of the glaring blank spots. French New Wave? 60s comedies? Nautical Kurt Russell? I’ve got some movies I need to watch in 2015.
5. The Sound of Music & All that Jazz: I’ve watched a good number of musicals. It’s never been a type of film I necessarily love, but it’s also never been one I avoid. The King and I, The Music Man, and West Side Story were favorites from my youth. But somehow, no matter how many times it aired on TV, I never watched The Sound of Music. Oh, sure, I’ve seen the clips. I know some of the story. But I’ve never seen the film. I figured I’d pair that with All that Jazz, a movie that reinvented the musical for a new era.
4. Breathless & Jules and Jim: French film. I love some. I hate some. I’m indifferent to most. The French New Wave, while obviously influential, never much captured my interest. And the few times I’ve tried to make inroads, I’ve found myself a mix of confused and bored. Alphaville, anyone? But this time, I’m gonna try a couple of the classics of the movement, by two of its most iconic directors.
3. La Jetee & Sans Soleil: I loved 12 Monkeys, and I dig science fiction. So, I’m finally going to sit down and watch La Jetee, the short film that inspired Terry Gilliam’s time travel weirdness. And while I’m at it, I’ll check out Sans Soleil, mostly because they’re packaged together by Criterion.
2. Pillow Talk & The Odd Couple: A big blank spot for me (which I’m really trying to fill in) is the 1960s comedy. Doris Day, Rock Hudson, Tony Randall, Jack Lemmon, and the rest…just never watched ‘em. Over the last couple years, I’ve tried more and more. But this year I thought I’d go after a couple big ones.
1. Overboard & Captain Ron: Kurt Russell and John Carpenter make magic together (ignoring Escape from L.A.). But I realized that outside of Carpenter films, my Russell knowledge is spotty. I’ve never watched any of his films from when Disney owned him. And I haven’t seen much from the late 80s or the 90s. People keep talking about how great Captain Ron is. Well, let’s see.
Bring it on 2015. I’m ready to get all learned and stuff.
Here more about it on the ITMODcast!
Thursday, January 1, 2015
If you're looking to explore The Dorkies further, please give our new ITMODCast Podcast a listen. Part 1 & Part 2 are filled with plenty of those hyperbolic absolutes you've come to love from Matt & myself, plus a little fresh air provided by Darren & Bryan. Meeting every week with these guys has reenergized my love for film, and I am truly looking forward to further explorations on Dork pop culture. Maybe I'll even read a book this year.
Anyway, on to awards show...
TOP TEN FILMS OF 2014
10. Get On Up: I'm as surprised as you are. Biopics, as a general rule, are some of the most uninspired works of boredom cinema has to offer. And Musical Biopics?? Rags to riches to drugs to spousal abuse to bittersweet life lesson nonsense. I hate them. No matter how good the mimicry, the films usually fall short of actually capturing the magic of the performer (see Ray, Walk The Line, the endless array of Elvis wannabes). I love James Brown. I've loved him every since he came down from the sky and cheered Apollo Creed to his death. So the idea of watching a mediocre presentation of James Brown's bonkers lifestyle held very little appeal to me...especially since so much of it is a Rock n Roll cliche. Poor kid + talent + drive = success + drugs + women = loneliness blah, blah, blah. The miracle here is that director Tate Taylor and screenwriters Jez & John-Henry Butterworth embrace the absurdity of their subject, and inject Brown's story with a surreal living flashback narrative filled with fantasy & fourth wall smashing winks. The film starts with his 1988 arrest when he stormed an insurance office, brandishing a shotgun because some poor lady dropped a deuce in his toilet. Batshit. How'd he get here? Get on Up doesn't bother to answer that question, it simply depicts the dozen personalities that occupy the alien we call James Brown. It jumps back & forth in the James Brown timeline, to the point where six frames of film can stretch fifty years. It's a thrill to watch. Get on Up embraces the fiction of storytelling, electrifies the tired "Based on a True Story" tagline, and suddenly I'm falling head over heels all over again for the funkiest man in show business.
9. The Babadook: A lot of movies were hyped this year - Boyhood, Mockingjay, Guardians of the Galaxy, Birdman, Whiplash. Some I bought into, some I did not. That's the way it goes. The Babadook was probably hyped in the most insanely hyperbolic way when William Friedkin tweeted "I've never seen a more terrifying film than THE BABADOOK." Since last year, I've been reading great things about this little Aussie horror, and I was getting a touch weary. Certainly it could not be as scary as they say. And I was right. It's not that scary. It's creepy. It's disturbing. But it's not the scariest horror film I've ever seen. Far from it. However, it is an emotionally torturous assault on your nerves. Seven years after her husband died while driving her to the hospital to give birth to their son, Essie Davis is at war with her demented offspring. Noah Wiseman as the child obsessed with monsters under the bed, stage magic, and projectile weapons is one of the worst littlest shits I've ever witnessed. For the first half of the film, I was ready to throttle the boy if Mom didn't have the guts to do it herself. When the supernatural presence finally reveals itself, it's actually a tremendous relief. The next thing I knew, the familial roles reverse and I found myself rooting for The Bad Seed. It is withoutadoubt one of the best character switcheroos. And let's not forget the last scene - an utterly smart, and perfect monster movie metaphor.
8. Frank: What starts out as a "quirky" indie comedy about a band of eccentrics trying to reach intellectual nirvana through field recordings and Fuck You Punk Rock, slowly reveals itself as a sad ass meditation on creative failure. Domhnall Gleeson is desperate to justify his existence through cheap musical imitations, and comes close to achieving that goal when he happens upon a keyboardist drowning himself in the English Channel. Before he can give it a second thought, an unpronounceable band (Soronprfbs!!!) recruits him into their Scottish freakshow. As our heroic lead we identify with Gleeson's voyeurism & eventual fetishizing of Michael Fassbender's deeply troubled musical genius. However, as the film grinds to its SXSW catastrophe, we & him discover Gleeson as the true loser of the piece. Is there a sadder or more relatable denouement? And Yet! There is so much energy and life to Frank. Fassbender gives one of his strongest performances as the cranial agoraphobe; he's a sad creature, a joyous being, and painfully self aware. "I Love You Wall" will go down as my single favorite short film from 2014's cinema landscape.
7. Gone Girl: After the drab bestseller disappointment of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, I was certainly cautious going into David Fincher's latest pageturner adaptation. And actually, after my first viewing of the film, I was nonplussed. It took a second outing with my wife in tow for me to finally seep into its scabby domestic swamp, and cackle at the troubles of maybe-murderer Ben Affleck. Gone Girl succeeds in lampooning America's True Crime obsession as well the pathetic woes of married life. But when he wants to, David Fincher gets psycho scary and offers some delightfully grim acts of violence.
6. Guardians of the Galaxy: Fanboys have won. We took over the world. Here is the film to prove it. Some of you out there might pish & posh at the Marvel machine, but the others out there like me are simply flabbergasted. If this film had failed at the box office, it would not have been the end of the MCU - we would have just had to suffer through an endless array of Thor 3s & Iron Man 4s. The end of the world? No. But thanks to the world embracing Rocket Raccoon we will get Doctor Strange, and Black Panther, and The Inhumans, and The Suicide Squad, Cyborg, Shazam, and who knows what other comic book properties Hollywood can wrap their mitts around. Don't be scared Hipsters. Embrace us, Comic Book Fandom can be such a rapturous inclusive experience. And not every Comic Book movie has to be a guy jumping around in his underwear. It's a world overrun with oddball characters and multiple subgenres. Despite the usual Marvel Bad Guy/Exploding City trappings, Guardians of the Galaxy feels more reminiscent of Star Wars, or rather, it's knockoffs like Ice Pirates and Battle Beyond The Stars. Chris Pratt's space cowboy is all swagger and charm, the dashing good guy we want to lead our merry band of scaliwags. Of course, the characters you truly fall for are the pistol packing Raccoon & the walking tree thug. It's obvious that James Gunn loves his players, and whatever villainous disappointments I might have about the film are forgotten in the banter.
5. The Raid 2 - Berandal: First things first, the second film is nowhere near as awesome as the first. The Raid was a 101 minutes of nonstop kill crazy action. Few films (if any) capture the intensity and exhaustion of those action sequences. When I heard that Gareth Evans was attempting a Godfather Part II-like sequel to his high rise stab-a-thon, I could barely comprehend it. The balls of it. After barely surviving his encounter with Mad Dog, SWAT officer Rama is recruited by the secret police to dive deep into the Indonesian mob. 101 minutes transforms into years of horror and shame. So is this The Godfather Part II of kill crazy action films? Kinda. The plot is dense, overwrought, and basic, but Gareth Evans rewards gorehounds with tremendous feats of bodily harm. Gratuitous? Exploitative? Yer damn right. It's hard for me to get aboard the John Wick train when The Raid films exist. This is what I want from my actioners. Baseball bats, hammers, and scimitars - Oh My!
4. Cold in July: Michael C Hall shoots a burglar creeping around his living room. What follows is not the movie you signed up for - it's much, much, much better. Sam Shepherd plays the burglar's pissed off father. Don Johnson, the hillbilly gumshoe. I dare not spoil how they all get in that pickup truck, or what they do once they step out. All I'll say is that Cold In July is a mean little crime story worthy of Joe Lansdale's good ol' boy novel, and it's directed by Jim Mickle with true love of 80s neon & John Carpenter soundtracks. Bravo, sir.
3. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: I enjoyed Rise. It's a solid origin tale (sigh, always the origin tale) with some nifty ideas, and a passable James Franco performance. Thanks to that film's motion capture success, director Matt Reaves is able to come on board here and go all in with the ape culture. This is Cesar's movie. It's the Planet of the Apes I've been waiting for since first discovering the Escape & Conquest sequels. Andy Serkis' Cesar struggling to lead his people in the shadow of man's failure, while humanity struggles to pull itself out from under it's own loathsome destruction. This is opera. It's Shakespeare. It's so damn human. Like The Babadook, it's everything genre storytelling does right when holding up the mirror. Yes, Jason Clarke and his sidekicks get the motivational short shrift. They're barely in the film, so who cares, maybe we can cut them out completely on the third go 'round. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes wins my heart with its opening deer hunt, Koba's "Human Work" judgement, and Cesar's climactic gaze. We've finally reached that place where genuine performance can be found in a talking chimp, or a raccoon, or a tree. Science Fiction can do anything - let's really push it now.
2. Captain America - The Winter Soldier: Nothing will top the experience of seeing The Avengers for the first time. The Disco Dork was there, ask him how high I was walking outta the theater. That being said, I've watched The Winter Soldier seven times this year (3 in the theater, 4 at home), and I'm confident in exclaiming it as the best film (so far) from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Feel free to argue your Iron Man or Guardians love with me, I get it, I'm with you. But The Winter Soldier was made for me, not you. The Russo Brothers telepathically reached out to me while I was dreaming, and stole all my love for the character and dropped it into their film. I've been reading Cap comics every month for nearly 25 years now. I'm a fan. One of those weird guys who trolls the internet & dedicates blogs to Steve Rogers. I can't hide my freak flag when talking Captain America. It's love, and it's tough to match or impress. At the start of the year, I reread Ed Brubaker's five year run on the character, and I was well pumped before the film's fade-in. So, you gotta understand/fear my perspective when it comes to this movie. The Winter Soldier is not Brubaker's comic book. It takes a crumb here, and a crumb there, but what the MCU understands is that you can't cram a Marvel movie like a Rowling slog. Take what you want, treat it nice, and fanboys will be happy. And I was very happy from frame one. "On your left." No other big studio would open their Blockbuster Popcorn Movie with a character beat this exhilarating. Steve Rogers runs laps around Anthony Mackie's fellow GI. They bond over their military background & Cap's need to experience Marvin Gaye's Trouble Man. TROUBLE MAN!!! Only the greatest blaxploitation movie of all time, and a kick ass soundtrack. Mind blown. Then you have that moment later at the VA where Sam Wilson asks Rogers, "What makes you happy?" & Cap responds "I don't know." Yessss! That is everything that's tragic and right about Cap Outta Time - the loneliness of fighting the good fight. Even when that fight leads you right to the Government's footsteps. Captain America vs The USA. Yep. You gotta go there. If the film had one flaw, it's that the The First Avenger failed to flesh out his relationship with Bucky Barnes so that some of the emotional punch of The Winter Soldier is lacking, but I've got the those comics to fall back on, and that flaw seems like a minor quibble to me. Now let's not forget some of the great action sequences contained within. Cap's Bourne Identity assault on the Lemurian Star, Nick Fury's DC Carjacking, Cap's elevator smackdown, and The Winter Soldier bridge battle.....TROUBLE MAN!!!! Holy Crap!!! TROUBLE MAN!?!?!?! Can't believe it. I love this damn movie.
1. The Grand Budapest Hotel: Just when I think Wes Anderson cannot possibly impress me any more, he goes and makes a bloody masterpiece. Yes, it's another example of intricate dollhouse filmmaking - this time going so far as to muck about with aspect ratios. Cloying? This is not the place to debate the Anderson artificial aesthetic. You're either in, or you're out. Personally, I simply love what The Grand Budapest has to say about the power of storytelling. It takes the audience from a girl reading a book at an author's grave, to the author reflecting on his work, to the young author hearing the story, to the story itself. A fictional game of telephone reaching through time to give some solace to the reader. Anderson has played with the bittersweet before, but never have the tonal shifts been as shocking or as powerful. One moment you can be laughing along with Ralph Fiennes' heroic dandy, and the next you can be fearing for his life or the life of a jettisoned cat. It's a love story between a boy & a girl, a man & his widow, a man & his lobby boy. These are some of the highest stakes Anderson has played with, and I look forward to the director tackling such an epic scale again.
HONORABLE MENTIONS (in alphabetical order): Big Bad Wolves, Edge of Tomorrow, Foxcatcher, The Guest, A Most Wanted Man, Nightcrawler, Only Lovers Left Alive, Selma, The Signal, and Under the Skin
BEST DIRECTOR - Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel): Flawless filmmaking. From the performances, to the set design, the editing, the music, the screenplay, etc, etc... The Grand Budapest Hotel is one of those rare films where I would absolutely not change a single frame of the movie. It's perfect. A gem. Again, some folks are turned off by his style. Art's subjective, I cannot argue with that. I don't want to. Anderson's movies are a singular vision that dig right into my feels. Currently, The Grand Budapest Hotel is not my favorite of his canon (that's still The Life Aquatic), but give me a few rewatches and I could see this climbing right to the top. How could I not award Anderson Best Director?
Runner Up - David Fincher (Gone Girl)
BEST LEADING MALE PERFORMANCE - Phillip Seymour Hoffman (A Most Wanted Man): This was an exceptionally hard category to narrow down. So many great roles for great actors this year. Guy Pearce & his dirty apocalyptic shorts in The Rover, Jake Gyllenhaal's bug-eyed maniac in Nightcrawler, Michael Keaton's whacked out hasbeen in Birdman, Ralph Fiennes' profane person of interest in The Grand Budapest Hotel. Decisions, decisions. I'm going with Hoffman in A Most Wanted Man because he delivers a deceptively quiet performance that eventually reveals itself as one of the most depressingly rage-fueled roles in spook cinema. Hoffman is all whispers, murmurs, eye rolls, and facial twitches...until he's not. So good. A Most Wanted Man may not have been the flashy art house thriller you wanted, but it was an excellent exploration on the bullshit futility of Spy vs Spy politics. And of course, there is the real life tragedy that Hoffman will not live on to execute other performances as strong as this one, and we'll just have to live with what he gave us.
Runner Up - Guy Pearce (The Rover)
BEST LEADING FEMALE PERFORMANCE - Essie Davis (The Babadook): No question here. Davis for the win. As the widowed mother of the world's most thrashingly annoying headcase of a child, Essie Davis runs the gamut of human crisis. She's a sympathetic put-upon mom, a terrorized victim, and a heroic crusader against evil; the whole film is placed on her shoulders and she utterly sells the agony & fear of parenthood.
Runner Up - Scarlet Johansson (Under The Skin)
BEST SUPPORTING MALE PERFORMANCE - Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher): A mixture of In Cold Blood & Moneyball (not really, but how fun is that combo?!), Bennet Miller's Foxcatcher is a deliberately paced critique on wealth in America that packs as much dread into its runtime as the most vile of horror films. Both Channing Tatum & Steve Carrell are exceptional as the sociopathic Dupont and his desperate to please boytoy. However, in the days following my first viewing of the film, it was Mark Ruffalo's idolized sibling that refused to leave my thoughts. His nobility, his confidence, his confusion & inability to understand his brother. He reads the lines, but most of the work is done behind the eyes. The brooding Ruffalo anchors the entire story on reaction shots, and it is masterful.
Runner Up - Tommy Lee Jones (The Homesman)
BEST SUPPORTING FEMALE PERFORMANCE - Tilda Swinton (Snowpiercer): I struggled a lot with this movie. I really did adore the first third of the film, maybe the first half, but as Chris Evans stormed his 99%ers through the train cars, the metaphor got muddier and the climactic revelations a real snooze. But there was nothing to scoff at when it came to Tilda Swinton's grotesque governess. What a banner year for Swinton! The pop culture obsessed vampire of Only Lovers Left Alive, the latexed Lansbury of The Grand Budapest Hotel, and the psycho creepy AI of Zero Theorem. Tiny roles that all left a mark, but her Mason was just a hilarious ogre to root against. She was obviously having a blast with her glasses, fur coat, & teeth - chewing the scenery with brilliant gasps of disgust for the filth around her. Fun, fun, fun.
Runner Up - Emily Blunt (Edge of Tomorrow)
THE BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENTS OF THE YEAR!
4. John Wick: It's no Raid 2. Sorry. Can't get excited like the rest of the internet.
3. Life Of Crime: Ok, the idea that this prequel to Jackie Brown (aka Elmore Leonard's Rum Punch) could live up to Quentin Tarantino's finest film is unrealistic & bound to disappoint. The performances are solid enough. Jennifer Aniston as the stockholm syndromed trophy wife is good. John Hawkes as the skinny Robert DeNiro Gara is good. Mos Def as the unimpressive Sam Jackson Robie is...meh. Leonard's book is not really a masterpiece either, but it sure as hell has a lot more danger to it then this run of the mill caper.
2. Tusk: What was I expecting from a film about a podcaster kidnapped, tortured, and transformed into a walrus? Something incredibly strange and disgusting! Instead Kevin Smith gets distracted by his Johnny Depp cameo, and confoundingly retreats from the cuckoo of Michael Parks. Justin Long is so preciously committed to his walrus persona. I wanted to love me some exploitation. Ok!?!
1. How To Train Your Dragon 2: Some films just shouldn't have sequels. There is a kernel of an idea here, but the antagonist plot never gels and the family plot wanders into the ordinary. Still, Toothless is the most adorable creation ever, and I'd watch three or four more sequels if you shove them in front of me.
THE WORST FILMS OF THE YEAR!
5. Left Behind: Guys, I think it might be time to take Nicolas Cage out to pasture. It hurts to type, but the man either can't catch a break or he just doesn't have it in him anymore. Left Behind is the final straw, we gotta do something before his career steers even further into the realm of embarrassment. To once again go back to Jackie Brown, "Your ass used to be beautiful."
4. 3 Days To Kill: Oof. Another career that has seen better days. Kevin Costner does his best Agent Cody Banks, and might have pulled it off if not for the daughter in distress angle and Amber Heard's red red red red red lipstick abomination. Everyone in this film acts profoundly uncomfortable. They know they're in a goose egg, just running the numbers until the credits roll.
3. 300 - Rise of an Empire: Zach Snyder gets a lot of hate on the net these days. I get it, Sucker Punch was a god awful mess. Man of Steel has its problems. But dammit, watching 300 Part II really made me appreciate the balls out insanity of his Frank Miller adaptation. What a god awful dullard of a movie. Eva Green in all her nude hate madness could not save a second of this claptrap. Garbage.
2. Sin City - A Dame To Kill For: Was this as bad as Robert Rodriguez last DIY effort, Machete Kills? No. And there might even be a moment or two where I had a good time with this one. Sadly though, you just cannot go home again. In the eight years since the original Frank Miller collaboration (that mad nutter again), my opinion of the film has dwindled quite a bit. Similar to how some films don't need sequels, some comic books are just better off as comics. Especially when the comics are already playing so heavily in cinematic nostalgia. A reflection of a reflection of a reflection is nothing. It's pretender cinema.
1. Sabotage: Arnie should certainly be doing more movies like this and fewer like Terminator Genisys. Playing his age, acting rough & mean. An old dog with a few tricks still left. Sadly, this is a David Ayer movie, and Arnie is trapped in a fog of B.S. machismo about yet another group of corrupt asshole cops. The film tries too damn hard to be HARDCORE. It's silly. It's goofy. And it's laughable. Not to mention that Arnie is surrounded by a group of wannabe badasses. Roll over guys, play dead. Stay dead.
MOST OVERRATED FILM OF THE YEAR - Boyhood: This is a good movie. And it's quite an experience to watch your actors age with their characters. But it's also just another coming-of-age story. I get it. Growing up. It's an event. We all do it. Ok. I'd rather watch the Before Trilogy again or Paul Almond's Up series.
Runner Up - Birdman
MOST UNFAIRLY MALIGNED FILM OF THE YEAR - Godzilla: When you got out of the movie did you say something like, "There should have been more Godzilla." If so, then you've probably never watched a Godzilla film before. I'm not going to pretend that I'm the biggest Gojira fan on the planet - only this year did I watch a number of the original films. I dug em. Most of them share the human to kaiju ration found here. It's called "Build." Could Aaron Taylor Johnson have had a touch more charisma? Yes. Should he have been killed off and Bryan Cranston moved to the center of the action? Yes. But dammit, I enjoyed the hell out of the spectacle. The Atomic Breath Finishing Move? That's gotta be one of the coolest things I saw all year.
Runner Up - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
BEST FILM SCORE - Under The Skin by Mica Levi: Not the type of score that you tap your foot to, but Levi's constant hummmmm electrifies the unease of the screenplay. It fits right at home with the alien predator, lulls you in, drowns you in a black pool, vibrates your innards.
Runner Up - Interstellar by Hans Zimmer
BEST FILM SOUNDTRACK - Guardians of the Galaxy: Obviously we all love the music here. But it's not just a soulless collection of Classic Rock to win over the mindless drones in the audience. One of my favorite aspects to the film is how the soundtrack acts as an extension of a mother's love for her son. Not only does it keep Peter connected to his mom (and Earth), but that love also reaches out to blue alien thugs in the form of The Pina Colada Song, and teaches vicious galactic assassins to dance. It's also a great weapon to take down a Kree despot. Winning.
Runner Up - Frank
THE IT'S NOT TAKEN BUT WE'LL TAKE IT AWARD - A Walk Among The Tombstones: We've only got a couple of weeks, but soon we'll finally have the conclusion to the epic Brian Mills Saga. Until then we've just had to settle for a hodgepodge of various Neeson street toughs. Non-Stop was fun enough, but ask me what the plot was and all I can recite is the Key & Peele sketch. A Walk Among The Tombstones is not great cinema either, but it sure as hell is a dark beast of crime time horror. Neeson is hired by Dan Stevens' drug kingpin to find the serial killers who mutilated his wife. A cheery place to start that only gets cheerier as Neeson shoots, cuts, and carves his way through an 8MM conspiracy. U - G - L - Y.
THE GOOD SAMARITAN AWARD - The Guest: A soldier returns to the United States, and visits the family of a fallen comrade. "He's Here To Help." To reveal more than that would spoil the fun of the film. Let's just say that from almost his first moments on screen, you fully understand that something is off about Dan Stevens. He's done bad stuff, but maybe he's not such a bad guy. Maybe he's the worst guy? Maybe he's the worst guy and the best guy. Total charm & total terror in one body. Adam Wingard's followup to You're Next is not a straight up horror film, but like that film, John Carpenter holds a lot of influence over the style & script. Essential viewing for genre fanboys.
BEST TITLE SEQUENCE - Captain America The Winter Soldier: As with all MCU flicks, the title sequence is saved till the very end. Usually they're more than a touch pedestrian (I still love Iron Man 3's 80s TV finale), but the Russos went to the comic book world's best collage artist, David Mack to produce their Saul Bass-y send off. It's just the coolest. Just another feather in the cap of Marvel's best picture.
FILM DISCOVERY OF THE YEAR AWARD - Number One: Caught this one on VOD in preparation for Matt's annual Hest Fest. Charlton Heston plays Ron "Cat" Catlan, a washed up quarterback who drowns his woes in booze and women, and treats them equally with hateful contempt. Heston has always relished in playing the most despicable of "Heroic" Leads, but as much of an A-hole as he can be in Planet of the Apes or Soylent Green, nothing quite matches the politically incorrect revolution found in Cat. One of my new favorite Movie Losers. Give me a blu ray please.
Runner Up - Wattstax
BEST SILVER SCREEN CLASSIC - Point Blank: Seeing my favorite movie adaptation of one of my favorite crime novels at the AFI Silver was the movie highlight of the year. I've droned on & on about my love for this film, and right now I cannot think of another thing to say to convince you to watch John Boorman's psychedelic revenge film. Lee Marvin is Cold Blooded. Bad news done right. Warner Brothers also finally brought the film to high definition this year, and the blu ray includes a wonderfully rich commentary track featuring both John Boorman & fanboy Stephen Soderbergh. A must own.
Runner Up - The Professionals
THE SORCERER OR SORCERESS AWARD - Sorceress: A couple of long lost films hit blu this year, and as much as I enjoyed William Friedkin's South American nitro trucker thriller, the film that really got me giddy was the Jack Hill directed/Roger Corman produced T&A Fantasy, Sorceress. Satyrs. Wizards. Flying Lions. Twin Playmate Warriors. The film has it all. Certainly everything an adolescent or stunted youth needs in life. It's trash. But I cherish it deeply.
Runner Up - Sorcerer
MOST ANTICIPATED FILM OF THE YEAR - The Hateful Eight: 2015 will probably end up being The Year of Star Wars. I can't get terribly excited about it. I hope JJ can pull it off, but after The Phantom Menace, I don't think I'll ever loose my mind over a Star Wars film again. Never say never and all that blah blah blah. Now Age of Ultron has a good chance of winning the year. Looking above and how hard I fell for The Winter Soldier, it's easy to see a world in which I go even kookier for the Joss Whedon sequel. After all, James Spader's got no strings. Still, coming after Inglourious Basterds & Django Unchained, it's impossible to deny my enthusiasm for whatever film Quentin Tarantino does next. And another Western to boot? I don't scoff. More Westerns all the time! I'm betting my 2015 Dorkies will rank this Magnificent Seven/Reservoir Dogs mashup as my Numero Uno movie. Although, there are probably another dozen movies I'm not even aware of that have just as good a chance. Let's hope for an even stronger year at the cinema.
Runner Up - Avengers Age Of Ultron