Category Archives: Lists

Unite the League: 10 Greatest DC Comics Movies Of All Time

It’s funny how DC Comics is struggling to break into the cinematic universe gig despite their vast influence over comic book history. We give Marvel creator Stan Lee so much credit for all of the creative and dynamic characters he’s brought us over the years, both on the panels of the comic book and on the big screen. Yet has anyone ever stopped to think about the inspiration that came before him? Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created Superman in the pages of Action Comics in May 1938. Bob Kane created Batman in 1939. William Moulton Marston created Wonder Woman in 1941. Even with all of his young promise, Stan Lee wouldn’t create the Fantastic Four until 1961, 20 years after Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman were cemented as comic-book icons, influencing our culture several decades beyond their time. Stan Lee may have perfected the comic-book craft, but he did not start it. DC Comics did.

How ironic is it, then, that the DCEU is struggling both financially and critically five movies into their franchise, yet Marvel is skyrocketing with their 18th film due for release next spring? It’s a shame, really. DC has been a huge part of many childhoods over the years, mine included. The original Richard Donner Superman films starring Christopher Reeve. The Tim Burton Batman movies starring Michael Keaton. The “Batman” and “Justice League” animated cartoons. We’ve grown up with these characters for so long, hoping one day to see them all realized on the big screen. We got our wish, although it may not be what many were expecting.

For the record, I haven’t seen Justice League yet, and will not until later this week when I’ve recovered from my sinus infection. Regardless, I have had time to catch up on the nostalgia on some older DC movies, and boy are there many. Regardless of whether Justice League is any good or not, at least we’ll be able to look back fondly on these 10 DC Comics movies.

– David Dunn

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Top 10 Films Of 2016

I think I speak for everyone when I say this has been an exhausting year for us all. The politics. The presidential elections. Not to mention all of the celebrity deaths. I thought last year was bad. 2016 felt like it was having a competition with 2015 on how much more miserable it could make everyone feel. If I were judging, it wouldn’t even be a contest for me. 2016: you win.

During these difficult times, I try to find some positive from the year that everyone can take away to make the next year more positively impactful. Most years, they are the movies, because they usually reflect our mindset, where we’re at socially, and where we need to go from here together as a society. This year, however, my point of positive is not the movies (although that is a close second).

No, this year, its the people.

No matter what we’ve faced this year, there were always people there to help others with the horrible things they were going through. There were Christians that helped the homosexual community after the Orlando nightclub shooting in June. Legal citizens helping their fleeing refugee neighbors from war-torn countries. The Americans that banded together for the ethnic minorities that were targets of many hate crimes during the presidential elections. On and on.

My point being, no matter who is triumphing over whom, there will always be a group of people there to hold everyone accountable for their actions. Cries for justice may go unanswered, crimes may go unpunished. But we as a people, for the most part, know the difference between right and wrong. And you can’t ever escape morality, no matter what office you hold or what seat you sit in. These same unnamed heroes are the same people who made the year’s most important stories on the big screen. Perhaps that is why 2016 is one of my least favorite years, but one of my favorite years in film.

Before we get into my top 10 list for the year, it’s important for you to understand that I have not seen every movie made this year. I tried. Films that I wanted to see but didn’t get the chance to view included A Monster Calls, La La Land, Silence, Patriots Day, and Fences. What can I say? 2016 is a year filled with movies, but since the other 11 months aren’t close enough to awards season, those filmmakers decide to push those releases to the very end in December next to all the other Holiday releases. Since they’re more concerned about trophies than they are in reaching their audience, they will not be included on this list, even if their films deserve to be.

Also, this is my top 10 list. My favorite films. My opinion. You will notice that Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is not included on this list. That is because I saw 10 other films that I enjoyed more than I did Rogue One. That does not lessen or expand upon Rogue One’s success, or the success of many other films. It just means that I liked these movies more.

That being said, let’s hop into my favorites from this year:


10. Kubo and the Two Strings

A movie that is not only better than most of today’s animated films, but also better than most of its live-action ones as well. When Kubo (Art Parkinson) is being hunted by his evil grandfather the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes), he enlists in the help of two new friends he’s met along his journey: Monkey (Charlize Theron) and Beetle (Matthew McConaughey). Together, these three embark on an adventure to defeat the Moon King and free Kubo from his clutches forever. Filmed using stop-motion technology, Kubo and the Two Strings feels and breathes of Japanese mythology, its characters talking, fighting, flipping, and moving like the origami figures Kubo loves to craft. The action is also surprisingly exciting, with its fast-moving and acrobatic characters fighting in sequences that are more impressive than most of the year’s live-action films. There is one plot twist that doesn’t fit in with the overall plot, but beyond that, this is an excellent movie. Like Akira and Spirited Away, this is a movie that challenges animated movies and what they can accomplish. If Kubo is anything to go by, they can accomplish a lot. Three and a half stars.

9. Moana

A great deep sea adventure and memorable animated odyssey. When the powerful demi-God Maui (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) loses an ancient artifact known as the Heart of Te Fiti, he sends the world spiraling into a pit of darkness that is polluting all of the Earth’s crops and lands. But when the ocean picks Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) as the one who will rescue Maui, find the heart of Te Fiti, and restore the planet, she embarks on an epic journey to find the stone, and along the way, herself. Disney outdoes themselves yet again with this one. The animation alone is visually colorful and dynamic, even the waves are so detailed and accurate in their movement that its hard to tell the difference between it and the real ocean. The voice talent is outstanding, with newcomer Auli’i Cravalho surprising us at every turn with her singing and projection. A great throwback to classic Disney adventures and a great tribute to female empowerment. Three and a half stars.

8. Miracles From Heaven

Part medical drama, part family drama, part spiritual drama, all human drama. Based on a true story, Miracles From Heaven follows a tight-knit Texas family when their middle daughter is diagnosed with intestinal pseudo-obstruction, a fatal disease that freezes the intestines and makes it nearly impossible to digest food. Now left wondering how something so terrible could happen to a girl so sweet, Christy Beam (Jennifer Garner) is determined to nurse her daughter back to health, no matter how many pills, tests, or doctor visits it takes. Jennifer Garner is a standout in this movie, expressing genuine joy and relief in some moments, while in others demonstrating genuine grief and depression, just like all of the ups and downs a mother would go through with her child. Despite this film being labeled a “Religious” film, it isn’t preaching to the choir, and is considerate and respectful to viewers of all faiths, especially those who don’t believe. Other movies should follow its template if they want to be as impactful and meaningful. Not just a good Christian film, but a great one. Three and a half stars.

7. Doctor Strange

A unique, compelling, visually spectacular entry into the superhero genre: one of the best. When Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) gets into a devastating car accident, he loses the nerves in his hands and his career as a neurosurgeon. When he is told that a monk called the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) can help him, he traverses to the deep mountains in Nepal to be cured, only to be introduced to a world full of magic and sorcery that he’s only beginning to understand. The visual effects are easily the standout element of this movie, with sorcerers kung-fu fighting each other on constantly shifting walls, windows, pillars, ledges, and anything else that can turn into a kaleidoscope of architecture. Not since Avatar or Inception have the visuals been so sensory that they felt more like an out-of-body experience rather than a cinematic one. Cumberbatch, just as well, plays his role with charisma and gravitas, making his character feel more tragically Shakespearean rather than larger-than-life. A great moviegoing experience that shows our titular character not as a superhero, but as a man, fatally egotistical, selfish, eccentric, ignorant, and most of all, flawed. Four stars.

6. Finding Dory

A surprisingly meaningful animated sequel that is every bit as good as its predecessor. Taking place years after the events of Finding Nemo, Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) suddenly remembers her parents and her life before meeting Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Hayden Rolence). Now determined to reunite with her parents, Dory, Marlin, and Nemo embark on yet another journey across the ocean to find Dory’s family. With Finding Nemo writer-director Andrew Stanton returning to once again helm this oceanic odyssey, Finding Dory displays a fine understanding of everyone’s favorite forgetful fish. So fine, in fact, that this movie truly stands on its own, needing almost no support from its previous entry. From its animation to its screenplay, Finding Dory is a smart homage to its origins, but also a funny, unique, and emotional roller coaster of a film that stands very well on its own two feet (well, fins). Four stars.

5. Don’t Breathe

An intense, immersive experience that makes the best use out of its limited premise. When a team of professional thieves decide to rob the home of a retired blind veteran, they think its an easy job. But when one thing happens after another, they realize this veteran is not all that he seems, and soon they’re the ones fearing for their lives. This cat-and-mouse invasion thriller is excellently paced and tightly edited, with director Fede Alvarez making the best use of his environments and with how characters react to shocking revelations. He also makes great use of sound space, with the most tense moments often being the most silent. The cast is convincing in their roles, and Stephen Lang demonstrates the full capacity of his skills as this spine-chilling, creepy, yet sympathetic veteran desperate for the things that he’s lost. A creative, captivating thriller that is as unconventional as it is unpredictable. Four stars.

4. Deepwater Horizon

A unique and riveting action film that seeks to honor its real-life subjects by showing us exactly what they went through. Mark Wahlberg stars in this adaptation of the 2010 BP oil spill directed by Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights, Lone Survivor), and he handles this subject with delicate treatment of the events and for the real-life figures involved in the tragedy. Berg connects us to the crew members’ humanity before ominously foreshadowing to their dreary fates beyond the spewing oil, the collapsing metal frames, the wild fires, and the empty sea gallows looming beneath them. This is a movie that completely understands what the real-life crew members were up against, and they bring you every detail of that disaster with nerve-wrecking alertness and urgency. The PG-13 rating is deceiving. Definitely do not bring your children. Four stars.

3. Arrival

A science-fiction drama that starts out as one thing, only to slowly transform into another. When aliens land on multiple places at once on Earth, the U.S. army enlists in the help of Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a linguist who is notable for her translation of thousands of languages on the planet. As she investigates deeper into the reasons why the aliens are there, she makes a discovery that will change the course of the human species forever. Smartly crafted from the mind of director Denis Villenueve (Prisoners, Sicario), Arrival is an intelligent observation of the extraterrestrial, how humans react to the unknown and how they build and learn foreign communication. Adams is a powerhouse as the lead, a hero who is intelligent, vulnerable, yet persistent in doing what she has to do. Smart, emotional, and leaving you with plenty to think about long after you’ve left the movie theater, Arrival is a science-fiction experience that you simply must see. The twist near the end will guarantee have your jaw dropping. Four stars.

2. Captain America: Civil War

The best MCU movie to be made to date. When the United Nations decides that the Avengers are too dangerous to be left unchecked, the team is split into two factions. Captain America (Chris Evans) believes that the team should be allowed to continue to operate freely without interference. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) thinks that the team needs to be held accountable in some way, shape or form. As tensions between the two sides rise, the team eventually collapses and comes to blows with each other, never to leave them the same again. A film as politically-charged as it is fast-paced, fun, and exciting, Captain America: Civil War is unique in the superhero genre in that there is no black-and-white sense of morality. No established sense of right and wrong in the picture, just characters whose ideals and values clash violently with each other. What’s left is an unconventional masterpiece, a moral dilemma packaged as a superhero blockbuster that excites us just as much as it challenges us. Chadwick Boseman and Tom Holland shine in their breakout roles as Black Panther and Spider-Man. Four stars.

1. Hacksaw Ridge

A powerful, emboldening film, one that does not shortchange the horror of war, but equally does not shortchange the power of belief either. Hacksaw Ridge is based on the incredible true story of Desmond Doss, a WWII combat medic who saved over 75 soldiers during the battle of Okinawa. Most impressively, he did it armed without a single weapon. Directed by Mel Gibson, who is a master at epic filmmaking with Braveheart and Passion of the Christ, Hacksaw Ridge pulls emotion out of you to the point where you don’t feel like you’re watching a movie anymore, and are instead completely immersed in its harsh, uncompromised reality. Andrew Garfield equally commits to this uncompromising role, showing how his character is scared, frightened, yet earnest and determined all the same. I can’t praise this movie enough. Hacksaw Ridge does more than strengthen the soldier’s spirit. It strengthens the human spirit. Four stars.


And now for my special prize. For those of you that don’t know, every year I award a special prize to a limited release that not many people heard of, but nonetheless deserves to be sought out just like any blockbuster out there. This year’s selection was difficult, because for the longest time, I debated if this film should be placed as my number one in my list over Hacksaw Ridge. I eventually decided that its achievement places itself at a higher, more important caliber than a top ten list. So I decided to give it the appropriate award for its uniqueness.

And my special prize this year goes to…

Special Prize: Moonlight

An urgent, important, and timely film that presses the viewer not to understand its characters by their race or sexuality, but by their personal experiences that mold them into the men that they become. Broken up into three parts, Moonlight follows a young man growing up in an ugly urban neighborhood that doesn’t care much about the people who live in it. As he is hit with one childhood trauma after another, we watch as they shape him into the man that he grows up to become, with all of his flaws, scars, and burdens on his shoulders intact. A great movie that hits on many important issues, Moonlight absorbs great performances from Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders, and even child actor Alex Hibbert, who surprisingly keeps up with the outstanding talent surrounding him. Barry Jenkins, who hasn’t made a film in eight years, comes back center stage with a film that is technically immaculate, creatively shot, and emotionally absorbing. It is a personal, astounding film that shows while a person may be scarred, hurt, maybe even broken, they are no less beautiful because of it.

I can’t make it any simpler than this. If you can only see one movie from this year, make it Moonlight.

And that’s my list, folks. Here’s to leaving 2016 behind, and looking forward to making 2017 better.

– David Dunn

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Top Ten Films of 2015

2015 was the year of change.

As I sit here, thinking about how this year ends and the next one begins, that’s the thought that keeps coming to my mind. I’ve changed this year. Not just me, but everyone else this year. People changed after terrorists attacked the city of Paris twice in both January and November, killing more than 140 people in total. People changed when business mogul Donald Trump announced his campaign for presidency in June, and as voters continued to debate the upcoming elections and how important it is to elect the right leader for the future of the U.S. People changed when war raged on in Syria, consuming over 200,000 lives as they died trying to escape their reality and come into Europe or the United States.

People all around the world changed as tragedy struck it again and again. It is years like these that remind me that we need the movies now more than ever. Not just to comment and bring exposure to the different realities we don’t know about, but also to escape from them when we need to.

It is times like these where I am overjoyed that the movies decide to change with us. To not only bring us stories that we don’t know about, but also to give us emotions of insight, joy, angst, tragedy, anger, sadness, and hope as we see these characters growing and changing, just like we are.

A few notes I want to point out before going into this year’s top 10 list. First of all, this is my top 10 list, meaning not every critically acclaimed movie from the year will be on this list. Movies such as Steve Jobs and The Martian, for instance, were highly regarded by critics and audiences everywhere. Neither of those are in my top 10. If you want to see movies like those in your top 10 list, go to RottenTomatoes or iMDB. Or better yet, make your own and comment below. Either case does not affect me. Top 10 lists are supposed to be celebrations of your most cherished movies of the year. Not everyone will share your views, and indeed, you might disagree with one or two entries on this list.

And as another disclaimer, I have not seen every movie released this year. The biggest I have missed, perhaps, is Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s The Revenant, which is NOT a 2015 release despite claiming it is on Wikipedia. It’s doesn’t get a wide release until Jan. 9, and as such, I will not be able to review it in time for this year, which sucks, but it’s Inarritu’s own fault. So sorry if a movie deserved to be on this list but couldn’t be. I’m only human.

Before we get into my top 10, I want to start by announcing my special prize for the year. For those of you that don’t know, the special prize is a honorary recognition I give to a limited-release film that was not heard about or seen by many moviegoers, but deserves just as much recognition, if not more so, than most of the movies on my list. Last year, that honor went to the Roger Ebert documentary Life Itself. This year, it goes to Bill Pohlad’s music biopic Love and Mercy, which tells the wonderful yet heartbreaking story about Beach Boy’s singer Brian Wilson, his battle with mental illness, and his overcoming of drug abuse and childhood trauma. Pohlad, who also served as a producer for The Tree of Life and 12 Years A Slave, debuts as a strong filmmaker all his own, not only understanding and implementing the visual art of storytelling, but also accurately appealing to the aesthetics of this complicated and personal biography. Actors Paul Dano and John Cusack are exemplary at portraying Wilson at different points of his life, and do well at showing how much this talented musician struggled with himself at any time period of his life. A small-budget summer release that squeaked by unnoticed by most, but is just as deserving to be seen as any wide-release blockbuster out there. Four stars.

10) Creed

Creed lives and exists in the shadows of its predecessors, but just like it’s main hero, it breaks away from the mold and builds a legacy all of its own. Adonis “Donnie” Creed (Michael B. Jordan) is the illegitimate son of Rocky Balboa’s (Sylvester Stallone) rival, Apollo Creed. When he decides to step into the ring himself, he enlists in the help of the Italian stallion to train him and become a fighter all his own. Writer-director Ryan Coogler, who is most known for 2013’s Fruitvale Station, approached this not as a sequel to a popular franchise, but rather as an intimate, personal story about one fighter’s deep aspirations. Jordan and Stallone demonstrate great chemistry with each other, even challenging the dynamic between Rocky and Mick in the original film. A hot-blooded sports drama through and through, let alone one of the best Rocky films, if you can call it that. Three and a half stars.

9) Avengers: Age of Ultron

A summer blockbuster that aims to outdo the original and misses it only by a hair, which is not a bad thing. The Avengers team up this time to take on the wickedly manipulative artificial intelligence Ultron (James Spader), who was created by Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) to protect the Earth from super human threats. When Ultron goes rogue and become obsessed with human extinction, it’s up to the Avengers to stop him. Spader as Ultron is the best super villain performance I’ve seen in a Marvel movie to date. He doesn’t behave or talk like other androids. He is fluid and life-like, chaotic and radical in his thinking, acting more like a psychotic child rather than a logically driven A.I. Everything else in the movie lives up to the expectations you had from the first movie. The action is unique, visually complex, and eye-popping. The story is layered and intelligent, with characters bouncing witty and thought-provoking dialogue off of each other in perfect dynamics. The people over at Marvel continue to surprise me and make me believe in its cinematic universe. Let’s hope they can keep this up for the next 11 movies. Three and a half stars.

8) Concussion

A provocative sports drama that refuses everything we love about sports. Bennet Omalu (Will Smith) is a brilliant pathologist who, after performing an autopsy on a notable football player, discovers a lethal disease that is caused by repetitive physical trauma to the brain. Now teaming up with doctors and scientists to defend his findings, he prepares to take on the NFL and reveal the problems the league has been hiding for a long time. There are many people who will not want to see this movie due to their love and commitment for the sport. Yet, it is these same people that need to see this movie the most. Writer-director Peter Landesman, who was previously criticized for his 2013 political thriller Parkland, finds his niche here in a story that not many people knew about, or maybe didn’t want to know about. Smith is exemplary as Omalu, and from the movie’s most bravura scenes to its most tender, he hits every emotional note spot-on, all while not breaking his Nigerian accent. An unconventional, nail-biting thriller that demands to be seen and heard. Three and a half stars.

7) Mad Max: Fury Road

Never before has a movie broken so many many rules and get away with it. On a desolate and deprived planet Earth, former patrol officer Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) is on the run from the tyrannical warlord Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). When he gets caught up in a conflict involving Joe, road warrior Furiosa (Charlize Theron) and all of Joe’s wives, he needs to team up with them to escape the desert and free the women from Joe’s cruelty and control. There is no plot in this movie, only the resemblance of one. The plot, however, is not what matters. What matters is the spectacular, eye-popping action and explosions, and even a few moments of softly implied feminism in the picture. Hardy replaces Mel Gibson’s role well with hardened machismo and stiffness to his gesture and voice. Theron demonstrates great versatility, being firm and uncompromising in one moment, and emotionally exhausted and stricken in another. A film that’s politically driven and female empowering, all while being ridiculous and absurd in the most gleeful of ways. Three and a half stars. 

6) Paper Towns

The second of John Green’s novels to be adapted to film, with the first being last year’s The Fault In Our Stars. Quintin “Q” Jacobsen (Nat Wolff) is a regular high school student with regular friends, regular parents, regular life, and regular post-graduation plans. The one thing that isn’t regular in Q’s life is Margo Roth Spiegelman (Cara Delevingne), the girl on his block that he’s been in love with since they were kids. One day, after Margo completely vanishes, Q discovers clues Margo left behind for him to discover. Now convinced that Margo wants him to find her, Q starts piecing all of the clues together to find out where she has gone to convince her to come home.

It’s hard to look at this movie and not relate it to our own experiences in high school, in first love, in friendship, and in self-discovery. Wolff plays his role convincingly without overdoing it, portraying all of the joy, excitement, angst, ambition, and confusion a teenager has during his high school years. The supporting cast is just as essential in making John Green’s ordinary characters extraordinary. A genuine, funny, and passionate film that delves into both the truths and fantasies of growing up. Three and a half stars. 

5) Straight Outta Compton

One of the most compelling films I’ve seen this year. Straight Outta Compton follows the story of Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins), Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), Eazy E (Jason Mitchell), MC Ren (Aldis Hodge) and DJ Yella (Neil Brown Jr.), and how these five men grew up in the streets and eventually formed the iconic hip-hop group N.W.A. The parallels this movie draws on is ingenious, and director F. Gary Gray is exemplary in realizing the African-American struggle in a poverty-stricken neighborhood. What’s most captivating is the fact that the movie isn’t pro-police or anti-police or pro-gangs or anti-gangs. It shows the ugliness of every side of Compton, whether it exists on a badge or on a bandana. A great film that sets out not to show who’s right or wrong, but simply what is. Four stars.

Note: While among the year’s best, it’s important to note that ‘Straight Outta Compton’ deserves every syllable of its R rating and then some. F-words fly out like bullets from an uzi. Nude and scantily-clad women flock to rappers in herds, and in some cases engage in explicit sexual acts in public. Police and gang members also equally engage in very violent confrontations. This is your warning. If you hate hip-hop, you will hate ‘Straight Outta Compton.’ 

4) Sicario

A permanent, chilling, and disturbing portrait that remains with you long after you’ve left the movie theater. FBI agent Kate Mercer (Emily Blunt) is recruited for a special op with CIA officer Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), who tells Kate they’re going to bring down the Mexican cartel. As Kate digs deeper into the pursuit of its leader, she soon discovers secrets darker than any drug lord or government official can hide from her. This is a nearly perfect film in which all of the elements form together into an excellent scope of filmmaking. The cast is brilliant and could catch your attention just by reading their lines. Director Dennis Villeneuve evokes a sense of hopelessness and desperation from its setting. The cinematography by Roger Deakins captures the aesthetic perfectly, while editor Joe Walker cuts skillfully in between angles and shots to help construct coherent ideas in the viewer’s minds. Sicario is Spanish for hitman. I don’t know what disturbs me more: knowing who the Sicario is, or who are the people that he’s hunting. Four stars.

3) Spotlight 

A necessary film that makes you think about the people that you don’t normally think about, the problems that you don’t think exist, and the secrets that you don’t think are being hidden behind prayers and confession booths. Based on the Boston Globe story on the 1990 Church abuse scandal, Spotlight follows the investigative reporting team that discovered that the Catholic church was covering up for priests that had sexually abused children at their parishes. When they find out how big the problem really is, they work to get to the bottom of the story and hold the people accountable for the grave sins they’ve committed. Featuring an all star cast including Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Brian d’Arcy James, Liev Schrieber, John Slattery, and Stanley Tucci, Spotlight is a movie that uses its actors not as the foundation for its story, but as the catalysts to show how urgent this epidemic really is. Writer-director Tom McCarthy, who was raised Catholic, juggles this behind-the-scenes story with real people’s traumas and emotions in mind, resulting in a portrait that is genuine, astounding, mind-blowing, and heartbreaking all at once. Not the best film of the year, but easily the most important. Four stars.

2) Inside Out

Another colorful Pixar masterpiece that uses reality as its springboard for creation and fantasy. The emotions Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), and Anger (Lewis Black) make up 11-year-old Riley Anderson (Kaitlyn Dias), who just recently moved with her family from Minnesota to San Francisco. As Riley goes through the changes in her life, her emotions go through a roller coaster of an adventure to make Riley’s life a happy, sad, fearful, disgusted, and angry one. The animation reaches out to you in vivid detail through its vibrant colors and ambitious landscapes, creating a beautiful universe in Riley’s expansive mind. What’s most meaningful, however, is its story. Writer-director Pete Docter (Monsters Inc., Up) uses the human psyche as his narrative playground, telling a thoughtful story on the emotions we experience and how they all make up who were are. Like the wacky emotions in Riley’s curious little head, Inside Out is a uniquely original force to be reckoned with. Four stars.

1) Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Are you really that surprised? Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a sheer blast of nostalgia, meaningful and joyous from it’s opening scroll credits to when John William’s score crescendos in the last shot. Taking place 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi, Star Wars: The Force Awakens follows a new group of misfits as they suddenly get tangled into this intergalactic conflict involving heroes and villains both old and new. J.J. Abrams revitalizes George Lucas’ cherished sci-fi series for a new age, updating it with creative and interesting characters that makes this a strong story on its own, not just a strong Star Wars story. The cast is exemplary, with newcomer Daisy Ridley shining the most out of the whole group. We’ve seen an updated Star Wars for a modern audience before, and that was in the lopsided and disappointing prequel trilogy. Now we have The Force Awakens, and it’s so good that it’s eligible to compete with the original. Four stars.

Honorable mentions go to the smirkingly funny and genuine Trainwreck, the thought-provoking sci-fi drama Ex Machina, the intelligent and maddening The Big Short, and the disgusting yet wickedly genius western The Hateful Eight. All of those deserved a placement on this list, but unfortunately, did not deserve it as much as others. They are still among the year’s best.

Thank you to my readers for experiencing 2015 for me. I look forward to the changes we will go through in 2016, as I do with the movies.

– David Dunn

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Top Ten Films Of 2014

Has anyone ever stopped to wonder why all of the best of the year lists have to be in the top ten? Like, what sort of critic was working on his list and thought that ten would be the magic number? Why ten and not twelve? Or fifteen? Five? Twenty? Eight? Why was ten specifically chosen as the big number? Was it chosen at random, or was it actually chosen for some relevant, significant reason?

Regardless of whatever the case may be, I’m choosing to be a little rebellious this year. For the past few years, I’ve seen enough films to make a “Top 15″ list if I wanted to, but if I had done that, my site viewership would go down by about twenty views.

So this year, to battle the preconceived notion that “best of the year” lists have to have ten movies, I’m doing two different things. 1) I’m adding an “honorable mentions” selection that while those films aren’t necessarily in my top ten, they are still significant films that have contributed to the year’s industry regardless. 2) In honor of our first full year without the wise, sometime snarky, words of film critic Roger Ebert, I’m offering a special Grand Jury Prize, which honors a film from the year which has made a notable accomplishment that fits outside of my year’s top ten.

As always, there is a few things you need to know before I get into my year’s best. First of all, I haven’t seen all of the films the year has had to offer. I’ve heard from so many people how Jean-Marc Vallee’s Wild was emotionally stirring, with Reese Witherspoon’s performance being the greatest highlight of the film. I’ve also read from critics that Selma, A Most Violent Year, and American Sniper were great movies as well, but guess what? None of those movies get a wide release until after Dec. 31, so I’m not able to even see those films until after the year anyway. So what am I going to do? Release a revision to my current list, or add those films to 2015 if they’re good enough? I’ll make a decision when it comes to that. It’s the studio’s faults for releasing those movies so late into the year anyway. Blasted film mongers.

Secondly, and perhaps more significantly, this is my list for the best films of 2014. Not yours. There has been high praise from many notable films of the year, including Edge of Tomorrow, The Theory of Everything, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. None of those films will be on my top ten list because I didn’t deem them worthy enough to be on there. It’s nothing against the films or the filmmakers: I just didn’t think they were good enough.

If you’re not satisfied with that, then please, make your own top ten list. I’d love to read it, and if your reasonings are sound enough, I’d like to share it with others.

Now then, let’s hop to it, shall we? Here are my top ten films of 2014:

10. Interstellar 

A mesmerizing, breathtaking, and exhilarating journey that may have only slightly exceeded it’s grasp. Based on an idea by physicist Kip Thorne and directed by Christopher Nolan, Interstellar takes place in the future on a dying planet Earth, where the only source of sustainable food is by growing corn. When former aircraft pilot Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) stumbles upon a secret station that has been hiding NASA for so many years, Cooper enlists in a daring space mission to find a new planet that will be able to sustain and save the human race. A testament to the quality of film that Nolan is consistent in making, Interstellar is a brilliantly woven, thought-provoking plot, invoking the same themes of humanity and identity that Nolan exercises in all of his films. McConaughey reaches an emotional depth much deeper than past “Nolan” actors, and succeeds in making his character more human than hero. This is Nolan’s most emotional movie yet, but it’s also his most complicated and convoluted. But if Nolan’s only real flaw with this film is being overly ambitious, I don’t consider that a flaw at all. Three and a half stars.

9. The Grand Budapest Hotel

A crafty and artsy film that acts as a homage to the early days of cinema. After being framed for a violent murder of one of his former hotel guests, Concierge Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) teams up with his young apprentice Zero (Tony Revolori) to set out and prove his innocence through a series of weird, wacky, and crazy adventures. Written and directed by Wes Anderson, who was nominated for an Academy Award for The Royal Tenenbaums and Moonrise Kingdom, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a peculiar, quirky film, a fun and enjoyable ride in it’s own singular way. Anderson is very specific with the direction of the film, using practical effects and set pieces that gives the film a very distinct visual style and aesthetic. The antics Gustave and Zero go through are the stuff of slapstick gold, with these guys doing silly stunts and chase sequences that reminds me of the silent film days of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. It’s definitely seasoned for the art house crowd, and it’s definitely more difficult to appeal to the masses. But if you allow yourself to be lost in it and have fun with it, you’ll find that it is easily the most unique film of the year. Three and a half stars.

8. How To Train Your Dragon 2

A wildly exciting and entertaining animated ride that appeals to both kids and adults. When a crusade of dragon-hunters reach the land of Berk and begin their hunt for the flying beasts, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) must team up once again with his dragon Toothless to stop the brigade and save Berk’s dragons and dragon riders. Written and directed by Dean DuBlois, who returned from directing the first film, How To Train Your Dragon 2 is a near-perfect follow-up. It hits on every note it needs to, from the comedy, to the animation, to the action, to the emotion. Hiccup is a much stronger, yet more vulnerable, character now, and needs to face more mature situations now as a grown man rather than as he did when he was a boy. In many ways, How To Train Your Dragon 2 is to it’s first counterpart as Hiccup is to his younger self: they both grew. Three and a half stars.

7. Gone Girl

A brilliantly frustrating thriller that exercises themes of infidelity and media harassment. When Nick Dunne’s (Ben Affleck) wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) goes missing, all eyes turn to Nick for what happened to his wife. When clues slowly surface and more details surrounding the disappearance reveal themselves, everyone is asking the same question: did Nick Dunne kill his wife? Directed by David Fincher and written by author Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl is a masterfully orchestrated thriller, equal parts daring, inventive, intelligent, and unpredictable. Fincher propels Flynn’s brilliant plot forward with expert direction, eye-striking camerawork, and a cast that Fincher pulls the best from. This movie is like a game of cat and mouse, except no one really knows who is the cat or mouse. There is not one note in the film that you can guess is coming. Three and a half stars.

6. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

A compelling and exciting survivalist-drama that looks at the human/primate condition as two sides to one coin. After the chemical attack on planet Earth that took place at the end of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes follows the story of Caesar (Andy Serkis) and Malcolm (Jason Clarke), the leaders of the apes and the humans, respectively. As the human-primate war rages on violently, Caesar and Malcolm begin to see that the apes and the humans aren’t so different from each other, and they begin to explore any possibilities of peace between two races. Matt Reeves builds an intelligent, in-depth story around Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and handles its premise with skill and precision.  It surprising that the basis of this film wasn’t grounded in action or ridiculous CGI stunts, but rather in small, intimate moments of conversation and ape-sign-language that characters share with each other. Serkis is a revelation in the movie, and deserves an Oscar nomination for both his physical and emotional performance. Four stars.

5. Birdman

One of the most mesmerizing, unique, disturbing, shocking, and darkly funny films I’ve ever seen. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu writes and directs this ingenious dramedy starring Michael Keaton as Riggan Thompson, a washed-up movie actor trying to escape his image in a former superhero role by adapting his favorite broadway play to the stage. Keaton is a natural in the role, relating his own experience to portraying Batman in order to further authenticity for the character. Cinematographer Emanuel Lubeski contributes to the visual design of the film, shooting and editing it to look like one, continuous shot rather than multiple longer takes. But Inarritu is the most essential storyteller here, making a visual and emotional masterpiece that is so distinct in its own language that it is impossible to define it, let alone replace it. Four stars.

4. Whiplash

One of the most edgy, thrilling, and provocative films of the year. Miles Teller stars as Andrew, an upcoming college student who is majoring in music and dreams of becoming one of the best drummers in the country. A series of events lands him in the top jazz orchestra of Shaffer Conservatory and under the tutelage of Terrence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), a brilliant but harsh and antagonistic instructor who is known to go very hard on his students. Andrew and Fletcher both develop an intense rivalry that both hurts Andrew, angers Fletcher, and yet equally compels them both to become the very best they can be. Writer/director Damien Chazelle conducts both actors through his sophomore effort, and does a great job in producing a tense, electric vibe consistently throughout the film. Teller and Simmons’ chemistry with each other is equally perfect, with the both of them bouncing off of each other’s words and emotions as perfectly as a drum beat. This film is about more than just music. It’s about the human desire to be great and what sacrifices we’d make to get there. Four stars.

3. Boyhood

The most revolutionary film of the year, ambitious in both production and vision. A twelve-year project pioneered by writer/director Richard Linklater, Boyhood tells the story of Mason’s (Ellar Coltrane) childhood, chronicling his entire life from when he was six years old, up until when he turns 18 and leaves for college. The movie isn’t so much a story as it is a scrapbook of memories, and Linklater is pulling each photograph out of it just to show it to us. When he is younger, Ellar isn’t acting but living, behaving like any other child would in the moment because he is in the moment. As he gets older, his performance gets more stagnant and Coltrane becomes more of a surrogate for us to express our emotions through, rather than experiencing his own. In this day and age, it’s rare to find a film as real and honest as Boyhood is. Four stars.

2. X-men: Days of Future Past

The best entry out of the X-men franchise, and the best superhero movie of the year. Serving as a sequel to both 2011’s X-men: First Class and 2006’s X-men: The Last Stand, X-men: Days of Future Past is set in the apocalyptic future where mutants are being exterminated by humanoid robots called “Sentinels”. Having only one chance to go back in time and stop this future from ever happening, Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen) send Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) through time to their younger selves (Portrayed by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender) so they can stop the triggering event and save the future. Directed by Bryan Singer, who formerly helmed the first two entries in the franchise, X-men: Days of Future Past is a game changer. It is not only a visually-dazzling and highly climactic sci-fi blockbuster: it is a vastly intelligent and contemplative story that focuses on its recurring themes of racism and xenophobia, once again bringing the consequences of discrimination to the forefront. X-men: Days of Future Past is one of those movies that restores your faith in the superhero genre. Four stars.

And finally, my number one film of the year is —

1. The Fault In Our Stars

Surprised? I’m not. The Fault In Our Stars is one of the most magical, heartbreaking, and genuine films you will ever see, and is more than worthy of being called the most emotional film of the year. Based off of the novel by John Green, The Fault In Our Stars follows the love story of two Cancer-stricken teenagers: the shy and book-loving Hazel Grace (Shailene Woodley) and the optimistic amputee Gus (Ansel Elgort). Written and directed by independent filmmaker Josh Boone, The Fault In Our Stars is one of the best stories ever translated from book to film. I initially was skeptical on seeing this film, considering how much it seemed to have been doused in rom-com syndrome. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth. Boone adapts Green’s story perfectly to the big screen, retaining everything in the novel from the visual details to the words that were written. But its Woodley and Elgort that sells it so well, their chemistry that vibrates so wonderfully with each other and leaves such an impression on you. Trust me when I say this isn’t your typical rom-com: it’s a heartfelt drama disguised as a tween movie, and it is the best of it’s kind. Four stars.

And finally, this year’s first Grand Jury Prize appropriately goes to Steve James’ documented biography Life Itself. Following Roger Ebert’s life and career from him growing up in Chicago, to when he got his first reporting job, to when he won the Nobel Prize for film criticism, to when he lost his best friend, to when he got Thyroid cancer, this film is everything that Roger Ebert is: funny, honest, heartfelt, unabashed, unflinching, and real. It doesn’t give you a peppered-up look at his life: it’s whole and accurate, as genuine as any of the reviews he’s written. I’m probably biased towards this subject, but the subject doesn’t count as long as it is handled well. James’ handles this story with respect and humility, and ends up telling a story about life itself rather than just limiting it to Roger’s story. It’s my favorite documentary of the year, and it brings me great pleasure to award my first Grand Jury Prize to this wonderful film tribute.

Honorable mentions include the creepy and morally ambiguous Nightcrawler, the funny yet stylish Guardians of the Galaxy, the humorously innovative The Lego Movie, and the quietly thrilling The Imitation Game, featuring the year’s best performance from actor Benedict Cumberbatch. Not all films can be honored at the end of the year compilations, but this year I was glad to have seen so many films and give each of them a chance to shine in their own way.

All the same, if you feel differently about some of the films on my list, or you have seen another film that deserves to be recognized, please comment about it. Or make your own list. Movies are deemed as great films not from individuals, but from the masses, and the only way you can tell if a movie has truly accomplished something is if it has the same effect on all its viewers.

On that note, my fellow moviegoers, I end with a classic line from my favorite film critic: “I’ll see you at the movies.”

– David Dunn

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Top Films of 2013

“Storytelling has gone through a great evolution in today’s culture,” said my pastor on Christmas day sermon, speaking on the technology breakthroughs we’ve made this year through film and television. “The stories that were given to us as a result are for more than just entertainment,” he said. “They were given to us as insight for the ears and for the heart.”

Oh man, is he right. 2013 was one heckuva year for movies, and while I can’t necessarily say that it was better than last year (With The Avengers and Argo and all), it certainly didn’t let me down. Just like any other year in my career, the movies have never dissapointed me.

Unfortunately, if I want to remain “hip” or “relevant” in today’s culture, I have to do the long-dreaded top ten list. Did I mention before how much I hate doing these? While I like highlighting the best films among the year, I hate placing one film over another, like one of them inherently did something wrong to not fight for one spot higher. Can’t we just appreciate the films for what they are and be done with it?

Faithful readers will remember that I had trouble making this same list last year. I was so intent and so focused on rushing my 2012 list out there in a timely fashion that I left out a few notable pictures that I haven’t been given the chance to see yet, including Les Miserables, The Hunger Games and Beasts of The Southern Wild. I eventually re-wrote my top ten list and published it in late February, leaving out movies such as The Amazing Spider-man and Prometheus off of my list.

So what makes this year different from last year? I’m more sure of myself. I’ve given considerable thought to the movies I’ve seen, what movies others have seen and what has made the greater impact on me this year. I’ve also covered more ground than I did last year, and I saw more of the contenders that people will be paying close attention to come awards season. In short, dear reader, I have improved. As a critic, as a writer, and as a media analyst overall.

Keep two things in mind when reading this list. I look at these movies based on their own merit, specific to their genre, why they may or may not appeal to you, and why you should go and see them. I’m not going to judge Star Wars in the same way I judge Schindler’s List, and neither should you. I also have not seen every film released this year, so I sadly can’t give credit to those movies I haven’t seen. That includes movies such as Wolf Of Wall StreetHer, and perhaps most disappointingly, Fruitvale Station.

Despite that, I’m confident that these are my favorite pictures of the year, and that many of them will be your favorites as well. All ten of the movies you are about to see made a significant impact on me this year. They’ve delighted me. Entertained me. Gave me insight on issues I knew little about. But most importantly, they’ve reached emotional levels so personal that it’s hard to find someone who wasn’t affected by them this year.

If you are still reading my inexhaustible bantering, it means you are still interested in my top picks of the year (which indeed is very shocking to me). Let’s begin:

10) STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS

A sequel of excellent caliber, a science-fiction film that not only lives up to its fans’ expectations, but in many ways, surpasses them. After Captain John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) betrays Star Fleet, attacks their headquarters and flees to a Klingon planet, Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) are assigned to track down Harrison and bring him in, but soon discover a dark secret in his past that will change their lives forever. This movie is everything that a great sequel is supposed to be: exciting, engaging, suspenseful, emotive, and reminiscent of the original. It lacks the originality as it’s predecessor, but that hardly matters: the script is brilliant, director J.J. Abrams is great, and the fight sequences are exhilarating. Cumberbatch is irreplaceable. Three and a half stars

9) MAN OF STEEL

An ambitious and action-packed thrill ride giving new energy and enthusiasm to a cherished American franchise. When Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) discovers that he is a descendent of an extinct alien race from the planet Krypton, Clark needs to embrace his superhuman abilities and become the symbol of hope destined to inspire humanity. Directed by Zack Snyder (300), produced by Christopher Nolan (Inception) and written by David S. Goyer (The Dark Knight Trilogy), Man Of Steel is a superhero epic that fires on all cylinders. The cast is great, the visual effects are striking, the story is compelling, and it looks at Superman from a more humanistic perspective, as an outsider trying to fit in to a world where he doesn’t belong. The definition of a Hollywood Blockbuster. Four stars.

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.8) 42

A gripping, well-written sports story with a great cast to compel us through it. Chronicling the true story of the first professional African-american ballplayer in American history, Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) is asked by baseball executive Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) to play for the dodgers and unite a country through a time of separation. Written and directed by Brian Hedgeland, 42 does a good job switching between emotions, from that of anger and disappointment to that of happiness and endearment. Ford is good as the headstrong and stubborn Rickey, but the surprise performance comes from the little-known Chadwick Boseman, who portrays Jackie so well that its nearly impossible to think of anyone else portraying him. You’re not watching a movie when you watch 42. You’re watching a legacy. Four stars.

7) CAPTAIN PHILLIPS

An exciting account on true events that somehow remains suspenseful, despite knowing how its going to end. Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) leads the cargo ship Maersk Alabama over the pacific ocean when a band of pirates attack the ship, kidnap Phillips, and take him hostage. Now with the Navy and the U.S. Government looking for the pirates at every turn, the quest to find the pirates quickly turns to a race against time to find and save the selfless captain. Paul Greengrass, who helmed the Bourne Supremacy and Ultimatum films, pioneers Hanks through this suspense thriller, and his expert timing combined with Hanks’ heartfelt performance made this film feel very real and fluid. The editing is tight, clean and efficient, cutting in and out at precise moments to give us the most tension and unease.  A convincing portrayal of events that is excellent at orchestrating emotions. Four stars.

6) SAVING MR. BANKS

A nostalgic, heartfelt, genuinely touching film about an author worried about her work similar to how a mother worries over her child. Pamela Travers (Emma Thompson) is the author of her acclaimed series of her “Mary Poppins” books, and her war of the creative rights with Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) is nearing its end. However, after confronting her own past and getting to know Walt a little better, Pamela begins to feel more at ease sharing her story not only with Walt, but with the rest of the world. Written and directed by John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side), Saving Mr. Banks is a wonderful film that bounces in between emotions like a kid does inside a bounce house. Hanks is good as Walt Disney, but surprisingly, he isn’t the highlight performance. Emma Thompson is the driving force behind this biopic, delivering a performance so versatile and demanding that she comes to identify the film entirely through her own character. The most magical moment comes when Ms. Travers watches Walt’s film adaptation of Mary Poppins for the first time. Four stars.

5) RUSH

An unstoppable and uncontrollable rush of energy, excitement, and gravitas, a movie that starts on a high note and simply refuses to let up all the way through. James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) is a hot-headed racer who knows nothing except instinct and winning. Nicki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) is a german racer who knows nothing except business and blunt honesty. Together these two rivals inspire and fuel each other’s ambition to outdo the other and win first place in the 1976 Formula One Season. This is a movie that is compelled by truth and driven by accuracy, pun intended. Hemsworth and Bruhl are perfect as Hunt and Lauda, their edginess and animosity apparent in every scene, never once breaking character. Ron Howard is documenting the film more than making it, and with the help of his screenwriter Pete Morgan and his editors Daniel Hanley and Mike Hill, he makes a biographical picture that is both relevant and exciting for its audience. An incredibly driven film that is entirely, unforgettably awesome. Four stars.

4) THE BUTLER

An earnest, humble film, parts approachable and observant yet equally ambitious and honest. Forest Whitaker plays as Cecil Gaines, a black butler who grew up during the slave era, growed up learning how to be a white man’s servant, got a job at the White House, and continued to serve there for almost 35 years. As he watches history pass him by from President Eisenhower all the way up until President Regan, Cecil recounts how he’s changed as a husband and as a father and what it means to be a free black man in America. Lee Daniels directs an all-star cast through this gripping, emotionally overwhelming story, with actors like Robin Williams, Alan Rickman, John Cusack, Cuba Gooding Jr., Terrence Howard and Mariah Carrey in it just to name a few. The best performances come from Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey as his wife, whose performances at many times carry the film on their own merit. A film that looks into the reality of circumstances and shows them exactly how they were, no matter how tragic or heartbreaking they were. Four stars.

3) THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE

A tense, gripping, and pulsating film crackling with energy and drama. Taking place after their victory at the 74th Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) try to re-adjust to their normal life until President Snow (Donal Sutherland) declares that the 75th Hunger Games will feature all of the previous winners, including Katniss and Peeta. Now shoved back into the horrid games that scarred her in the first place, Katniss must find a way to not only survive the games with Peeta, but to retain her humanity after everything is over. Directed by Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend), Catching Fire is the film that is everything the first thing was except more. The story is captivating, compelling, and deeply emotional. The themes are deep, powerful, and maddening. And the cast is more than exceptional, with Lawrence’s heartbreaking expressions at the center of it all. Not only one of the best sequels of the year, but one of the best movies of the year, period. Four stars.

2) GRAVITY

A film for a generation, a picture so convincing in its approach that its nearly impossible to think that it wasn’t even filmed in space. Sandra Bullock stars as Dr. Ryan Stone, a medical engineer out on her very first space mission with veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney). When debris suddenly strikes their station and leaves them astray, Stone and Kowalski need to fight to survive and find their way home back to planet Earth. There is literally not a single technical fault in the film. The visual effects are stunning, eye-popping, and visually-breathtaking. The cinematography by Emanuel Libewski is poignant, curious, and masterfully constructed. But the most credit needs to go to writer-director Alfonso Cuaron, who is so precise with the film’s visuals, story and Bullock’s performance that he makes the film just as emotional as it is anticipative and on the edge of your seat. It blurs the line in between science fiction and science reality, and is probably the best space movie I’ve ever seen. Four stars.

1) 12 YEARS A SLAVE

One of the best films of the year, and among the best on the subject of racism and slavery. Based on the true story of a free man named Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), 12 Years A Slave chronicles his story of being drugged, captured, and sold into slavery for over a decade of his life. Directed by Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame) 12 Years A Slave is this year’s frontrunner of the Oscar for best picture, and it’s very deserving of that title. Not only is it tragic, maddening, and heartbreaking all at once: it is a very diverse and well-made film. The cinematography by Sean Bobbit is lush, broad, and captivating. The soundtrack by Hans Zimmer is slow and dreary, the third of his movies this year to be featured on this list. Ejiofor, however, is the star of this show, with his passionate, tearjerking performance driving us to care for this character and feel what he is feeling. Compels you to experience compassion and sympathy in ways almost no other film can do. Not even with Schindler’s List. Four stars.

Whether you’re a dedicated movie lover or simply a casual viewer, I encourage all of you to see the movies on this list. They did more than impact me: they touched and inspired the people all around me.

-David Dunn

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Top Ten Movies of 2012

Man, what a year in movies. There has been so many achievements in so many different films, it’s hard to keep up with all of them at once. Superheroes defeated alien races. Lincoln was brought back from the dead. Ben Affleck made a fake movie. The Batman chronology came to a fantastic close. Peter Griffin possessed Teddy Bear. The list goes on and on and on.

With all of these stories coming into and out of theaters, it’s hard to decide which movies should be placed above another one. For a film critic, however, its important to know which movies are the best of the year and which are best left forgotten.

From bottom to top, here is my list for the Top Ten films of 2012.

NOTE: Not every film has been seen this year. If there is a ground-breaking blockbuster epic that isn’t up here already, its probably because it hasn’t been viewed yet. Either that, or you’re watching too much Alfred Hitchcock.

10) LES MISERABLES

An enriching and inspirational musical experience beyond all measure.  Hugh Jackman stars as Jean Valjean, a man struggling with his past as he struggles to look for peace and redemption in a land torn by poverty and civil war.

Directed by Tom Hooper, Oscar-winner for 2010’s The King’s Speech, this is a movie that juggles emotional tensity with visual splendor and grandeur, with Hooper’s dignified set pieces shining brightly all over the place. At the same time though, this movie thrives as an aesthetic piece, with these characters conveying their thoughts and emotions through their powerful performances and voices through the film. Jackman, however, steals the show as Jean,  a man whose powerful, perilous spiritual journey is told through the film’s emotion-stirring song numbers. This movie isn’t just another musical. This is an opera of unexpectedly epic proportions. Four-and-a-half stars.

9) THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY

A prequel that not only matches the expectations set by its predecessor, The Lord Of The Rings: in some ways, it surpasses them. Martin Freeman plays as Bilbo Baggins, a young hobbit who lives a peaceful life full of rest and relaxation in his roomy cottage home. He was the last person who was expecting a visit from Gandalf The Grey (Ian McKellan), a wizard who traveled from the west in search of great adventure in middle-Earth: and he wants Bilbo to come along with him.

Directed, written, and produced by Peter Jackson, the same man credited to the success of the previous Lord Of The Rings trilogy, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a film that is influential enough to fuel its own trilogy. With a wonderful script, a solid cast, and creative and dynamic visuals, The Hobbit matches the proficiency of the first two Lord Of The Rings movies and rivals the mastery of the third. Five stars.

8) THE HUNGER GAMES

A survival-fantasy epic that retains the same tension and energy from the original novel. In the post-dystopian kingdom of Panem, young Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) volunteers for the Hunger Games, a brutal survival competition where combatants fight to the death, when she realizes her younger sister was previously selected to participate. Now having to participate in the games alongside fellow villager Peeta Melark (Josh Hutcherson), Katniss must find a way to win the Hunger games and get back home.

Lawrence is a powerful presence in the lead role, and she fits the part well as a strong-willed, courageous, yet secretly afraid heroine who simply wants to be reunited with her family. The movie does a great job as an adaptation as well, not only retaining faithfulness to the original novel, but also expanding upon it, actively showing what a broken and crumbled society this story takes place in. Directed by Gary Ross (Pleasantville, Seabiscuit). Five stars.

7) FRANKENWEENIE

An affectionate tribute to classic horror cinema and a welcome return to form for director Tim Burton (Edward Scizzorhands, The Nightmare Before Christmas). When Victor Frankenstein (Charlie Tahan) witnesses the death of his dog Sparky (Frank Welker), Victor sets out on an experiment using lightning and electricity to bring his best friend back to life.

Based on an idea that originally got Burton fired from Disney Studios, Burton turns this idea around by offering us this creative, imaginative, dark, twisted, yet mature and emotional film about life, death, resurrection, growing up and companionship. The film is also smartly stylized, with its black-and-white animated visuals offering a surprising amount of eye candy.

A film every bit as fun and entertaining as it is thoughtful and emotional. Five stars.

6) SKYFALL

A Bond movie lived to the fullest potential. Daniel Craig returns as 007, the double-daring, martini-sipping secret agent who isn’t afraid to talk back to his superior, M (Judi Dench). But when Bond discovers an enemy who returned from M’s past to exact revenge, Bond will uncover a secret in his past so haunting that it will impact the entire nation of Britain and shake the foundations of MI6 forever.

Skyfall is a full-blooded action film, a spy movie that completely embodies everything great about Bond, from the lively, exotic locations to the pulse-pounding action that overflows you by the minute. The cast is great, the plot is fresh, the action is refined and thrilling, and the film has a deeper introspective into Bond than what we were expecting. Skyfall assures us that not only will Bond survive throughout the years as cinema progresses: it will also thrive on its success and its legacy. Directed by Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Jarhead). Five stars.

5) CHRONICLE

A fascinating and exciting science-fiction story filmed creatively through the “found footage” shooting method. Young Andrew Detmer (Dane DeHaan) lives a troubled home life with a sick, absent mother and a drunken alcoholic for a father, and decides to film everything on his home video camera as means of emotional release. When his cousin Matt (Alex Russel) and his friend Steve (Michael B. Jordan) discover a hole in an empty field in the backyard of a party, all three of them make a discovery that will change their lives forever.

Dane Dehaan is tense and subversive in his role as Andrew, and portrays him as a character that is both fearsome and sympathetic. The biggest props, however, goes to director Josh Trank and screenwriter Max Landis. They both help compose a very mature, thoughtful story that serves as a sort of metaphor for troubled youth. Their decision to make it a found footage film especially affected the film’s outcome. If the found footage genre was created for the purpose of one movie, Chronicle is that one movie. Five stars.

4) LINCOLN

A powerhouse of a biopic driven by Daniel Day-Lewis’ overwhelming performance as the famous president. Set during the final years of Lincoln’s presidency, the film follows the famed President as he tries to abolish slavery, end the civil war and attempt to mend the wounds of a torn country.

This dialogue-heavy narrative boasts screenwriter Tony Kushner (Munich) and director Steven Spielberg (Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan) at their best, carefully composing a story with intricate detail, whimsical humor and tender emotion that results in a very personal perspective in the life of Abraham Lincoln. Daniel Day-Lewis, of course, deserves all praise and admiration as the famous president. He’s so skilled in his performance, there’s no indication that he even is Daniel Day-Lewis. He fully embodies Lincoln, from the weariness in his voice, to the hunch in his back. Five stars.

3) BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD

An rich, aural experiment that pays off in many unsuspecting ways. The young and adventurous Hushpuppy (Quevenzhane Wallis) lives with her father Wink (Dwight Henry) in a place known as “The bathtub”, a Louisiana bayou that faces demise at the hands of a flooding. First-time director Behn Zeitlin wrote, produced, directed, and even composed this brilliant feature, and everything he was involved with fine-tuned this film to near-perfection. Through his skill of direction and symbolism, Zeitlin ends up commenting on many social issues such as poverty, naturalism, global warming, parenthood, neglect, childhood, purity, and innocence.

Wallis, especially, is breathtakingly powerful as Hushpuppy, a child that is so brave, strong-willed, and spirited, yet also at the same time vulnerable and emotionally fragile. A fantasy drama that is ripe with context, emotion, and adventure. Five stars.

POST-SCRIPT: I went back and forth on the following two movies on which should be second and which should be first, and you know what? I’m cheating. Only one film is ranked higher than the other, but they both truly are the best films of the year, as no other film has reached the success or the cinematic value that these movies have achieved.  Although one must be ranked higher than the other, both of these are number one in my book.  

2) THE AVENGERS

Built upon the success of iconic superhero movies such as Iron ManThorThe Incredible Hulk, and Captain AmericaThe Avengers assembles the world’s greatest heroes to fight the battles that humanity never could. And when an alien race known as the Chitari threaten the existence of mankind, it is up to the Avengers to step up and fight for humanity’s survival.

Being the sort of action-blockbuster that seems inspired by epic nature of the Lord Of The Rings and Star Wars franchises, The Avengers is the most iconic, the most exciting, the most quotable, the most entertaining and the most memorable picture of the whole year. With great action, a strong cast, a convincing script and so many memorable and witty one-liners, The Avengers is easily one of the most ambitious and most efficient films of the year. It is highly unlikely that there will be another just like it. Five stars.

1) ARGO

A tense, thrilling, and heart-pounding experience that is every bit surreal as it is unflinchingly realistic. During the Iran Hostage Crisis of 1979, all 50 people inside the U.S. Embassy building are taken hostage except for six Americans who escape and hold refuge inside a Canadian ambassador’s house. Two months later, CIA operative Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) is given the assignment of getting the Americans out, and he hatches the ultimate unorthodox cover: disguise the Americans as a film crew, tell the officials that they’re scouting locations for a film production, get the Americans on a plane and get them home.

Ben Affleck shines in the film not only as its lead character, but also as its director. He directs this film with both skill and conviction, building up to highly suspenseful and climactic moments through expert pacing and precise cut-aways. He also knows how to excise compassion and sympathy, as he is able to show the American’s struggle through the traumatic situation they are in. The best drama of the year. Five stars.

And that’s my list for the year, folks.  Wake me up when its 2014.

-David Dunn