Tag Archives: Dreamworks

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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“HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON” Review (✫✫✫✫)

Step one: Don’t get eaten by a nightfury.

How To Train Your Dragon is a pure joy, a complete and captivating wonder that reaches the inner child in you, touches it, and fills you with such inexplicable excitement and adventure that you almost feel like you can do anything. I was initially worried about this movie going in to it: how many other movies have attempted the human-pet budding romance E.T. did so wonderfully all those magical years ago, and failed? Well, there’s nothing to fear here, fellow reader. In their long line of successes, failures and mismatches, How To Train Your Dragon easily ranks among DreamWorks’ best work.

We open up on a grand battle on the land of Berk, an island where the vikings are as stubborn and hard-headed as the metal helmets they wear on their heads. But this battle isn’t against other vikings, mind you: it’s against dragons, giant, dangerous beasts that tear through the sky and spit fire like its flu season for them. For the vikings, killing a dragon is like the starting point for becoming a man. It’s their form of puberty I suppose, next to the endless gorges of food and testosterone that they throw and shout about at each other.

One Berk citizen, however, is a little more hopeless than other vikings: Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), a smart, inventive but helplessly clumsy little fellow that will reach for a pencil when he’s supposed to reach for an axe. Fate turned an eye to him when in the midst of the battle, he captured a “nightfury”, a sleek black dragon whose fast speed and blue fire makes him the most deadly dragon out in the field of battle. However, against his better judgement, Hiccup decides not to kill the nightfury after discovering that he was injured during the battle. Now, while slowly helping him back to health and back to being able to fly, Hiccup discovers the truth about the dragon race, and how similar he is to them and their personalities.

Taking a look at the past animated movies DreamWorks has helped produce, you realize how much of a mixed bag they put out there to their audience. Look at the best they’ve had to offer, such as Shrek and Kung Fu Panda. Now look at the worst they’ve had to offer, such as Shark Tale and Shrek The Third. And don’t even get me started on Bee Movie. Looking at their filmoraphy, and looking at how much they’ve done wrong mixed with their right, I was expecting a very artificial, forgettable experience.

Boy, was I wrong, and boy was I glad to be wrong. The very first detail you notice in How To Train Your Dragon is it’s animation, how crisp and refined it is in detail, and how authentic it makes everything look. In the opening sequence, for instance, we shift through the dark clouds and sea as we approach the land of Berk, and it was so atmospheric that I felt like I myself was flying over the ocean surface when I first saw it. Later in the film, you look at vikings talking to each other in the dining hall, and the rock floors and the wood detailing look so real that you can almost reach out and touch it.

But I know what you’re really after. You’re not after what the waves, clouds and wood looks like. Nuh uh. You’re interested in how the dragons look, how exhilarating the fight scenes are and how exciting it is when you see a dragon spread his wings for the first time.

Let me assure you, fellow reader: the action could not be any more exciting. The dragons are all colorful, lifelike and filled with variety, their wings spread out in glorious, anthropomorphic detail. When they fly, they soar at supersonic speeds, dodging mountains, flipping through the air, and skydiving towards valleys like they are swimming in an endless sea of clouds and sky.

I especially liked the chemistry Hiccup shares with the nighfury, who he later names Toothless in the movie. Did I really just say that? That I liked the chemistry between two fictional, fake, animated characters? Yes I did, because these characters are neither fake nor artificial: they’re genuine, sharing real, heartfelt emotions with each other in ways almost no other animated film captures in movies. When Hiccup touches Toothless’ snout for the first time, you feel conflicted emotions between each other as they struggle to trust one another. When Toothless saves Hiccup from certain death from the dangers of the skies, you feel their relationship growing as they form a closer bond with each other. But when an all-out war spawns in between the vikings and the dragons, it’s Hiccup and Toothless that remain strong through it all, their friendship so compelling that it almost feels like connecting with a long-lost brother, not too disimilar to how Boo and Sully interact in Monsters Inc. 

My only regret with this movie is that it won’t be the best animated film of the year. With Toy Story 3 releasing just around the corner, and considering Pixar’s track record, it’s doubtful to see How To Train Your Dragon trump years of animated fandom and cherishment, especially when we’ve had years to grow with these characters. Shame, because this movie has great, fluid animation, an involving story, and memorable characters just like Toy Story does. If Toy Story 3 wasn’t coming out in June, I am positive that How To Train Your Dragon would win the best animated feature award at the Oscars.

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It’s Aaron Paul and Scott Waugh, Yo

Straight off the wheels (pun intended) of his award-winning role as Jesse Pinkman in Vince Gilligan’s “Breaking Bad,” actor Aaron Paul’s followup to film is that of street racer Tobey Marshall in Need For Speed, an action movie produced by filmmaker Steven Spielberg loosely based on the video game series of the same name. After attending an early screening of the movie before its release on March 14, Paul and director Scott Waugh (Act Of Valor), sat down with myself and the audience to talk about the movie and what it was like filming the high-octane action thriller.

Question: Before this movie was even made, it was a video game franchise. It was kind of a blank slate for you guys. How did you come up with the story?

Scott Waugh: We just really wanted to come up with a really compelling, really human story that we could develop and really take the audience along for a thrill ride. We just got so lucky enough to get a man like Aaron Paul to play the lead and really put ourself on the map that we’re a different movie and trying to do a throwback to the films that I grew up on, like The French Connection and Vanishing Point.

Q: What exactly were you looking for when you cast Aaron Paul?

SW: Man, I was so pumped when we were trying to cast the movie, and we were literally saying, “Look, I want to find the next Steve McQueen.” His name came up, I never watched “Breaking Bad,” so I didn’t know who the hell Aaron Paul was. The funny part was when his name came up, it was to play Dino. I was like “Really? Let me see some tape on him.” I saw some tape on him. I was like, “Man, this kid is for real. He is so good. Forget Dino, man. This guy should play the lead.” They said no, the studio would never go for that. So they talked me out of it, and then they put Aaron up in front of Spielberg to see which guys he wanted to play around the kid that we thought was going to play Tobey. He saw Aaron’s tape and goes, “Man, this Aaron Paul kid is really fantastic. Why aren’t we considering him for the lead?” And that was it. Long story short, 24 hours later, Aaron Paul was cast.

Aaron Paul: Yeah, it’s such a surreal thing. I never knew about the whole Dino conversation, literally until this press tour, but when it was sent to me on my desk, I always thought that they were always interested in me with Tobey. I read the title page. It said Need For Speed, you know, what is this movie really going to be about? Is there going to be a really solid story there? I read it, and I was just so invested in these characters from the very beginning, and when I talked to Scott, he told me he wanted to do a throwback to the classic car culture films, such as Bullet and Vanishing Point. I’ve been such a huge fan of Steve McQueen forever, and that just got me very excited about jumping on board.

Q: How did you go about training, getting ready for the role, Aaron?

AP: That was the thing. When I talked to Scott, when we first had conversations about this project, he said, “Now listen, if you want to jump on board, I’m going to really need you to learn how to drive.” And I knew how to drive before, but nothing like this, and so he was like, “If you want to do this, I’m going to get you some serious seat time in these cars.” Really, the first day working on this project was on a racetrack, a closed down racetrack, from sunrise to sunset, just really learning how to get out of problematic situations and then learning how to drive around corners, do reverse 180s. Just madness. Just so much fun.

TS: What was the best stunt you got to do during the shoot?

AP: All the freeway stuff. I was weaving through traffic, most of that was me, so I had to drive at pretty high speeds. We closed down freeways for five to seven miles, but it had to be that long because we were going so fast, so we were eating a lot of the road really quick. There’s a shot right when Pete went over the bridge, Tobey flips around and goes back for him. Scotty wanted me to fly directly at the camera and slide and get inches away from the camera that is attached to a cameraman that was him. That was very terrifying for me because to get it to slide the way that he wanted it, I needed to be going 65-70 miles an hour and then use the brake and then slide and get this far away. The first take we did it—

SW: He pussed out on the first two, got like 15 feet away from me. I came up to him after the second one, and I was like, “All right bro, here’s what you need to do. Don’t worry about me. I’ve been hit by a car several times. I’m cool with it. Just come in and hit your mark, and if you hit me, I’ll just flip over the top of it.”

AP: Which did not make me feel any better about the situation.

SW: It was pretty funny, so he’s coming in around 65-70 miles an hour. And I can tell, because he shifted into fourth. And I was like “Oh shit, now he’s coming in really fast.” He came in, started sliding towards me, and I will be the first one to say I pussed out and closed my eyes. The tires stopped, and I was still standing, and I opened my eyes and he’s literally two inches away from my camera. And I was like “Did I get it?” I didn’t even know if I got the shot.

Q: Scott, you used the cameras that you used to collaborate with your dad when you were younger, right?

SW: Yeah, I was so lucky, I grew up in this crazy household. My father was the original [stunt coordinator of] Spiderman in the ’76 TV show, he was a stuntman and a circus performer, and I had a trapeze in my backyard, a bunch of crazy stuff like that. My dad became a director, and he always wanted to put the audience in the movies, rather than sit back. He came up with this device in the ’80s called a helmet camera, which is like a film camera on your head. So, it’s not like a go-pro, it’s like 30 pounds on your head. So, take a dumbbell when you go to the gym, set it on your head and go walk around. I used to tell my dad, “This is going to kill somebody,” because it’s too heavy. And, of course, my dad would put it on my head, and that’s why I don’t do stunts anymore, because my neck is stretched all the way to my chest. But what happened was because of my dad. It really gave me the insights to come up with the new technology to do first person so you can drive. The audience gets to drive in this movie, kind of like Act Of Valor. You got to actually participate in the Seals’ escapades. It’s just that I’ve been able to fortunately do what my dad always aspired to do because technology has finally caught up with us.

Q: Aaron, to finish this off, what was your favorite car, and can you call me a bitch?

AP: First of all, my favorite car had to be the Gran Torino. I mean, all those cars are so much fun to drive, but I just wanted to take the Gran Torino home with me. We were fighting for the Gran Torino during the entire shoot. We had two identical Gran Torinos. One got totaled by accident during one of the races, so there was one remaining, and we would just look at each other and just mess with each other during the rest of the shoot. Neither of us won because DreamWorks has the keys.

Oh, and also, you’re a bitch.

-David Dunn

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