Tag Archives: Michael Keaton

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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“SPOTLIGHT” Review (✫✫✫✫)

“Shine a light, and let the whole world see.”

In the Boston Globe story on the 1990 Church abuse scandal, the Spotlight team reported that there were over 130 sexual assault victims from just one Catholic priest. In the film Spotlight, we eventually learn that over 80 Boston priests were sexual predators, and were being continuously circulated from parish to parish. If those numbers are consistent, how many victims of sexual assault does that spell out for Boston? My math came down to over 10,000.

I don’t know if that’s accurate because I haven’t dug much further into the Boston Globe’s reporting, but I don’t think that matters. What matters is that Spotlight made me think of those victims. It made me 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. Like any great piece of reporting, Spotlight brings importance, urgency, and truth that needs to be known about. If Spotlight isn’t the best film of the year, it is definitely the most important.

The Spotlight team consists of lead editor Walter Robinson (Michael Keaton) and reporters Matt Carol (Brian d’Arcy James), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), and Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo). The team is specifically reserved for investigative reporting, previously breaking stories on transit mismanagement and political corruption in Massachusetts. At the time when they were given this assignment, it was not as a follow-up to a news story, but to a column written and published by one of the Globe’s staffers.

At first, no one really thought much of the project. When originally pitched, it had to do with the Catholic church finding out that one priest had sexually assaulted children in six different churches, and did nothing about it. But when the team kept digging, they found out that it was bigger than they anticipated. Much bigger.

While watching Spotlight, I was thrusted upon an early memory of one of my first major news assignments. It was a story called “Seconds Away,” and it was about a university alumna who was just seconds from crossing the finish line before it blew up during the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013. The story wasn’t that she survived. It was that she went back the following year to finish crossing the line that she never did.

While getting ready for our interview, I was excited, nervous, and petrified all at once. This was a woman who had survived a near-death experience. She had faced something few other people have had to face, myself included. I didn’t know how to approach it. Was she comfortable with me talking to her? Would I be insensitive by asking serious questions? Would I be disrespectful by asking what was going through her mind? What would that say of me as a person, by asking her to relive something traumatic that she already went through?

The reporters and editors behind Spotlight face these same questions and concerns of morality every day they step into the office. Yet, they handled this difficult subject in the same way that the movie does: with grace and respect.

The greatest thing that can be said about Spotlight is its transparency: in how its characters charge towards this groundbreaking story and the emotions and conflicts they experience while doing their jobs. Writer-director Tom McCarthy, who was raised Catholic, juggles this behind-the-scenes story with real people’s traumas and emotions in mind. The result is a portrait that is genuine, astounding, mind-blowing, and heartbreaking all at once.

Take the interview scenes as a demonstration of this. During the film’s first scenes, Spotlight reporters sit down with a few sex abuse survivors, their brokenness and vulnerability made evident on the spot. The interesting thing you’ll find in between these intercut scenes is that it’s not Rachel McAdam’s mannerisms we’re noticing. It’s not Mark Ruffalo’s reactions or face of shock we’re noticing. It’s the supporting actors playing these victims, whom I can’t even identify off of the film’s cast list. Every detail of them is absorbing and introspective.

We notice the gay man in a coffee shop as he twiddles his thumbs nervously on his coffee cup. We notice the skinny drug addict sweating, entering the room cautiously, seeing scars up his arms from when he injected himself with heroin. We notice that while their testimonies are overwhelmingly tragic, they talk about it casually and on a whim; like it’s a scar that has already been healed, but will never go away. We listen to their silence as they quietly relive their traumas, the quivering in their voice as they slowly speak, the tears building up in their eyes as they come to once again realize what they are. I find that so compelling, that one of the best things in this film are the actors that I can’t even name.

The rest of the film is like that: finding value in the areas that you can’t exactly point out, but you know they are there. For instance, who’s the main protagonist? You could argue Rezendes, because he has the most visible reaction from working on this story. In reality though, this story is impacting the entire Spotlight team and more. It impacts everyone, in ways that nobody realizes until it walks right up to their doorstep.

This movie takes time and dedication to build up its story and collect the necessary information, just like Spotlight’s reporters do. In doing that, this is undeniably a slow film, but the pace doesn’t matter as much as the payoff. Spotlight deserves to be sought out. It is one of those rare films that not only makes us better viewers, but also better human beings.

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Oscar Predictions 2014

There is no such thing as the best picture.

That’s what I keep thinking year after year when I make my Oscar predictions. Why? Because everyone has a different idea of what the best picture means.

There were many great movies that wasn’t nominated from this year that left a profound impact on the people who watched them. The Fault In Our Stars is one of those pictures. Guardians of the Galaxy filled people with as many laughs and energy as it did with tears and quivering lips. Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar is the most liked movie of 2014 according to the Internet Movie Database. God forbid, there are people out there who even liked Inherent Vice.

My point in saying all of this is that different movies have different effects on people. It doesn’t matter what the Academy thinks is the best picture: it matters what you think is the best picture to you.

Regardless, the Oscars are unfortunately still a thing. With the 87th Academy Awards coming up in a few weeks, people are going to be scrambling to guess who is going to win which awards this year. Here are the movies I think are going to win big this year at the Oscars:

Best Picture: The big category. Good God, how do you predict this one? Boyhood and Birdman have been at each other’s throats since the beginning of awards season. Since Boyhood‘s best picture win at the Golden Globes, it at first seemed like the frontrunner for best picture. Since then, however, Birdman has gone on to win the Screen Actors Guild award for best overall cast, the Directors Guild of America award for best feature and the Producers Guild Awards award for best picture. At this point, Birdman would be most poised to win the award, and it would be wise to opt for it.

Best Director: The nominee most deserving of this award is Richard Linklater for following with his passion project 12 years straight for Boyhood, a wonderfully ambitious project that shows the joys and heartbreaks alike of growing up. Unfortunately, Linklater didn’t win the DGA award for best director. The Oscar, then, is going to go to Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu for Birdman, which was an innovative, creative, and darkly clever film in it’s own right. Neither filmmaker is a bad nomination, as both of them delivered the most unique and memorable pictures of the year. The award can only go to one of them, but both Linklater and Inarritu are undeniably the best filmmakers of the year.

Best Actor: Another close one. Which is it going to be: Eddie Redmayne for The Theory of Everything or Michael Keaton for Birdman? Redmayne has the Screen Actors Guild award and the Golden Globe for best actor. Keaton also has a Golden Globe and the Screen Actors Guild award for best overall cast. So who’s going to take it? Redmayne or Keaton? My bet is on Redmayne, but don’t be surprised if either actor takes home the award. This is going to be a close one.

On that note, honorable mention to Benedict Cumberbatch for his brilliant, heartbreaking, passionate, intelligent, and wonderfully unique performance as physicist Alan Turing in The Imitation Game. You sir gave the best performance of the year, and are most deserving of the Oscar for best actor this year. Unfortunately, the Oscars is not a game of talent. It’s a game of politics.

Best Actress: Everyone (including myself) has been praising Rosamund Pike’s work in Gone Girl and has been saying that she deserves this award most. The charts don’t lie, however, and Julianne Moore has won award after award for her heartbreaking performance as a mother suffering from early onset alzheimer’s in Still Alice. She’s locked for the award. Don’t bet on anyone else except her.

Best Supporting Actor: J.K. Simmons for Whiplash. If you have any objections to that, you haven’t seen the movie.

Best Supporting Actress: It takes a lot of dedication not only to play the role of an aging mother losing her children to adulthood, but to return to that role year after year for 12 years straight. The award for best supporting actress rightfully goes to Patricia Arquette for her stunning decade-long performance that she melted so wonderfully into year after year in Boyhood. It will be a huge upset if she doesn’t get the award.

Best Original Screenplay: This year was borderline impossible to make a clear prediction of who was going to win in the best original screenplay category. First, critics predicted it would be Boyhood due to it’s massive popularity in the best picture race. Then, people switched sides and said Wes Anderson would win for The Grand Budapest HotelBirdman won the Golden Globe and a slew of other state critics awards. Since I don’t have the luxury of waiting for the WGA’s next week to claim which is the best screenplay of the year, I’m going with the only nomination that has the physical accolades to back up their nomination: Birdman is going to win best original screenplay. 

Side Note: I will never cease to get angry at the Academy for profusely snubbing Christopher Nolan multiple times. If Interstellar was not deemed one of the best movies of the year, it definitely is considered one of the best stories of the year. Nolan deserved a nomination in this category, but like all other the Oscar ceremonies, he got snubbed because he’s Christopher Nolan. Typical.

Best Adapted Screenplay: This category is messed up from the start, because how in God’s name is Whiplash considered an adapted screenplay? I get it that it was first made into a short film before a feature release, thank you for pointing that out Academy. That doesn’t change the fact that it was an original idea conceived by Damien Chazelle, and that both properties were projects that he worked on. Whiplash was, in every definition, an original work. To put it in the adapted category is pish posh.

On that note, Graham Moore’s The Imitation Game IS an adapted work, and it so wonderfully brings interest and awareness to this secretive story that only a few have known about for quite some time. The Imitation Game is most poised to take home the best adapted screenplay award, unless Whiplash snabs it from them first. 

Another side note: Did the Academy just work to have the worst nominations in this category this year? Is there seriously nothing for The Fault In Our Stars? Nothing for Gone Girl? Shoot, I’d even take a nomination for Guardians of the Galaxy over the confusing Inherent Vice and insipid Theory of Everything. These awards should not be nominated for the Academy’s opinion, but rather, on the impact these films have had on the public. All of the films I’ve mentioned above were movies the public had very strong reactions to, and each of them deserve nominations over the other films recognized. This is the Oscar category I am most frustrated with this year.

Best Animated Feature: Let’s get over the frustration that The Lego Movie wasn’t nominated for just one second, shall we? The biggest competition is between Disney’s Big Hero 6 and Dreamwork’s How To Train Your Dragon 2. Since How To Train Your Dragon 2 has won the Golden Globe, the Annie Award, and the National Board of Review for best animated feature of the year, the best bet is on that film. It is the best animated film of the year, and matches it’s predecessor in almost every way. If it does win, it is a very deserving one.

On that note, shame on you Academy for taking out The Lego Movie. Everything is not awesome for you.

Best Documentary Feature: Were Steve James’ wonderful documentary Life Itself on film critic Roger Ebert’s life nominated, it might have posed a challenge to the frontrunner for this category. Since it isn’t however, the award is most poised for Laura Poitras’ Citizenfour, a documentary about Poitras’ investigation in U.S. surveillance programs until her research brings her face-to-face with former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Keep this one on your radar, folks. This is one of those films that needs to be sought out.

Best Foreign-Language Film: The Academy loves movies that are not only politically challenging, but are also based around events surrounding World War II. The frontrunner, then, is Ida, a polish film about a young nun who discovers a dark secret about her family from the Nazi occupation before taking her vows. Wild Tales has also been widely talked about, but don’t expect anything big from it. Ida is most positioned to win the award.

Best Film Editing: The film with the best editing of the year isn’t even nominated in this category, and that is Birdman. The shots were so seamlessly blended together in between takes that it gave off the illusion that the film was shot in one take, even though it wasn’t. The work done with Birdman is both innovative and revolutionary, and it’s flat out disrespectful that it’s not even nominated here.

The next best work is from Tom Cross on Whiplash, which editing together the film so perfectly that it gave off an heart-pounding, unnerving sensation better than most thriller’s you’d see in theaters. Neither one will win. The award will go to Boyhood for it’s compilation of 12-years worth of footage into one film, even though the editing dragged out at times and it had to handle the same amount of footage any other film would have to. Even though Boyhood is a great movie, it’s editing is average at best.

Best Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubeski for Birdman. If he wins, he will be one of the few cinematography nominees to have won the award two years in a row. It’s not undeserved. Lubeski is a great cinematographer, and has done great work for years for films such as Children of Men, The Tree of Life, and last year’s Oscar winner Gravity. He deserves the award for cinematography if he does wins it.

Best Original Score: I waited until the last possible second to write down my prediction for this, because the nominee everyone is talking about is also the one least deserving. Alexandre Desplat has been nominated year-after-year at the Academy Awards for scoring movies like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The King’s Speech, Argo, and Philomena. This year, he deserves the award the most not only for his nomination with The Imitation Game, but also with Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. He’s going to lose both of his nominations to Johann Johannssons’ The Theory of Everything, a theme that is as average, annoying, and repetitive as its movie is. I didn’t like The Theory of Everything, and I liked its music even less. But all critics and accolades point towards that movie, so that’s the one I’m begrudgingly going with.

Best Original Song: “Glory” from Selma will win and deserve this award the most. No song fills you with as much power and proclamation as this song does. It fills you with the same energy and captivation that the movie does, and it’s a shame that the film wasn’t nominated in more categories this year.

Best Costume Design: I doubt that Colleen Atwood is going to take home the award yet again for Into The Woods, despite her great track record with the Academy. My bet is on Milena Canonero for The Great Budapest Hotel, mostly because 1) The film’s costume work is as lovable and quirky as the movie itself is, and 2) She hasn’t won the award since her work with Marie Antoinette in 2006. It’s her year to win the award.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: This is such a difficult category to decide for, because what on Earth is the Academy’s criteria for this ungaudy award? A few years ago, movies like Star Trek beat out films like The Young Victoria in this category. In 2011, the boring, mundane, and insipid Iron Lady beat out Harry Potter. What is going on?! How on Earth are you supposed to predict this category when the Academy keeps flipping the standard???

If I was going off of the best makeup work out of the nominees, it’s no competition: Guardians of the Galaxy. Yet, keep in mind from previous years that films have won for the exaggerated minimalist work seen from The Grand Budapest Hotel. I’m keeping my bets on The Grand Budapest Hotel, but don’t be surprised if either film takes home the award.

(Post-script: The makeup work for The Iron Lady was awful.)

Best Production Design: The Grand Budapest Hotel. If any film other than that wins for best production design, the Academy officially hates Wes Anderson.

Best Sound Editing: Normally, I couldn’t care less for the sound editing awards, because who has enough patience to dissect the sound bit-by-bit in each feature film? This year though, there is a frontrunner in this category that doesn’t deserve to be nominated. Great a film as it is, Interstellar has some of the worse sound editing and mixing I’ve heard in years. The music overwhelmed the dialogue at times, character’s couldn’t be heard that well at certain parts of the movie, and the sound got so loud at times that I felt like I was at a Daft Punk concert. For all of the accomplishments Interstellar has made, sound is definitely not one of them.

Unfortunately, I think Interstellar is going to be the one to take this award home. Christopher Nolan’s movies have a good track record for getting sound awards at the Oscars (Ex. The Dark Knight and Inception)and I don’t think the Academy has any intent of stopping his good run anytime soon. The film most deserving in this category is American Sniper. It’s going to Interstellar.

Best Sound Mixing: Whiplash had the most impressive sound mixing out of any of the other nominees. The Oscar, however, is going to go to Interstellar. See above for my reasoning.

Best Visual Effects: I’m partial towards X-men: Days of Future Past because it had great visual effects, costuming, and set design to make not only a convincing portrayal of a post-apocalyptic future, but also to show the slow dissolution of American society in the mid-1970’s. However, Interstellar was also an amazing movie, and accomplished visual spectacles unseen since Avatar and Inception. It will win the award, and it is also the most deserving. 

And now finally, my most-dreaded predictions for the categories I never know how to predict: the shorts. Let’s play a game of Eenie-Minie-Moe, shall we?

Best Animated Short: Feast. It’s the only film out of any of these categories that I’ve seen anyway.

Best Documentary Short: Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1. Because why not?

Best Live-Action Short: Aya? The Phone Call? Boogaloo and Graham? What kind of titles are these???

Screw it. Boogaloo and whats-it’s-face is going to get it, because reasons.

That’s all I have for now, folks. I’ll see you and Barney Stinson on Feb. 22.

– David Dunn

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The Unexpected Virtue of Being Nominated

I am never more conflicted with myself than when Oscar nominations are released. It’s the same time every single year, and every time I look at them I feel a strange combination of pride and disappointment. Of course many actors and filmmakers are nominated across the board, and most of them are well deserved. But then there are always a good amount of snubs that are equally undeserved. Example: Since when does The Fault In Our Stars, Interstellar and The Lego Movie deserve zero nominations in any of the major categories?

Snubs happen every year. I expect it at this point. But what I find particularly interesting is that this year’s ceremonies are more well-rounded in their nominations. The eight best picture nominees, for instance, are also the pictures with the most nominations in the show. I think that reflects well on the Academy, especially because the best picture award isn’t won by only being nominated for best original song.

Regardless, the nominees have been released and the Oscars race has officially begun. Here are all of the best picture nominees.

Birdman

Otherwise known as The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s black comedy epic stars Michael Keaton as Riggan Thompson, a struggling stage actor who is desperately trying to escape his image as formerly portraying a superhero. Considering the irony that Keaton has been most known for playing Batman in Tim Burton’s movies, I can’t help but think he relates more to the film than he lets on. Birdman is nominated in nine categories, including best picture, best director, best original screenplay, best cinematography, best sound editing and mixing, and best acting awards for Keaton, Edward Norton, and Emma Stone.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

A surprise standout out of the other nominees, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a comedic escapade about Concierge Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes), who is framed for the murder of one of his hotel guests and for stealing her most cherished painting. As he tries to outrun law enforcement and the family assassins that are after him, he teams up with his lobby boy Zero (Tony Revolori) to set out and prove his innocence. Written and directed by Wes Anderson (The Royal Tennenbaums, Moonrise Kingdom), The Grand Budapest Hotel has already won best comedy at the Golden Globes, so it is off to a good start in the Oscars race. The film ties with Birdman with nine nominations, including best picture, best director, best original screenplay, best cinematography, best costume design, best editing, best makeup and hairstyling, best original score, and best production design.

The Imitation Game

This historical epic stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, a brilliant physicist during WWII who worked with a team to crack Enigma, a German processing machine which masks German messages through cryptographic messages. Directed by Norwegian filmmaker Morten Tyldum and also starring Keira Knightly, Matthew Goode, and Mark Strong, The Imitation Game is nominated for eight academy awards, including best picture, best director, best adapted screenplay, best editing, best original score, best production, best actor for Benedict Cumberbatch and best supporting actress for Keira Knightly.

American Sniper

Based on the true story of Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), American Sniper tells his story working for the U.S. military, and the 120 kills he garnered throughout his military career. Directed by Clint Eastwood and written by Jason Hall, American Sniper is a late entry to the Oscars race, but it came out strong regardless. American Sniper is nominated for best picture, best adapted screenplay, best sound editing and mixing, and best actor for Bradley Cooper.

Boyhood

The 12 year epic that everyone is talking about, and the movie everyone is dying to see. Boyhood follows the story of Mason (Ellar Coltrane) from childhood to adulthood, through puberty, love, heartache, loss, and life. Richard Linklater directs Coltrane among others through this masterfully crafted drama, filmed over the period of 12 years. Ambitious both in production and vision, Boyhood was nominated for best picture, best director, best original screenplay, best film editing, and best supporting actor and actress for Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette.

The Theory of Everything

The fluffy, inspirational adaptation of Stephen Hawking’s life, The Theory of Everything stars Eddie Redmayne as King and Felicity Jones as his wife Jane, and follows their relationship from college to their marriage, and covers the issues that they’ve had to face together. I personally didn’t find this film to be as imposing as the other nominees, but Redmayne’s performance and the film’s intentions are definitely something to be admired. The film is nominated for best picture, best adapted screenplay, best original score, and best actor and best actress for Redmayne and Jones.

Whiplash

One of the best under-the-radar films of the year. Whiplash follows Andrew (Miles Teller), a young college student who is enrolled in an orchestra and is working to be the best drummer there is. His teacher is Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), a narcissist conductor who treats his students like he is Gunnery Sergeant Hartman. As their rivalrous relationship builds to a tense climax, both men learn more about themselves as artists and teachers to each other. Written and directed by independent filmmaker Damien Chazelle, Whiplash is one of the year’s most standout films. Featuring strong performances from its leads and masterful direction from Chazelle, Whiplash is nominated for best picture, best editing, best sound mixing, and best supporting actor for J.K. Simmons. The movie is also nominated for best adapted screenplay, even though it’s an original idea crafted by Chazelle.

Selma

Directed by Ava Duvernay and starring David Oyewolo as Martin Luther King Jr., Selma follows the civil rights movement as it builds to a climax in the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. The interesting thing about this film is that it only has two nominations for the evening: best picture and best original song for John Legend and Common’s “Glory.” If that is the logic behind the nominations, should Selma even be nominated for best picture? It’s more than deserving of the nomination, but it certainly isn’t great just because of the song that’s in it. Where’s the best director nomination? Best actor? Best screenplay? I feel like this movie had potential in many different categories at the Oscars, and it was snubbed for mostly all of them. It’s an utter shame to see so many great films get snubbed at the Academy Awards, and this film perhaps has been snubbed the most out of all of them.

Other films that were nominated in other categories include Foxcatcher, Interstellar, Mr. Turner, Into The Woods, Unbroken, The Lego Movie and Guardians of the Galaxy. We can gripe more about which films deserved which nominations later on, but for now, let’s be excited that Barney Stinson is hosting the awards.

– 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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“BIRDMAN” Review (✫✫✫✫)

The artist’s struggle, all in one take. 

Birdman, or otherwise known as The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance is one of the most mesmerizing films I’ve ever seen. It is also one of the most unique, disturbing, shocking, and confusing films I’ve ever seen too. That’s okay. This film was reaching for a specific vision, and director Alejandro Inarritu has expanded beyond it. I admit I don’t know what to expect as far as the public reacting to this, and I also don’t know how accessible it is to non-film aficionados either. But I have seen the movie frame by frame, and I think it’s one of the best films of its kind. On the surface value, it’s about the struggles of Broadway theatre. In deeper insight, it’s about ego and the obsessive human condition.

The film stars Michael Keaton as washed-up actor Riggan Thompson, who has been forgotten by his adoring public after portraying the lead role in a series of superhero films titled Birdman. This is ironic, because in real life, Keaton portrayed a superhero in Tim Burton’s 1989 film Batman. Desperate for a comeback, Thompson sets out to write, direct and star in his favorite Broadway play: What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver.

Things immediately hit the fan during the week of their first preview. One of Riggan’s actors gets a head injury from a loose light on the set. His replacement, Mike Shiner (Edward Norton) is a talented but brash and arrogant actor who sees himself as Riggan’s superior. And, as he faces personal problems with his estranged daughter Sam (Emma Stone), Riggan begins to feel the closing pressures of Broadway when a malicious theatre critic tells him she’s going to “kill his play.” Now Riggan is trying to keep the play and his sanity afloat, and he will make whatever sacrifices he needs to make sure both happens.

Written, directed and produced by Inarritu, Birdman is the first black comedy made by the filmmaker, his most successful films to date being Oscar nominees Babel and Biutiful. Now he has made Birdman, and I am tempted to say it’s the best film he’s made yet.

What worked so well with the film? The first thing is the editing and the cinematography, which was shot so wonderfully by Oscar winner Emmanuel Lubezki that it places you in the moment, in the reality of the film, not making you watch it from a cushion seat on the eighth row of a dark movie theater. Lubezki, who worked with Inarritu on short films in the past, decided to shoot the film and edit it into a continuous fashion, giving off the illusion that the entire film was filmed in one take. Even though the movie wasn’t filmed in one shot, the feeling it gives off makes it feel alive and moving, not unlike the world of theatre that Riggan is trying to prove himself in.

I wonder how much effort this takes, not just from the cinematographer and director’s point of view, but from everyone else involved in the film as well. How many hours did the actors need to rehearse their lines in order to get their roles right? How much pressure was the tech and lighting crew under while they were filming, knowing that if they screwed up, everyone would have to start back to square one? How many hours did film editors Douglas Crise and Stephen Mirrione have to sit in front of a computer, making sure the shots transitioned so well that you couldn’t even see the transitions? The illusion not only worked because of the idea that Lubezki and Inarritu offered, but because of the commitment it received from everyone involved with the film. In many ways, their efforts were all worth it: the camerawork here expresses more of the story than the character’s dialogue does.

The parallels in this movie are also ingenious. How does Keaton feel playing as Riggan Thompson in the movie, knowing that he reached international fame as Batman earlier in his career and having since then never been able to match a more recognized role? How does Inarritu feel, going through all of the production pressures Riggan did in making the play as he himself did in making the movie? Did he intend this movie as self-reflection? Is he telling the audience what he goes through daily as a filmmaker? Or is he using his struggles as a platform to tell a much deeper, more important story to the audience?

For me, I don’t get as much joy out of interpreting as much as I do out of experiencing. And make no mistake: Birdman is an experience, surreal, tantalizing, and thought-provoking all at once. I’m still sitting here, hours later, not quite fully realizing what exactly Inarritu was trying to portray in this film. Is he commenting on the artist’s struggle? Commercial vs. independent film? Fatherhood? Friendship? Family? Lost love?

I think it’s all of the above. Or maybe none of the above. I honestly don’t know. In the movie, Inarritu battles labels that are placed on artists and on the art that they produce. Is Riggan Thompson a superhero, or an actor portraying a superhero? Is he a former shell of who he is, or a flower that has yet to bloom? We see in this film how these labels influence his life and how much stress and anxiety it presses upon him. To put labels on the movie would contradict Inarritu’s intentions. It would be offensive to the film.

My bottom line: Birdman is a masterpiece. It is so distinct in its own language and style that I think it is impossible to define it, let alone replace it. Critics will applaud it for it’s technical and emotional achievements. It will definitely garner some Oscar nominations. It’s a sure contender for visual effects, cinematography and editing. It is also sure to confuse certain people, to which I would recommend stop trying to understand it. Birdman is not meant to be understood. It is meant to be experienced, and if you can help it, interpreted.

Post-script: A thought I had after seeing the movie that I think viewers will also have. Because of how profoundly his role as Birdman affected Riggan, is Inarritu attacking the superhero genre of film? I believe he is, but I choose not to acknowledge that. After all, for every time a superhero film was called too simple, couldn’t you call any art film too complicated? I quote Mark Twain: “Too much of anything is bad.” 

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An Afternoon With Alejandro Inarritu

“And did you get what you wanted from this life, even so?

I did.

And what did you want?

To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth.”

– Raymond Carver

These were the words that director Alejandro Inarritu (Babel, Biutiful) chose to quote at the beginning of his meticulous film Birdman, or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance. It was also the first words that came back into my head minutes before I was to interview him.

This weekend, I had two great experiences happen to me. Firstly, getting to see Birdman, a viciously unique film that tackles it’s characters and themes with pinpoint precision: a masterwork by a master director. The second you already know. If you don’t, you didn’t read my first paragraph.

Alejandro gave myself, along with about ten other college journalists, the privilege to talk to him about his upcoming limited release. After seeing the movie, this surprised me, because there was a moment in the film where a journalist accuses the main character of injecting semen into his pores to maintain his young features. I suspect Mr. Inarritu hosts a very guarded spirit while being interviewed by the press, and I certainly don’t blame him for that if that is the case. Now that I think about it, maybe that’s why Inarritu wanted to host the interview over the phone in the first place.

Anyhow, I had 20 minutes to listen to the director’s innermost thoughts, and while I only got to ask him one question, I enjoyed the experience as much as any other college journalist who participated in the call. While all of these aren’t my questions, these are the ones I found the most relevant to the film, and the ones I believed Inarritu would have preferred to be answered in the first place. So without further adieu, here is Alejandro Inarritu on the unexpected virtue of ignorance.

Question: Your film is unique, hyperactive and full of energy. How do you communicate to your cast the complex tone you’re wanting to portray?

Answer: I always try to be very specific, help them to clarify and simplify things by having a very clear objective. I think every scene has an objective, and every character has something they want to achieve in each scene. When you have cleared your objective, and to try one or two possible ways to get that done through an action verb, I think that would simplify the work not only for me, but for everybody.

Q: What were some of the challenges you faced while making the film? 

A: It was a very short shooting — 29 days. We rehearsed a lot before arriving to the set, so basically it was a very intense and meticulous work of precision with actors, camera and crew. Everything was designed and matched the needs of the film that was basically predecided in rehearsal.

Q: You have a big role behind your scenes in producing, writing and directing all of your films. What is it like taking on all of those jobs at once? 

A: I have been lucky to have been the producer and be involved in all of my films in a very personal way. I think there is no other way to make it. I think if you have a film that is personal, if you are doing your own film, there is no other way to not produce it, because I think it’s a part of the film. Producing means a lot of decisions that will impact your film one way or another.

Q: In the movie, Riggan Thompson is overshadowed by a superhero role he played earlier in his career. In real life, Keaton is overshadowed by his role in Tim Burton’s Batman. Is that an intentional casting decision that you made?

A: Keaton adds a lot of mental reality to the film, being an authority and one of the few persons of his work that pioneered the superhero thing. But at the same time, he has the craft and the range to play in drama and comedy, and very few actors can do that. He plays a prick in this film, and I need someone who was adorable, somebody who you can really like. He has that likeness, that likeness that was required. All of these things made him the perfect choice for it. I think he was very bold in trusting me with this role.

Q: One of the things that is particularly interesting with the film is the long take. Can you talk about why you made that visual choice?

A: I wanted the long take to make the people really feel the experience of this guy. I think it’s important for every director in every film to pick the point of view, and in this case I wanted radical point of view, and the people were in the shoes of the character to experience his emotions. I felt that was the most effective way to do that.

Q: Why did you choose to portray mental illness in a film that is at least extensively a comedy?

A: I think ego is a part of our decease as a society. I think the ego is a necessity, but I think when the ego takes over and we attach our personalities to the ego, and he domains a person absolutely without being discovered or controlled. That’s mental deceit, and I see in a way Riggan Thompson suffering from that illusion of ego that’s distorting him. He thinks he does things that he does not do, he’s in like a manic state of mind. He’s an extreme case of ego.

Q: Is that part of the commentary?

A: Everything is part of the tone of the film. That’s why it opens with a guy meditating in tidy whites.

– David Dunn

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“NEED FOR SPEED” Review (✫✫)

Needs more brains if you ask me.

Need For Speed is one of those movies that feels like pressing on the gas pedal. You get a good kick out of it at first, but it doesn’t take long for it to run on empty.

Based loosely on the video game series of the same name, Need For Speed stars Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad’s Jesse Pinkman) as Tobey Marshall, a car mechanic whose prowess at street racing precedes that of Dom Toretto from Fast and Furious. When Tobey’s closest friend Pete (Harrison Gilbertson) is killed in a race against his wealthy rival Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper), Marshall sets out in a race across the country to find Brewster and make him pay for what he has done.

Directed by Scott Waugh, the filmmaker behind the 2011 war drama Act Of Valor, Need For Speed is a typical Hollywood sports car movie with the typical ingredients you’d expect: a lot of action, few brains, even less wit and an over-dependence on formulaic Hollywood cheese

The screenplay is unbearably generic, to the point where groaning in disbelief is almost a reflex. In the first 20 minutes, we get every racing movie cliché you could possibly find in the handbook, from the underdog street racer stereotype to the prolifically rich and jerk of a rival to the underdog getting framed for a crime that he didn’t commit, seeking revenge on his transgressor. I wonder where we’ve seen that before?

Oh, is this movie bad. From the movie’s first scenes to its very last, it’s a predictable farce that can be easily foreseeable if you’ve seen any street racing movie ever. Case in point: Would I be really giving away any spoilers if I offer that A) Marshall makes it into the final race, B) He beats Brewster in a tedious scene that’s supposed to be the climax and C) He gets a beautiful girl in his arms? Please look at that, and tell me that doesn’t remind you of The Fast and the Furious franchise.

The movie might have been decent if the performances were worth anything more than a ukulele pick. Look at all of the names that are in this movie: Dominic Cooper, Imogen Poots, Michael Keaton, Aaron Paul. All great and talented actors, whose versatility of projects range from Batman and 28 Weeks Later to Captain America: The First Avenger and “Breaking Bad”. Their roles in this movie are wasted because they are mostly shoved aside for the (dis)pleasure of preposterous stunts, relentless engine revving and unbearably bad CGI animation. The fire effects that can be seen in one scene are so laughably bad that the video game looks more realistic.

The only thing I give the movie credit for is its third act, which is surprisingly affectionate. Dare I say that it may be poetic? No, that would be giving the movie too much credit. Still, it carries a very humble message about it, a grounded and reassuring statement that everything is going to be all right, even if things don’t initially seem that way. This end scene was surprisingly touching and relevant, elevating the movie above its mediocrity, although temporarily.

That still doesn’t change what we have here, though. Need For Speed is a predictable, standard, run-of-the-mill action farce with no surprises or original ideas. It’s almost like playing a video game, except you’re watching the filmmaker play it for you.

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