Tag Archives: Whiplash

“LA LA LAND” Review (✫✫✫)

So does “LA” refer to music, or Los Angeles?

Musicals don’t exist in realms of reality. If you have this as your mindset when you go into a musical, 9/10 times you won’t be dissapointed. This expectation helped me to enjoy La La Land, a delightful, energetic musical experiment that is equal parts joyful, uplifting, and honest with itself. I enjoyed it very much even though I knew it wasn’t realistic, and that’s part of the influence of cinema: escaping one reality so you may be immersed in another.

Taking place in modern-day Los Angeles, La La Land follows two hopeful dreamers who aspire to be successful Hollywood artists. Mia (Emma Stone) is a down-on-her-luck actress who works as a barista while simultaneously auditioning for shows. Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a jazz pianist who was recently fired from his performance job at a nightclub. As these two run into each other coincidence after coincidence, they soon fall in love with their artistry, and eventually, each other.

With La La Land being the third film written and directed by Damien Chazelle, it feels strange that he would want to come back and do a musical. His last film, the masterfully-paced and enthralling Whiplash, was a tense exercise in perfection and practice, while 10 Cloverfield Lane also demonstrated Chazelle’s characteristics of pacing with tension. La La Land, however, feels so starkly different from those films. From the emotional mood to the artistic direction, La La Land exists in ambiance, throwing you back to the classic musical days where characters broke out into song and dance instead of engaging in conversation with each other. If Whiplash is a vicious, violent train chugging down the tracks at a lethal pace, La La Land is like a feather, whimsically dancing in the wind as it quietly falls down to its next restful stop.

That change of mood is fine. What isn’t is sacrificing quality along with it, and La La Land definitely has a few things to answer for, particularly in the runtime. The movie is two hours and eight minutes long, and it definitely feels like it. From the writing to the editing, there were small things in there that were not needed and could have been resolved with a few quick rewrites and tighter edits.

Example: In the middle of the movie, Mia is caught in a love triangle between Sebastian and her boyfriend Greg (portrayed by Finn Wittrock). None of these scenes were needed. None of them. Greg served no purpose in the film other than just to have Finn Wittrock in it, who admittedly is a talented actor, but that’s not a good enough reason to have him awkwardly shoved in here. He offered no development in either Mia or Sebastian’s story, and the film would have moved on much more smoothly without him in there as a distraction.

There’s other small things, from the sudden dance montages to characters conveniently lacking cell phones in really useful moments (I.e. at Sebastian and Mia’s first meeting, when he asks her out on their first date, when she gets an audition callback, etc.). In an age where cell phones flood every part of our culture, it’s so hard to imagine two people lacking them so often, especially in the heart of a city like L.A.

Compare this to the tempo and flow of Whiplash. Nothing is wasted in that film. Nothing. Every practice scene, every beating of the drum, every fiery argument between Neiman and Fletcher drives home a point about passion and sacrifice. Whiplash was tight, effective, and masterful in its art. La La Land has more fun with it.

That’s not to say La La Land isn’t enjoyable. It definitely has an upbeat, feel-good rhythm to it, guaranteed to get you dancing on your feet and humming the song’s melodies out loud. Part of this is because of the wholly earnest energy sprouting from Gosling and Stone’s chemistry. With this being their third collaboration together (the first two being Crazy, Stupid, Love and Gangster Squad), this film is easily the best representation of their talents together. They do well no matter what scene they’re in, whether they’re subtly flirting with each other, sharing a moment of romantic passion, dancing the night away in a wonderful musical number, or are arguing in a heated moment. They make every moment come alive and immediate. Stone especially demonstrates immersive talent, and in her audition scenes as an actress, she feels like she’s playing two characters at once. That’s because she is.

I like a lot of things about this film. The music is catchy and meaningful, with each number saying more in each scene than character’s dialogue can sometimes. The set design is bright, vibrant, and colorful, with some scenes painting a more vivid picture than any painting or photograph can. The choreography is especially impressive, with characters moving, leaping, tap-dancing, and flying into synchronized rhythms in-time with the music.

As a musical, La La Land fulfills every requirement and then some, with it being not just catchy and melodic, but also visually spectacular and dynamic. It could have been more effective in some areas, but at the end of the day, Chazelle is doing what he loves by telling this story about two unlikely lovers pursuing their dreams. We can learn an important lesson here. It’s easy to give up on the impossible. It’s hard to pursue your dreams. Imagine what it feels like reaching them.

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“IRON MAN 2” Review (✫✫✫)

Literally, two Iron Men.

Let me stop your expectations right there. Iron Man 2 is not as good as Iron Man. It just isn’t. Granted, making anything better than Iron Man is damn near impossible. I think the only recent movie that can compete is The Dark Knight, albeit for very different reasons.

All the same, just because Iron Man 2 is not as good as Iron Man doesn’t mean it isn’t good at all. It just depends on what you’re looking for when you enter the theater, and what expectations you’re having that would affect your view of the picture.

I myself went in expecting a subpar sequel to Iron Man. I got just that. But just because it is subpar doesn’t mean it isn’t fun, and believe me: Iron Man 2 is all sorts of fun. Whether it’s in the action, the comedy, or in the performances, I was never bored, and I quite enjoyed seeing Robert Downey Jr. suit up a second time in the suit, even if it was less meaningful this time around.

Iron Man 2 picks up right after the events of the first Iron Man, where Tony went into a press conference and stupidly told everyone that he was Iron Man. I banged my head into my seat multiple times when that happened in Iron Man, and I repeated this action when Tony dropped out of a helicopter, flied around next to fireworks, and landed in a convention center, only to unmask himself in front of thousands of fans at the beginning of Iron Man 2.

I have one word for a person that would act like this in real life. The first half of that word rhymes with bass. The other half is hole.

This time around, Tony is pitted up against not one, but TWO bad guys. The first is Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), a Russian technician who holds a deep resentment against Tony considering his family’s history with the Starks. The other is Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), a wickedly genius business man who has all of Tony’s ego, but none of his charm. These two together make a terrible team that Tony needs to take down alongside his friend James “Rhodey” Rhodes (Don Cheadle), who suits up next to Tony as the War Machine.

…you get it? Iron Man 2? Two Iron Men? Ha ha ha.

The best thing about Iron Man 2 is also the best thing from the first Iron Man. Robert Downey Jr. once again proves how great of an actor he is both inside and outside the Iron Man armor. At this point, he is Tony Stark. It doesn’t even seem like he’s putting on a performance anymore. He’s inhabiting the character so naturally that he feels like he’s reacting more than he is acting. His mannerisms and expressions are on point, his line delivery acute, and his comedic timing perfect. Downey Jr. never falters in the film. Not even once.

And the action scenes are just as strong as they were in the first film. Well, maybe not as well. The first movie, after all, did have Tony fighting terrorists and war mongers, and carried more weight to it as it appealed more to reality than it did to fantasy.

Still, the action is fun and fast-paced. My particular favorite moment was when Tony and Rhodey team up to take on an army of Iron Man armor copycats. This scene was exciting to watch because really, this is the first time we see Tony facing a large-scale threat that aren’t fragile human beings. It was exciting and interesting to see Tony and Rhodey fighting with larger stakes in the midst. It shows that the Marvel universe knows how to grow and build upon its original elements.

So Downey Jr., the comedy, and the action is retained from the first movie. What isn’t? Well, for one thing, the tone is off. Iron Man 2 is more silly and less serious, and while it does make for a fun movie, it also makes for a less meaningful one. The movie has this strange sub-plot involving Tony’s mortality and his complicated history with his father. These are serious subjects that should have a lot of gravitas and weight to it, yet it feels removed and out of place here. We don’t care about Tony personally like we did in Iron Man. We just like watching him suit up and shooting snarky quips at his supporting cast.

I wonder, where exactly did director Jon Favreau go wrong? I think his mistake was focusing more on the plot and less on the character. The first Iron Man was a great character study, as well as an exciting action movie. That was due in part both to Robert Downey Jr.’s personification and Favreau’s understanding of the character. Then Iron Man struck a chord and was suddenly universally praised from both critics and fans alike. How on Earth was Favreau going to top that?

I think that, in the midst of production stress and unrealistic expectations, Favreau panicked and tried to force a story onto the character, rather than allowing the character to create the story himself. This is a movie that knows the notes, but it doesn’t know how to play them. It’s more interested in setup rather than payoff, and you can see that with all of the Easter eggs stuffed in the film, but with all of the underdeveloped characters in there as well.

Overall, I enjoyed Iron Man 2 and I had fun with it, but it was not as worthwhile an experience as Iron Man was. Isn’t that to be expected though? Sequels are a dominant force in today’s industry, and most of them are not only disappointment to their predecessors, but are just bad movies overall. Be grateful that we’ve got a few laughs and thrills and can enjoy Iron Man 2 for what it is.

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“10 CLOVERFIELD LANE” Review (✫✫✫)

You’re not safe inside. You’re not safe outside either.

Whether you love him or hate him, you gotta admit one thing about J.J. Abrams: he knows how to sell a film.

Take 10 Cloverfield Lane as a testament to his skill. When the trailer dropped out of nowhere back in January, nobody knew anything about the plot, characters, or premise of this movie. That’s rare in today’s industry, especially with all of the casting and production announcements circulating daily on today’s news platforms. The fact that 10 Cloverfield Lane’s producers, director, writers, and actors were able to keep it a secret up until now is genuinely surprising, and I think it will pay off for them. It’s built up anticipation for the movie in ways no major blockbuster can do, and it will equally fulfill it’s audience in ways only this movie can supply.

In their excitement, some fans speculated that this movie is a sequel to Cloverfield, a risky yet innovative 2008 monster thriller also produced by Abrams. You would be wrong. 10 Cloverfield Lane is about as related to Cloverfield as Star Wars is related to Star Trek. Same genre, different execution. Much different.

This time around, 10 Cloverfield Lane ditches the nauseating shaky cam from Cloverfield and chooses instead to focus on a few survivors in a bomb shelter as opposed to a collapsing New York City. These survivors consist of Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), and Howard (John Goodman), the last of whom built the shelter in the first place. These three are forced into the shelter after a chemical attack cripples the U.S..

Or so Michelle is told.

Before coming to the shelter, Michelle got into a devastating car crash that left her injured and unconscious. She wakes up chained to a small bed on the floor next to Howard, who doesn’t quite seem all there if you know what I mean. Michelle is left with a difficult decision. Does she choose to trust her instincts, or this man that’s telling her that the world has ended?

The special thing about 10 Cloverfield Lane is that it focuses on its setting and performances to provide suspense instead of an overflow of visual effects. This is not an aesthetic Abrams is unfamiliar with. Ever since producing Cloverfield, he’s mostly understood that it is not spectacle that provides thrills, but rather, perspective. And whether it’s through the eyes of a producer, or through the lense of directing Mission Impossible III or Super 8, he’s always been a filmmaker that’s understood the value of perspective.

Take, for instance, Michelle’s perspective in the movie. Through her eyes, she’s just a prisoner who woke up in someone’s basement chained up to a mattress on the floor. The man who says he saved her life isn’t entirely a friendly guy. He’s old, unsettling, awkward, unreasonable, and demanding, running his bomb shelter like a warden runs a prison. Michelle is understandably terrified with him, but then she’s told that there’s been an attack on the world outside. Now what do you do? Do you try to escape and possibly face death, or do you believe this stranger and confide in the safety of his shelter?

Such psychological dilemmas is what compels the film forward, and director Dan Trachtenberg handles this cast skillfully in the small space that they are confined in. Winstead and Goodman bounce off of each other perfectly in the film, like a cat and mouse locked together in the same cage. Winstead, who’s played the survivors role in quite a few films (Live Free Or Die Hard, The Thing prequel), displays her trauma and distress here effectively without overacting or reaching for an emotion. Goodman is just downright chilling. He’s a man who seems like he has good intentions, but has a dark side to him that he demonstrates with disturbing normalcy. Their dynamic together felt eerily resemblant of Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter from 1991’s The Silence of the Lambs, which also featured a chilling relationship formed more out of necessity rather than comfort.

All of this builds to a well-paced, tense, and uncomfortable film driven almost entirely through performance, which is a very special thing in today’s industry. My biggest regret is that given the talent and the uniqueness involved with this production, it has to undercut its own success by throwing a CGI action spectacle in the third act of the film. While I won’t spoil it by saying what exactly happens, I will say it’s a severe shift in genre by the time the third act rolls around. We go from a tensely-wrought suspense-thriller to what is typically considered a Hollywood blockbuster. In making that transition, the film loses a part of its spirit and what makes it special from other thriller films.

“But it’s science-fiction,” you might argue with me. Yes, but did it need to be? Damien Chazelle made an incredible, heart-racing thriller in 2014’s Whiplash, and that was a film about the sharp rivalry of two passion-fueled musicians. Chazelle also worked on the script for 10 Cloverfield Lane, and I’m convinced that Howard’s uneasy presence originated from Chazelle’s ideas. The studio should have followed in his lead. The creepiest scenes in this movie remains to be from the tension between the characters and for what they can or can’t do to each other: not some supernatural force that threatens these people from outside the shelter. A quick rewrite of the ending and a few reshoots could have shifted this picture from a good movie to a great one.

All in all, 10 Cloverfield Lane is an effectively creepy film that you just wish would follow through on its intentions. The movie draws a line between fearing what is reality and what is fiction, and at looking at that line, isn’t it reality that seems more scary to us? That’s the thought that stuck with me when I left the theater. Well, bomb shelter.

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“FANTASTIC FOUR” Review (✫)

Not so fantastic.

That’s it. I give up. We will never have a good Fantastic Four movie in this lifetime that will do Marvel’s first superhero family justice. We have had four live-action bouts with the Fantastic Four now. The first one was never theatrically released. The next two installments was campy melodrama that should have premiered on SyFy. Now we have the newest reboot, and it’s safe to say this movie deserved the fate that the first movie suffered from.

The Fantastic Four team consists of Reed Richards (Miles Teller), Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan) and his adopted sister Sue (Kate Mara), with the third wheel being Latverian computer whiz Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell), who is an anti-social douchebag that is spoiled, rotten, selfish, privileged, and self-obsessed. King Joffrey from “Game of Thrones” is more well-mannered than this POS.

If you know anything ever about Marvel movies, you know the formula. Person X gets caught in an accident. Person X gains super powers. Person X struggles with said powers. Person X eventually learns to control them, fight the obviously-labeled baddie, and then commits himself to a life of fighting crime. The only difference between Fantastic Four and the other Marvel formula movies is that it’s more obvious with this film. And it’s persons instead of person.

In hindsight, Fantastic Four is not easy to adapt into film. For one thing, their powers are so complacent. A rubber man, an invisible woman, a human torch, and a rocky troll is not the ideal superhero team I would line up to see. The other problem, though, is their comic book origins. Compared to other heroes such as Spider-Man, Daredevil, Iron Man, and Captain America, the tone with the Fantastic Four comics is much more lighthearted and even comical. Be honest: can you even keep a straight face with a name as silly as “Fantastic Four”?

All the same though, the concept doesn’t matter as much as the payoff. This movie could have worked. The members of the Fantastic Four have vibrant personalities and character traits that make them both memorable and likable. That’s the reason why Marvel’s first family has survived all these years: it’s because they’re enduring. People relate to them, and despite their meta-human circumstances, their problems and emotions with each other are all human.

We didn’t relate to them as superheroes. We related to them as characters.

That’s a problem for this movie, though, because this movie neither has personality or character. Good lord, where do I begin? When the lineup for this movie’s cast was announced, I was skeptical at first, and I was right to be. Not only can none of the actors hold the screen presence on their own: their chemistry with each other was disastrously non-existent. The cast didn’t even seem to really care about their roles. Every half-hearted expression, every line of dialogue and every motion seems disinterested and bland. Nothing works when these actors are on the screen together.

Teller, for instance, is an atypical and complacent scientist character, a step down from his bravado performance full of passion and drive in last year’s Whiplash. Kebbell is just as forgettable as Teller is, except he’s more of an asshole about it. Mara is beautiful but witless, her character cluelessly wandering about as if she’s there just so the studio can say they’re gender diverse. Michael B. Jordan, who is a standout in movies like Chronicle and Fruitvale Station, appears here just so the studio can say they’re racial diverse.

Side-note: I’m all about racial diversity in movies, but if you’re going to cast two actors as siblings, at least have them be the same race. Saying Mara’s character is adopted doesn’t count as being diverse. It’s an obviously cheap effort to be labeled “racially diverse.” If you genuinely want to be racially diverse, recast everyone as African Americans. Don’t put in a half effort.

But out of all of the actors, I feel the most bad for Jamie Bell. He’s not even on the screen for most of the film: he’s replaced with this ugly gargoyle reject that looks like a combination of John Cena with a pile of rocks. I’m not even kidding, he looks freggin’ horrendous. What were the visual effects artists thinking with this? I get that Ben Grimm is supposed to be this big, ugly figure, but not this ugly. Not the kind of ugly that makes your vomit turn inside out, then go back into your stomach. It offends me to think that Bell was basically thrown into the tracking suit and have his performance replaced by this ugly CGI creation. With the other cast members, they at least have the opportunity to give a convincing performance before they fail. Bell isn’t even given the opportunity to fail. His performance is canned the minute the visual effects artists placed a 3D model over him. You could have cast a stunt double in this same role and get the same result from it: a big, bulky figure that just stiffly sits and stands like he has to go to the bathroom really bad. I haven’t seen a CGI creation this putrid since the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from last year.

The movie’s flimsy, indistinct plot is just as bad as anything else is. What is the plot of this movie? Four people get superpowers, mope about it for a few hours, then have their final battle 20 minutes before the movie ends. That’s it. There’s no character building here, no heart, no humor, no unique elements or surprises to this film that makes it stand out from the standard superhero fare. The Avengers was just as fun, if not more so, for its characterizations and dialogue as it was with its action. Guardians of the Galaxy was wacky, clever, in-cheek fun that had a blast roasting itself. Shoot, even the original Fantastic Four movies had more charisma than this. This movie was so downtrodden, so serious, and so stupidly depressing that I felt like I was watching gothic fan fiction of the Fantastic Four. If you thought Man of Steel was too dark for a superhero movie, you haven’t seen Fantastic Four.

This is a disinteresting, joyless, illogical, poorly acted, written, produced, and directed experience. The cast must have heard the film’s whimsical title and wondered if they were on the wrong set.

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“WHIPLASH” Review (✫✫✫✫)

You won’t know what hit you.

I was a junior in high school when my dad took me out to a cabin in Montana for a “vacation.” I put “vacation” in quotations because we practiced music for nearly three hours every single day. I was a tuba player back then, and I practiced with my dad so I could make it into the All-Region band. One day, I wasn’t playing a single measure correctly. The notes I was supposed to play were on the downbeat, and I kept playing them on the upbeat. My dad made me play that verse over, and over, and over, and over again. He would get frustrated at me, yell at me, and push me harder and harder until I played that verse perfectly 100 times. I played that same frothy, infuriating verse for all three hours that day.

I say this to show you that the stuff you see in Whiplash isn’t fiction. It’s as feasible as the music you see, as vibrant as the drum beats you hear in a song, and as real as the passion that drives any musician, writer, and aspiring artist out there. Whiplash is special not just because it’s unique, but because it carries an uncanny truth for those who aspire to greatness. Perfection is never good enough. You’re pushing yourself over the edge just as much as the people around you are.

The kid aspiring to greatness in this story is Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller), a mild-mannered college musician who aspires to be the next Charlie Parker or Buddy Rich on the drums. The man he thinks can make him great is Terrence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), a brilliant but brash and at times violent instructor who will throw a chair at you if you’re either rushing or dragging the tempo.

If you think I’m saying that figuratively, I’m not. That literally happens to Neiman during his first rehearsal with Fletcher in the movie.

Neiman aims to be the best drummer out in the world. Fletcher aims to be the best instructor in the world. These two men and their intense passions for their goals builds into a riveting, thrilling, and emotionally vigorous journey that is more involving and exciting than most of the year’s biggest action blockbusters. Yes, I am placing this above the likes of Transformers, Godzilla, and Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s that good.

How is it that this movie leaves such a lasting impact, when most people haven’t seen it, let alone heard about it? One of the biggest reasons, I think, is conflict. This is writer/director Damien Chazelle’s sophomore effort into film, his debut feature being the 2009 jazz film Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench. Both films are about jazz musicians, both are about people aspiring to other’s aspirations, and both are about never being good enough for those end goals.

There, however, is a sharp difference in tone between both pictures. One is a romantic drama about two lovers struggling to reconnect after slowly growing apart from each other. The other is an unconventional thriller that poses two musicians opposite one another to build a steady sense of unease and tension between the two. The result is a severely nail-biting, teeth-grating, and heart-pounding experience because of it.

Again, going back to conflict. My college screenwriting professor once told us that conflict is what compels story, and character’s struggling with conflict compels their development in the story. I am reminded of this no better than when I watch Whiplash, and that’s just because Chazelle sets up conflict really well in the movie. In the film, Neiman is desperate to prove himself as a musician. He moves his bed out of his dorm room in the place of a drum set. When he goes to sleep, he listens to the music that he’s practicing in his ipod. When he knows he’s not playing fast enough, he pushes harder until his hand bleeds. When his hand bleeds, he puts a bandaid on and keeps playing. When his bandaid falls off, he presses his hand in ice water, turning the clean liquid into an ugly shade of red.

Yet, despite all of his passion and initiative, Fletcher continues to press him and push him harder not necessarily to make him a better musician, but just because it’s never good enough for him. The level of intensity Fletcher shows in the movie makes you wonder where all of this anger comes from. Did he have his own version of Fletcher when he was a music major in college?

Which brings me to the next point: the performances. Teller and Simmons give two of the best performances out of the year in their roles, fully inhabiting their characters to the point where we become entranced in full immersion. Teller, who before this has starred in a string of bad raunchy comedies (Project X, 21 and Over, That Awkard Moment), re-establishes himself as a finer actor here. He shows that he has more acting chops than he lets on and proves that he’s more than just a pretty face. Simmons is on a whole another level. He was so scary, intimidating and maddening as this arrogant, hard-headed music professor that he made wind ensemble feel like drill camp.

I can only name one moment I didn’t like in the film, and that is that the ending is far too abrupt. It’s a perfect film otherwise. Chazelle wrote and directed this film as a reaction to writer’s block, and while he pulled inspiration from being a drummer in high school, I think the film is universal as far as its language and messages go. We are both Neiman and Fletcher for the things that we are passionate about. We aspire to do great things, and we beat ourselves up when we don’t do those great things. We will push ourselves to and over the edge when we don’t measure up to our own expectations. But what’s the point of doing all of those great things if you’ve lost the joy in doing them? I quote my dad, who has always pushed me in a better way than Fletcher has: “You don’t have to be number one to be amazing.”

Post-script: In defense of my dad, some people might say he was going too hard on me, or that I didn’t deserve all of the strain that he would put me through. You would be wrong. I made third chair in the Texas All State band because he didn’t give up on me.

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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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