The People’s Critic’s Top 10 Holiday ACTION Films!

Treeboom.jpgAn annual list of holiday films is a challenging endeavor once you’ve been at it for a while. I mean, sensibilities change slightly from year to year, but not enough to warrant developing a list that is nearly identical to the year’s previous list. Therefore, I have invented a gimmick to allow me to publish an annual holiday film list that is different enough from year to year and also will not damage my journalistic integrity by contradicting original recommendations. If you want to know my quintessential thoughts on the best overall holiday films, please see my 2014 list or my 2015 list.

So what’s the gimmick? Holiday films are themselves a subgenre of the various classic genres of film. In other words, we have holiday comedies, horrors, dramas, classics, tragedies, etc. Therefore, my intention is to offer a list of the best holiday films of a specific genre each year. 2016, for better or for worse, may go down as one of the most tumultuous years in recent memory. While “Tumult” is not a generally accepted genre, Action/Adventure certainly is. Therefore, this year the list is getting an action overhaul to reveal The People’s Critic’s Top Ten Holiday Action films of all time!


  1. reindeerReindeer Games – John Frankenheimer’s final film, Reindeer Games, does not generally enter the discussion as one of the director’s best efforts. However, when previous films include, Birdman of Alcatraz, The Manchurian Candidate, Grand Prix, and The French Connection…II (still pretty good though), you buy a little favor as you enter your final act. Reindeer Games does not find its way onto many top 10 lists, so I am honored to have crafted one that it most certainly (just barely) belongs on. Admittedly not a problem free film, Reindeer Games finds Ben Affleck coerced to assist in a Christmas Eve casino heist by Charlize Theron and her brother Gary Sinise.

  1. lethalLethal Weapon – Nothing says, have a holly, jolly Christmas like Mel Gibson, right? Well, the boys may be “getting too old for this shit” now, after four films and a television series, but back in 1987, the buddy duo of Murtaugh and Riggs was a new thing. Right from the start when a naked hooker swan dives out of a hotel room window to her death to the song, “Jingle Bells,” this film has the holiday spirit! A coke bust in a Christmas tree lot is just the icing on the cake. This film is a blast though. While the mismatch, buddy-cops does feel cliché now, this was the film that really put that formula on the map.

  1. majestyOn Her Majesty’s Secret Service – Not only the best Bond movie, but Diana Rigg is hands down the best Bond girl as well! George Lazenby’s sole entry as Bond sees 007 off to Switzerland in pursuit of that nasty Blofeld who threatens to release a lethal virus upon the world unless he receives a pardon for all of his previous crimes (perhaps this film would have been more aptly named, ‘Lethal Weapon’ than #9). The film is set around the holidays. They don’t play a major role, but there is a lot of snow everywhere, some dangerous Christmas gifts, and perhaps the worst Christmas song you’ve ever heard.

  1. imIron Man 3 – Occasionally I hear people ask, why hasn’t Marvel made a Christmas movie yet? Well, guess what? They did, and it was Iron Man 3.  Sure it was released in the month of May, but this one truly has a May/December relationship.  The holidays play a pivotal role here, whether it’s a scene at a 1999 New Years Eve party or a scene where Tony Stark tests out his new Iron Man suit to a funky rendition of “Jingle Bells” – the holiday spirit is there.  Iron Man 3 is a very smartly made film, and while it still addresses comic book staple themes like good/evil, identity, revenge, and freedom, an emergent theme can also be extracted from it – learning from mistakes.  This installment is Downey Jr.’s best as he tactfully and authentically balances humor, intensity, and sentimentality without ever missing a beat.

  1. batmanBatman Returns – A Tim Burton Christmas is always a good time. Add Batman and you have something really special. Megalomaniac and billionaire (sound eerily familiar?) Max Shreck (played by Christopher Walken) and Oswald “The Penguin” Cobblepot (Danny DeVito) join forces in corrupt quest to take control of Gotham City. Another moody masterpiece from Burton using the holiday backdrop as a stark contrast to create a macabre, surreal experience for the viewer. Christmas imagery is turned on its head where ornaments and even trees are charismatic weaponry, rather than fun decorations.

  1. rockyRocky IV – Granted, this film probably has the least to do with the holidays than any of the others on this list. Still the climactic fight happens to be on Christmas, which qualifies it for the list. This is pure guilty pleasure watching as all of the tropes of the fighting genre are on full display. The epic battle between underdog Balboa and the superhuman Draggo (played by Dolph Lundgren) is worth the set-up though.

  1. gremGremlins – “No bright light, don’t’ get him wet, and whatever you do – don’t ever feed him after midnight.”  These are the three rules that are sure to be broken when Randall Peltzer brings his son Billy home a strange new pet for Christmas!  In no time Gremlins are unleashed on Kingston Falls. This film dances the line between horror/action and comedy with great results.

  1. prisoners2Prisoners – Hugh Jackman plays Keller Dover, a construction worker who lives in a quiet New England suburb with his wife, teenage son, and six year old daughter. While spending Thanksgiving with the family of his life-long friend and neighbor, Franklin Birch (Terrance Howard), Keller and Franklin discover that both of their daughters are suddenly missing. With the help of Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) and the police, they are able to track down the RV and apprehend a suspect (Paul Dano), but due to his mental incapacity and lack of evidence, he is released. This sends Prisoners in a harrowing new direction as Keller and Franklin wade through some ethically murky waters in the search for their daughters. This is an intense one, and while not a traditional holiday film nor a traditional action film, it has both and is outstanding!

  1. jurassic-worldJurassic WorldHow will you spend your Christmas vacation? Why not at the same Costa Rican island where just 22 years prior, dinosaurs ran wild killing everyone in their path? That’s the premise of this blockbuster sequel whose cold-blooded characters heighten our warm blooded heartrates with more action and more “chaos.” Grab a cup of cocoa and hitch a ride on a raptor for this year’s number two holiday action film!

  1. dieDie Hard – Perhaps the film that made the holiday action film subgenre possible, Die Hard is a classic. That nasty Hans Gruber (played expertly by the great Alan Rickman, whom we lost earlier this year) takes control of the very office building where NYC cop John McClane’s wife, Holly, works. With all of the building inhabitants except John McClane now held hostage by Gruber and his band of terrorists, McClane finds himself the only one who can save Christmas…and the lives of his wife and her coworkers! Rickman makes “snarky, German terrorist” an art form and the action and the tone in this film are perfect. There’s just no topping this one.

What do you think?  Did I get it right or did I miss your favorite holiday film?  Let me know!

Sausage Party

Capturing the shock, awe, and absurdity of a movie such as Sausage Party requires a delicate touch. That is why I decided to not add one more sausage to the party by giving another masculine perspective on a movie so obviously aimed at the male gender. That’s right, the sometimes brilliant, always progressive People’s Critic is both honored and pleased to introduce this month’s guest reviewer, Pamela Kuczewski. Pamela was generous enough to attend a screening of the raunch-fest that is JasonSausage Party and serve up her perspective on the culinary Caligula.


-The People’s Critic


SPDirectors: Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon

Screenwriters: Kyle Hunter, Ariel Shaffir, Seth Rogan, and Evan Goldberg

Cast: Seth Rogan, Kristen Wiig, Jonah Hill, Bill Hader, Nick Kroll, and James Franco

What happens when you combine loveable stoners, animation, and a lot of penis jokes? Surprisingly, a lot more than I was expecting. As a woman who grew up with an older brother, I was exposed early on to foul language and humor; this upbringing has helped me appreciate what I refer to as “guy movies.” This film most likely falls beneath this category, however it has much more to offer than what “meats” the eye, even for the ladies.

This newest film from buddy writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg explores faith, hope, friendship, and a filling dose of filth, all with an incredible cast of comedians and serious actors alike. The movie opens at a grocery store on a bright morning with food and produce singing their joyful praises to shoppers, or Gods. The song entitled “The Great Beyond,” sets the stage for a fanciful musical number, much like something you’d see in a Disney movie. Picture “Be Our Guest” with more f-bombs. What was more surprising than a jubilant yet inappropriate musical number was that it was composed by Oscar-winning composer Alan Menken, of Disney’s The Little Mermaid and Aladdin fame. Impressive – I would never have matched Alan Menken music with Seth Rogen lyrics but it absolutely worked. The song represents the foods’ faith and hope in the Gods and that they will be the chosen ones. Little do they know what is really in store for them in The Great Beyond.

Our phallic hero, Frank (Seth Rogen), is introduced with the rest of his horny hot dog friends (Jonah Hill and Anders Holm). Brenda (Kristin Wiig), a hot dog bun, is of course Frank’s curvaceous girlfriend. Already, the language is vulgar and I either can’t stop laughing or am too astounded to laugh. Some food is “chosen” but there’s a tragic accident involving a janky shopping cart wheel, causing the food to capsize out of the cart along with a bag of flour. What follows is a smoky scene that mimics the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan, only with food. I’m sure you can imagine. A villain is introduced after this accident – a douche (Nick Kroll) – who feels screwed out of his disgusting destiny and blames Frank and Brenda for the whole thing. Our heroes spend much of the movie being chased by a vengeful douche. Yeah, a douche. This was one of those jokes that should have maybe died early on in the film, but every hero needs an antihero.

What follows the accident is a quest for truth about what really lies in The Great Beyond. Frank’s faith is tested and he learns the truth from Firewater (Bill Hader) a pot-smoking Native American bottle of booze. He discusses the need to inform the others with Brenda, but she can’t see past her blind faith. The truth is confirmed by deformed wiener Barry (Michael Cera) who makes it out of the grocery store and witnesses the horrific cooking and eating of his friends. Somehow, with the help of some misfit food (including an odd Stephen Hawking-esque Gum character), Barry returns to the store to help Frank lead an all-out attack on the Gods.

While the constant hot dog/penis jokes are plentiful – you could say the movie is engorged with them – what lies beneath is a story about faith. Like many people, the silly yet relatable characters wonder what’s real, what’s their purpose, and if seeing is believing. This religious theme, or the “Why are we here?” question, is woven deep into the film and quite well.

High praise goes to the animators and voice actors for giving personality to food. Most every culture and ethnicity is captured exactly how you would envision it: a Jewish bagel (Edward Norton) bickers with a pita bread (David Krumholtz). A taco has the sultry voice of Salma Hayek. Of course the tequila sounds like a drunk Mexican and Mr. Grits is an obvious African American character. The stereotypes may be the least offensive aspect of this movie. If you were offended by the marionette sex in Team America – or enthralled – then prepare for the supermarket orgy. It’s safe to say the orgy gave the movie its name. Honestly, the level of creativity was incredible. Being an R-rated movie, it was interesting to see how much the writers were able to get away with. If my goal in life was to see a hot dog pull anal beads out of a bun, then consider my goal completed.

Sausage Party delivers with laughs, action, romance, faith, and friendship. While raunchy and at times a little too over the top for this chick, it’s not without its “tip-touching” moments. B+

 PamnPamela Kuczewski is both a technical writer and a writer, technically.  Hailing from the great state of Michigan, Pamela developed her love for the written word at Western Michigan University. Winona Ryder is her best friend (or so she wishes), and she now lives with the man of her dreams and writes movie reviews for The People’s Critic when she’s not wasting time working 40 hours a week or watching Johnny Depp movies.  Follow Pamela on Twitter @prlawrie.

Jason Bourne

JBDirector: Paul Greengrass

Screenwriters: Paul Greengrass and Christopher Rouse

Cast: Matt Damon, Tommy Lee Jones, Alicia Vikander, Vincent Cassel, Julia Stiles, and Riz Ahmed

It’s been 9 years since Matt Damon last appeared as Jason Bourne.  An expansion of the franchise called The Bourne Legacy was released in 2012 starring Jeremy Renner, but Damon’s future playing the iconic action hero was on some shaky ground.  That is until Paul Greengrass agreed to helm his third Bourne movie, leading Damon to sign on as well.  Damon had been rather vocal over the years explaining that his decision to do another Bourne movie rested with Greengrass agreeing to do the same.  So here we are in 2016 with Jason Bourne. The partnership resurrected, and from the look of things, we still may not have seen the end of this collaboration just yet.

Jason Bourne opens with Bourne (Damon) seemingly at his low point. Off the grid and participating in underground bare-knuckle boxing matches, Bourne is out of the game and just trying to remain unnoticed.  That is until he is located by ex-CIA agent Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), who has been working as a hacker in Iceland and is looking to blow the lid off of the CIA’s latest secret programs. Her angle for getting Bourne to help her is the promise that she has discovered some major revelations about his past.  She has also discovered the latest CIA conspiratorial program, code named Iron Hand, which involves a collaboration between the CIA and a massive social networking platform called Deep Dream.  Parsons’s trudging around in CIA secret servers quickly gets the attention of new CIA director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) and his protégé Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander). Subsequently, when Bourne suddenly surfaces in conjunction to Parsons’s hacking, Dewey and Lee start a no-holds-barred man-hunt to capture Bourne once and for all.  Dewey’s old-school mission is to eliminate Bourne using his trusted “asset” (Vincent Cassel) to do the job.  Lee, however has a new-school ambition based on a psyche profile on Bourne that she discovered.  She believes Bourne can be brought back into the CIA as an agent once again.  Regardless, Bourne is back on the grid and back on the run as he continues his search to uncover his past as well as to prevent Dewey from exploiting his power for personal gain.

Jason Bourne is basically everything you expect and want in a Bourne movie. There’s nothing entirely new going on here, but if you liked the previous films, you will like this one.  There is a moderately successful attempt at exploring some contemporary issues regarding privacy and responsibility on the side of technology companies.  This feels very fresh in light of the FBI’s recent lawsuit against Apple regarding assistance for unlocking the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone back in February of 2016.  Otherwise, the film is traditional action faire with some good acting (Vikander), some adequate acting (Damon/Jones), and some terrible acting (Stiles, seriously – Razzie nominee potential here).

Overall, Jason Bourne is another step forward for the franchise and leaves things in a potentially compelling position to move in a different and fascinating direction.  It’s not the best Bourne and it’s not the worst Bourne; it’s just Bourne.

Jason Bourne is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 2 hours and 3 minutes.


It’s Time to Do the Right Thing

KeepCalmCertainly, a movie blog is the last place anyone is looking for thoughts on these recent racially charged violent outbreaks. However, as a former teacher I feel qualified in saying that nearly every enlightened being who has ever spoken his or her mind has echoed the idea that if ignorance prevails, danger is soon to follow. While these incidents breed reactionary feelings of outrage, anger, and hopelessness, they also leave us in a prolonged state of fear for what’s coming next. The fear is our greatest weakness. Scientifically, fear prepares our body for a threat. Our body releases hormones that shut down functions not needed for immediate survival and hormones flood the brain ramping it up, disabling rational thought, and transforming the receptive process into one that perceives any events as negative. Emotionally speaking, fear causes selfishness and conformity. As masses of people experience non-rational thought leading to a negative outlook that culminates in a decision to hide out, an environment is set for radical behavior to dominate.

So, what does this have to do with movies? I’ll get to that. But first, another word about ignorance. Ignorance is a word tossed around at times like this as a blanket to cover all of the injustice and boil it down to one fundamental. However, like everything else it the world, it is not that simple. Ignorance is not the cause but rather a symptom of institutionalized racism as it continues to exist. In the same vain, the latest rash of police violence against Black Americans is not the main problem but again a symptom of a greater problem.

It is important to keep in mind that like in medicine managing the symptoms alone will not cure the disease. However, once the disease is diagnosed, proper symptom treatment is critical for preparing the mind and body to successfully rid itself of the illness. Therefore, what I offer is the prescription of cinema to ward off the effects of ignorance and fear so that the mind and body can act uninhibited against the greater threat. Take one of these films every day for five days before going out and doing something to help your community grow and thrive.

RaisinA Raisin in the Sun (1961) – The film based on Lorraine Hansberry’s landmark stage play is not only a reminder of the intangible benefits of the American Dream but also the fact that even the most subtle forms of racism are devastating.




DoDo the Right Thing (1989) – Exemplary of its subject matter both on and off screen, Spike Lee’s narrative about a Brooklyn neighborhood experiencing the heat of racial tension coincidentally during one of the city’s hottest summers on record is an example of the rare film that captures the feelings and emotions associated with modern day racism. Controversy surrounded the film in that many critics worried the film would incite riots all over the country, which of course it did not. It also was noticeably snubbed from the many deserving major categories of the 1990 Academy Awards for other admittedly inferior films like Driving Miss Daisy and Dead Poets Society. Never has there been a better time for Hate to be KO’d by Love! (PS, the film 42 was thrown around as a possible addition to this list, but I’ll just let Mookie’s Jackie Robinson jersey represent for that film as well.)


FruitvaleFruitvale Station (2013) – When the credits roll at the end of this true story about a young man’s last day before being fatally shot by Bay Area Rapid Transit authorities, you are left thinking, well hopefully we learn from this and history doesn’t repeat itself. Sadly, this film’s events hit far too close to home given the recent incidents of lethal police brutality against innocent young Black men. Still the message of this film is one of supreme importance and as hard as it is to watch, it’s never been more relevant than right now.


HotelHotel Rwanda (2004) – This film serves as a reminder that our troubles are not solely within our borders. This story of a hotel manager whose family is jeopardized by a civil war erupting around him is tense and powerful. Ethnic violence prevails as political unrest quickly leads to the early stages of genocide.  This film also reminds us that racism is a global problem that affects all cultures and peoples, not just Americans and not just over skin color.



ToKillTo Kill a Mockingbird (1962) – Yes, this film is a bit cliché in these conversations, but that’s not to say it’s not significant. To Kill a Mockingbird may be the most important film on this list as it is the only one that truly captures the importance of parents instilling values into their children before society’s corruption can take hold. Mob mentality, Southern White supremacy, and gender politics all swirl together in this tale of a small-town Southern lawyer who simply believes that all people are to be treated fairly, against the beliefs of most of his fellow community members.

Talkin’ Walken: A Top 10 List

Walken2Christopher Walken is one of the most interesting actors working today.  His career, like his reputation, is strange and unusual.  The 1978 Best Supporting Actor winner is also in the 2003 Worst Picture Winner (according to me) Kangaroo Jack.  The thing is, Walken’s scene in that “film” is easily the best part, and that same thing can be said for every film in which he appears.  Regardless of the film’s success, having Walken in your movie makes it better every time.  Take Poolhall Junkies for example.  I imagine you have not seen Poolhall Junkies, but watch this scene where Christopher Walken approaches Johnny (Mars Callahan)in a men’s room.  Tell me that you don’t want to see more of this movie!  In fact, tell me that you don’t want to memorize that speech and recite it to a random stranger in a men’s room some day!  The thing is, this is the best part of Poolhall Junkies, but it makes me like the entire movie so much more knowing that this scene exists!  Those who know me, know I have been a die-hard Christopher Walken fan my entire life.  His dead-eye stare as Diane Keaton’s brother Dwayne in Annie Hall explaining his “dark secret” to Woody Allen was probably the scene that started my fandom and I’ve been a loyal Walken-lover ever since.  Therefore, as the actor begins his 73rd year of life on this planet and releases his 128throle in television and film as the voice of King Louie in Disney’s the Jungle Book, I decided to put a little list of the top 10 Walken performances of all time.  While most of the films on this list, bill Walken as the star or costar, a few are of the Poolhall Junkies variety where his appearance is brief but brilliant.

  1. 10Annie HallAs I mentioned in my introduction, Walken’s role in Annie Hall is probably the one that started my interest in the actor. Woody Allen is one of my cinematic heroes and it’s fitting to have one hero sort of discover another one. I actually have a copy of the original script for this scene.  It was given to me by a relative who worked on the film and has official hand written notes in the margin.  Obviously, the list of reasons Annie Hall is a successful film is long, and Walken’s scene is probably on the bottom of that list.  Still, this is a great example of Walken’s ability to put a big stamp on a movie with minimal screen time.


  1. 9A View to a Kill – In the 80s, Walken got somewhat typecast as a villainous and scary character. One of the best things you can do as an actor when this happens is score a role as a Bond villain, and that’s exactly what happened in 1985 when Walken was cast as mad industrialist Max Zorin in the 14th film in the franchise, A View to a Kill. Walken was actually the first Oscar winner to play a Bond villain, and basically paved the way for the latest Bond villain portrayal by an Oscar winner – typecast, villainous and scary guy, Cristoph Waltz from 2015’s Spectre.  Walken chews the scenery with the best of them as Zorin.  Again the hair and the stare are key elements of a good Walken role.  Watch him “negotiate” aboard his Skyship and you’ll see what I mean.
  1. 8Dead Zone – Speaking of creepy characters from the 80s, Walken’s portrayal of Johnny Smith in the cinematic adaptation of Stephen King’s The Dead Zone fits that description too! Walken is perfect for the role as the ominous clairvoyant who through just a momentary touch receives a vision of how others will perish. This film was also the impetus for one of his first classic Saturday Night Live bits, “Ed Glosser, Trivial Psychic.”



  1. 7Seven Psychopaths Seven Psychopaths is a dark comedy from Martin McDonagh who like Tarantino or Hitchcock likes to explore similar types of characters viewed through a similar societal lens in order to analyze humanity. Walken’s character Hans is one of the more relaxed psychopaths of this film about an alcoholic screenwriter who is trying to write a long overdue screenplay. Walken basically does a Walken impression here, which is what people have come to want from him in this later phase of his career.  The good news is that like the title suggests, no character is quite what he seems on the surface and Walken is no exception.

    66. King of New York –
    Perhaps Walken’s darkest and most sinister character to date comes in the form of Frank White in Abel Ferrara’s King of New York. You’ll notice a bevy of familiar faces in this 1990 crime thriller including Laurence “Larry” Fishburne, David Caruso, Wesley Snipes, Giancarlo Esposito, and Steve Buscemi. This is a brutal gangster movie that delivers no warm, fuzzy feelings whatsoever.  Walken is menacing as the crime-lord Cross who after doing his stint in prison is determined to rebuild his criminal empire at all costs but still save time to cut a rug.
  1. 5Suicide KingsWithout King of New York, there would probably be no Suicide Kings, so that movie deserves an extra plug before moving on to number 4. Here, Walken plays a top mafia figure, Carlo Bartolucci who could easily be an older, wiser, (and yes gentler) Frank Cross. Walken spends most of the film duct taped to an office chair by a group of fledgling kidnappers who are looking for a quick ransom payday.  Like King of New York, you’ll recognize nearly all of this film’s young stars including Sean Patrick Flanery, Denis Leary, Jay Mohr, Johnny Galecki, and Jeremy Sisto.  Walken shines as the mobster who slowly realizes his kidnappers have gotten themselves into something far deeper than they had ever planned.
  1. 4Pulp Fiction – I do wish my list had some surprises in store for the top picks, but Walken’s finest performances are far from unexpected. Walken has only one scene in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, but it’s top notch. In a segment titled, “The Gold Watch,” Walken plays Vietnam War veteran Captain Koons, who delivers a phenomenal monologue to a young Butch (later played by Bruce Willis).  The watch in question is critical to Butch’s story and thanks to Walken’s performance, we understand its significance, importance, and value.  If this scene didn’t work, the movie would flounder in the final act.  Instead, Pulp Fiction became a masterpiece.
  1. 3Catch Me if You Can – Now if you look at the previous seven selections on this list, it is unlikely that you would look at Christopher Walken for the role of a sentimental father. Well thank goodness you’re not Steven Spielberg because his casting of Walken as Frank Abagnale, Sr. was a touch of brilliance. Walken gives one of his most celebrated performances here as a proud father whose blurred line of ethics compromises his family but also inspires his son to become a con artist.



  1. 2Deer Hunter – I am not trying to be cliché by selecting Walken’s Oscar winning role as a Vietnam prisoner of war in 1978’s The Deer Hunter so high on the list. This is a remarkable film with perhaps one of the most electric and horrifying climaxes in all of cinema. Walken’s performance is outstanding and certainly award worthy.  And what really grounds this performance is not the chaos towards the end, but the delicate humanity that Walken gives to Nick early in the film.  Walken’s performance anchors this film like no other in his filmography.


  1. 1True Romance – So I’m sure you read that last line for my Deer Hunter description and thought, “Then why is it not number 1?” The simple fact is that in 1993, Christopher Walken gave a perfect performance hidden in a little film called True Romance. His performance in this film encouraged screenwriter Quentin Tarantino to cast him as Captain Koons in Pulp Fiction and made him a favorite of director Tony Scott leading him to cast Walken in two more films.  When viewed out of context, this scene from True Romance between Walken and Dennis Hopper lacks the punch that it has when viewed within the film, but it is still masterful.

These 10 selections are but a drop in the bucket of the greatness that is Christopher Walken.  To make this list I had to weed out spectacular roles like his wildly over the top performance in Batman Returns, his hysterical turn as Secretary Cleary in Wedding Crashers (his approach to the “Tummysticks” scene is outstanding), his artful song and dance number in Pennies from Heaven, and his voiceover work in Antz ( teamed up once again with Woody Allen).  The point is, if Christopher Walken is in the cast, you really can’t go wrong.  Here’s to 128 more interesting and odd performances to come!

2016 Oscar Predictions Ballot

Info-graphic courtesy of Stephanie Miller, Head of Student Relations at Study Soup, LLC.
Awards season is finally heading towards its climactic finale, with the 88th annual Academy Awards! Nearly all of the important cinematic achievement awards have been given out for the films released in 2015. As the Academy’s final voters submit their ballots, the race still seems relatively wide open. If you examine the data from the PGA, WGA, BAFTA, and other key awards, this year’s winners may be some of the toughest to predict.  And since making the most accurate predictions is often based on collecting and analyzing data, here’s an interesting tidbit for you to ponder before you delve into making your final selections.  A writer and self-proclaimed movie buff recently contacted me regarding some research she’s been doing.  She posed an interesting question regarding whether there is any intersection or correlation between winning an Oscar and where one spent his or her post-secondary education (see info-graphic above).  We often expect great minds for business or science to come from certain schools, but not so much in the realm of entertainment.  The results are rather fascinating in that a trend may actually be emerging; one that that incidentally makes Leo’s win this year even more of a sure thing.  Thus, it may behoove you to read Stephanie Miller’s full article, “Where Students Dream in Gold: The Top Ten Schools with Oscar Winners” as well as preview The People’s Critic’s Official Oscar Predictions before you make your own predictions (which you can do on the ballot below)!

The awards air live on ABC Sunday, February 28th at 8:00 PM ET.  Now that you’re fully informed, show what you know by predicting who you think the big winners will be!  Enter your predictions on all 24 categories, and then see how your results compare to how everyone else voted on the big night.  Good luck and enjoy!

2016 Oscar Predictions

Interior of a Movie Theater

The 88th Annual Academy Awards will air on ABC Sunday, February 28th at 8:30 EST, and The People’s Critic has assembled his list of 2016 Oscar Predictions for all 24 categories!

Visit my Awards Spotlight Page for links to Oscar Predictions past and present as well as a link to the highly anticipated 2016 Oscar Dinner Menu.

So pour yourself a Revenan-tini, and check out my predictions for the 2016 Oscar winners!

Awards Spotlight
2016 Oscar Predictions
2016 Oscar Dinner Menu

The People’s Critic’s Top 10 Films of 2015

Interior of a Movie Theater

Usually, I begin my list of the best films of the year with a vicious condemnation of the reckless abandon studios have towards releasing films in an accessible way for mass audiences.  Ask any director, screenwriter, or actor “Who do you make these films for?”, and they will all say they make these films for everyone to see.  They never say they make them for critics, celebrities, or select invitees of a closed premier.  It’s always for the people.  Still, this double standard of releasing a film in minimal markets so it can qualify for Oscar eligibility only to open wide on some obsequious and noncompetitive weekend continues to persist.  I know it seems like I just did open my list in that way, but if you go back and look at The People’s Critic’s Top 10 Films of 2014, you’ll see that I went easy this time.  Why?  Because, I think the tables are finally turning!  This year’s Golden Globes saw the first film from Netflix get an award nomination not designated for television with Beasts of No Nation.  Additionally, films like Steve Jobs, Everest, Sicario, Creed, Trumbo, The Martian, and Bridge of Spies all opened wide well before the limited release Christmas fake-out films.  In fact, so many films were released early in the fall season, it was hard to catch them all (I’m talking to you, The Walk). While the People’s Critic can not and will not take full credit for this shift in the paradigm, he will bring attention to it!  For the first time in my four years of compiling the best films of the year, I have been able to see more excellent films by December 31st than ever before, and that’s even with a one-year-old at home.  Yes, thanks to earlier release dates, more wide releases, and sooner DVD/streaming turn-around, the people can finally see the best films of the year in the same year they are released!  Keep it up!

Oscar nominations will be announced Thursday, January 14th, and I am pleased to announce that the field is much better than last year’s.  Some good films were released last year (Birdman rightly being deemed the best!), but this year will be far more exciting when the announcement for the Oscar for Best Picture is made.  But clearly, a far more important announcement is being made right now.  While no Top Ten List can ever satisfy everyone, great care has been taken to analyze each film on my own particular set of criteria ensuring reliability!  So without further ado, I present The People’s Critic’s Top 10 films of 2015.

Hateful10. The Hateful Eight

Quentin Tarantino is no stranger to my lists of the best films of the year; his film Django Unchained was my favorite film of 2012. While 2015 is no exception to Tarantino’s inclusion on my list, this year he starts it off rather than finishes it.  The epic western and eighth film from the auteur is a veritable character study told in chapters and even occasionally narrated by the director himself!  Never has Tarantino’s dialogue been this front and center, and while not a bad thing, this certainly leaves us a little beaten over the head by the time the nearly three-hour film is over.  This is still a great film and it is never a bad thing to watch Samuel L. Jackson deliver Tarantino dialogue. In the oeuvre of Tarantino, this is his fifth best film and still the 10th best film of the year!


Brooklyn9. Brooklyn

Brooklyn is a surprisingly engrossing film that I found myself lost in right from the start.  Anchored by its brilliant heroine and protagonist Ellis Lacey, played by Saoirse Ronan, this period piece romance about an Irish immigrant who must wager her future and happiness against family and heritage is certainly the most emotionally raw film on my list this year.  Ronan should be considered a sure thing for a nomination for the Best Actress Oscar, and the film, while committing a slight stumble towards the finish line, should also be on the short list for a nomination as well.



Force_Awakens8. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a delight. It is exciting, it is insightful, it is nostalgic, and it is beautiful. This is the seventh episode in the space opera, and it takes place 40 years after the events of Episode IV: A New Hope. J.J. Abrams revitalizes the Star Wars universe for a new generation hitting the sweet spot that mixes crowd-pleasing fun with expert storytelling and character development that is usually reserved for Steven Spielberg. This may be the most notable blockbuster since Raiders of the Lost Ark (and I include Avatar and Titanic in that list).



Bridge7. Bridge of Spies

Steven Spielberg was mentioned as the innovator for films like number 8, but he is on this list for number 7, Bridge of Spies. This is the fourth pairing of Steven Spielberg as director and Tom Hanks as actor. The key to Bridge’s success is that its agenda is not to trick the audience like so many other espionage films, but rather to let us hold all of the cards and experience the weight of each decision that is made.  That along with some brilliant set-pieces, scenery, and top notch performances from Hanks and Rylance allow Bridge of Spies to work very well.



Martian6.  The Martian

Last year, Interstellar topped my list of the best films.  The year before that, Gravity was ranked number 4.  Now The Martian, another lost in space film is number 8 (consequently two steps up from a Star Wars film).  Now some might say if it’s in space, The People’s Critic likes it.  In defense of these claims, I suggest that these films provide fascinating view on level of humanity that other films struggle to provide. We have an insatiable appetite for watching humankind’s intelligence put to the test.  When The Martian is over, that is the piece that stays with you, not the performances or even the directing, but the way human intellect is pooled to solve unsolvable problems!  We may simply be in the midst of a science fiction renaissance, as there is no denying the exemplary films that are being constructed and released in the genre.  The Martian is everything you want in a big budget, exciting, tense blockbuster.  It is entertaining, researched, and impressive.


Creed5.  Creed

While some of the best films of the year are rightly some of the biggest, it does seem that characters drive the films that shine the brightest.  For all the money and effects thrown at films like Star Wars, films like that rarely cross the threshold of the top five.  You’ll notice a clear adjustment in tone, subject-matter and appeal as this list goes on because for a film to be the greatest, it must succeed in all areas of filmmaking. Sequels rarely appear in top ten lists. However, unlike the previous Rocky films, Creed is not so much a sequel as maybe a “spin-off.” It is also both technically and creatively successful.  Michael B. Jordan continues to impress as the son of the late, great boxer Apollo Creed.  A quest for personal legitimacy guides him to ex-champ and former rival of his father, Rocky Balboa in the hopes Balboa will train him.  This is a story of legacy, individuality, reputation, and personal drive told through boxing.  It is a sports move, but like all of the best sports movies, this one is not about the “game.”  It is a metaphorical exploration of just one slice of life.


Bigshort4. The Big Short

The Big Short mixes cinematic sharpness with top notch lecturing.  Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale, Steve Carell, and Brad Pitt all provide multiple dimensions to the fascinating perspective of knowing the 2008 financial collapse was coming.  While the content is complicated, cameo-studded mini-lectures are sprinkled throughout to assure the film doesn’t lose you.  I mean if Margot Robbie in a bubble bath explaining sub-prime mortgages doesn’t keep your attention, then go see another film on the subject.  Truly though, The Big Short does dabble in Wolf of Wall Street territory (Margot Robbie included), but it is a far smarter film that that one, allowing for some spectacular inside information that will certainly inspire conversation long after you leave the theater.


Spotlight3.  Spotlight

Few films this year feel as important as Spotlight. As print journalism is increasingly threatened by the Internet, as fully researched articles are threatened by immediacy, Spotlight reminds us that great journalism is one of the greatest weapons we have as human beings against corruption.  Starring an all-star cast, Spotlight brilliantly tells the true story of a group of Boston Globe reporters who uncover terrifying secrets about child molestation within the Catholic Church.  Like the popular Netflix documentary series, Making a Murderer released this year, Spotlight gives us a glimpse at the value of people willing to take on a corruptive force that seems bigger than life even at the risk of the consequences that come along with poking a sleeping giant.


Sicario2.  Sicario

Sicario is a sad, terrifying, and dramatic film from director, Denis Villenueve.  Those same words can be used to describe his phenomenal 2013 film, Prisoners as well.  Sicario is outrageously successful at building an atmosphere around the war on drugs between the U.S. and Mexico, and Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, and especially Benicio Del Toro are perfect in their roles.  This is a difficult film to watch and like most of Villenueve’s work, it deals with some ethically murky territory.  Sicario also reunites Villenueve with director of photography, Roger Deakins who elevates this already tremendous film to new levels through vividly powerful and startling camera placement and movement.


Revenant1.  The Revenant

Last year’s #2 director is this year’s #1. Birdman director, Alejandro Iñárritu pulls off a beautiful back-to-back double whammy with The Revenant. DiCaprio is in fine position to win his first Oscar playing American frontiersman, Hugh Glass.  When his party leaves him for dead after a near fatal bear attack, Glass endures a brutal odyssey through the frozen wasteland of South Dakota seeking retribution.  This film is the best for so many reasons, it’s hard to even list them all.  First of all, be warned if you loved (or even hated) Birdman for its silly and oddball look at the tension and majesty of the theater, this film is a complete 180!  The Revenant has more in common with Iñárritu’s early work in films like Amores Perros.  And with that being said, The Revenant is also a return to brutality, as evidenced from the film’s opening scene.  DiCaprio forces the audience to experience Glass’s struggle and Tom Hardy portrays a true-life villain worse than anything you’ve seen on screen this year.  Iñárritu and his Birdman cinematographer are a dynamic pair once again, leading me to believe that no one else will ever win another director of photography Oscar as long as Emmanuel Lubezki is still working.  This film should mark his third Oscar for cinematography in a row.  This is the finest survival film not about war that I’ve ever seen, and while it is not the easiest film to sit through, it is certainly the most rewarding.


The Five Worst Films of 2015

So now that the best films are identified, it’s time to mention the five worst films of the year.  This task was actually tougher than usual – not because of the number of disappointing films released this year, but because of the number of great films released.  Therefore, I never had to suffer through widely hated films like Pixels, Mortdecai, or Fantastic Four. Still, I did manage to make a few mistakes at the theater this year and was able to identify five real stinkers that should be avoided at all costs.

MeandEarl5.  Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

So I rarely walk out of a movie, but for this one, I had to make an exception.  I’m all for expressionist, teen-angst, world-against-me movies.  But occassionaly one comes around that I just…don’t…get.  As Me and Earl and the Dying Girl meandered around from one unrelated moment to another, I found myself bored, but what made me walk out was the absurd self-pitying this film demands without any bit of sincerity. Everyone I know that saw this one loved it, so maybe it’s just me.  And Me and Earl had the last laugh because the film I walked into after walking out of this one is also on this list.

Insurgent4.  Insurgent

Oh man, when I’m right, I’m right! Last year number four on this list was Divergent.  I recall saying, “How the hell did people like this movie?” Now Insurgent takes that question to a new level.  This film is excruciatingly bland from its performances right down to its color palate! We do get a new director this time; Robert Schwentke replaces Neil Burger with moderately better results, but still not good enough to escape this list!  I can’t believe there is more of this story to tell, and not to spoil anything but I can imagine the relief of one particular Oscar winner in this film who will not have to return for Allegiant (an early favorite for this list next year).

Term3.  Terminator: Genisys

Remember when I said Me and Earl and the Dying Girl got the last laugh because I walked out of that film and into one that is further up on this list?  Well, Terminator: Genisys is that film.  This is the worst Terminator film of the series, and while that may not be saying much given the last couple films, it is a tremendous disappointment given the return of Arnold and the promise that this was going to be the film that revives the franchise.  This film fell victim to the “trying too hard to be important” flaw that takes down many a film.  Even from the inexplicable decision to spell “Genesis” as “Genisys,” this film thought it was way more hip than it had any hope of being.

502.  Fifty Shades of Grey

Usually the book is better than the movie, but in this case it’s the opposite…AND the movie is terrible!  If it were sexy, then at least you could say it accomplished something, but most of this movie is Dakota Johnson feeling nervous or (God forbid) biting her lip!  This movie takes feminism back to the stone age –  “Me man, you woman!  You sign contract!  I spend money!  You confuse misogynist abuse for untamed manliness!  I  welcome your submission as a substitute for the abuse I suffered as a child.”  Sexy stuff.  This movie is a mess.


Unfinished 1. Unfinished Business

I know!  I’m as surprised as you are.  I’m pretty sure no one expected to see Unfinished Business on the top of this list because who even saw this film?  That’s right, the $10 million this movie made is not even a drop in the bucket of its $35 million budget.  Fortunately, Unfinished Business is so forgettable, it almost slipped my mind when making this list.  But when I thought hard about the movie that made me feel most empty inside, suddenly it came to me.  It’s the one where Dave Franco plays a guy named Pancake, and a totally awkward subplot about bullying is crowbarred in to supposedly make us feel an emotion.  I’m surprised this movie was even in focus.

2016 Golden Globe Prediction Ballot

Golden Globe Awards LogoBefore the awards air live on NBC Sunday, January 10th at 8:00 pM ET, show what you know by predicting who you think the big winners will be!  Enter your predictions on all 25 categories for both film and television, and then see how your results compare to how everyone else voted!

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