The People’s Critic’s Top 10 Films of 2016

Interior of a Movie TheaterWell, movies came out this year, but I think we can all agree that we are looking at a rather bleak field of films this year. It’s not, “2011, The Artist wins Best Picture bad,” but it’s close. And here we are again: Less than a month before the Academy of Motion Pictures releases its list of nominees, less than a week before the Hollywood Foreign Press hands out the Golden Globes, and of the likely list of top films to be nominated for Oscars this year, only five have opened wide enough to see in a suburban city of a Midwestern state. It’s the election all over again!

Last year, films like Sicario, Creed, The Martian, Bridge of Spies, and the eventual Best Picture winner, Spotlight all opened wide well before the end of December. That’s not to say that Sully, Hacksaw Ridge, Manchester by the Sea, La La Land, and Arrival didn’t try to play fair and open wide already; they did. But other potential frontrunners  Moonlight, Silence, Hidden Figures, and Fences are all playing on 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 after the new year.  This is still an improvement over the 2014 awards season, where basically nothing but The Grand Budapest Hotel really opened wide, but it is a step down from the host of great films released wide during the calendar year in 2015. And let’s be honest, competition for theatrically released films has never been greater. With Netflix, Amazon, HBO, and other streaming sites moving into original cinema, film studios should begin cooperating, making theatrically released films easy to see, and make going to the theater special, but not exclusive!

Oscar nominations will be announced Tuesday, January 24th, bright and early, and after a two years of directorial domination by Alejandro González Iñárritu and three years of Cinematography superiority by Emmanuel Lubezki, it seems these two have left the field wide open for someone else to step up and win something.  Anyway, Oscar nominations are a coveted announcement, but a far more important announcement is being made right now – my list of the top 10 films of 2016.  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 (that I was actually able to see) of 2016.

 

eye10. Eye in the Sky 

This film gets more and more fascinating the more I think about it. In the new millennium, we have seen drastic changes to what we consider “warfare,” and Eye in the Sky captures the intensity and complexity of an ever changing definition of modern warfare. Helen Mirren plays Captain Katherine Powell in command of an operation to potentially eliminate some of the world’s most wanted terrorists, who have holed themselves up in a small house in Kenya. When the risks of capturing them become too great, Powell gives the command for a hellfire missile attack via military drone. What complicates things is that a young girl selling bread sets up her storefront directly in the kill zone of the missile’s target, raising one of the many philosophical questions in this film, the first of which is whether there is an obligation to eliminate a potential threat to many lives by inadvertently killing an innocent. I promise you, this film makes you feel the full gravity of every decision that is made, which makes it one of the most intense movies of the year. This film also includes the great Alan Rickman in one of his final performances.

beasts9. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Speaking of Alan Rickman, Snape may be gone, but Rickman would likely be comforted to know that the world is not done with Potter and company just yet. J.K. Rowling does the near impossible by picking up her magic wand again and creating something moving, amazing, and magical yet again in her first effort as screenwriter with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Everyone who fell in love with the eight Harry Potter films will be delighted by this expansion of the wizarding world. Eddie Redmayne plays it a bit clownish as Newt Scamander, a magizoologist whose search for magical creatures brings him to New York City 70 years before “The boy who lived” ever hopped aboard the Hogwarts Express. There is a visual and immersive quality that we have come to expect when entering the Harry Potter universe, and director David Yates delivers once again. The characters are delightful, realized, and fun, and the environments (including the aforementioned “fantastic beasts”) are dazzling and eye-catching.

sully28. Sully

Sully is not a biopic. It is based upon Chesley Sullenberger’s memoir Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters and focuses almost entirely on the events of January 15, 2009 and the subsequent investigation. Bits of ‘Sully’s’ past are sprinkled throughout, but the film’s main objective is to feature the tremendous fortune that results from having the right people performing the right jobs. Sully is a solid film delivering its message and entertainment as effectively as Sullenberger’s miraculous water landing on the Hudson. Like it’s protagonist, the film showcases a couple of the right men for the job (as well as the right woman for a job that wasn’t there). A testament to superlative acting and creative filmmaking that breathes freshness into a story so recently and so publicly told.

man7. Manchester by the Sea

Everyone you’ve talked to about this film is absolutely right; this is a miserably sad movie. However, what I think too few are saying about it is that it is also hilariously funny. Writer/Director Kenneth Lonergan’s third film in over 16 years is another masterpiece of familial ups and downs. He constructs a film unlike anyone else cutting to the bone with wit, nostalgia, and cold, hard truth. Casey Affleck carries an emotional load as Lee, a janitor who is made legal guardian of his teenage nephew when his brother suddenly dies of a heart attack. This is Affleck’s strongest performance in his budding career as an actor. Understated, but honest, Affleck’s performance has gotten a lot of buzz, but the real champion of this film is Lonergan who gets powerful performances from all of his actors and delivers a fascinating, funny, heartbreaking, powerful film about love, family, and what it takes to survive tragedy.

hack6. Hacksaw Ridge

Hacksaw Ridge is a film that I had trouble placing on this list. First, I wasn’t sure it was top ten material, then once I examined my criteria and determined that it was, I had trouble deciding if it was top five material! Ultimately it’s top six material. Hacksaw Ridge is decidedly two separate films. A coming of age story about a young man named Desmond Doss, played by Andrew Garfield, in Depression-era Virginia falling in love with a young nurse and hoping to find a way to serve his country in World War II as an army medic, even though he refuses to personally pick up a rifle. That story is then catapulted out the window for one depicting one of the most gruesome, gut-wrenching war stories ever set to screen as Doss’s unit is assigned to participate in the Battle of Okinawa, historically referred to as a “meat grinder” of a location for American troops. This is a true story and a remarkable one at that. The first hour is pleasant, sweet, and at times very funny. The second hour is an assault on your senses almost to a breaking point. Vince Vaughn surprises as Doss’s army drill sergeant and the rest of the supporting cast is fantastic including Sam Worthington, Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths, and Teresa Palmer. Director Mel Gibson makes the most of a powerful story and while his depiction of Doss feels a little too similar to that of another suffering protagonist Gibson is known for, it all works. Gibson has been a bit of a pariah as of late, and his off-screen antics are hard to forgive, but if you are one who can separate the art from the artist, this film is one of the year’s best.

midnight5. Midnight Special

This is where I expect I’ll lose a few of you. What is Midnight Special? Why is it number 5? I am just as surprised as you! I stumbled upon this film on a flight. Jeff Nichols is a young writer/director who I am really starting to love. His last two films, Mud and Take Shelter were excellent, and believe it or not, he actually has another film that he released in 2016 called Loving that is getting far more attention than Midnight Special! Still, I am going to put all my chips in on Midnight Special. I don’t think any synopsis of this plot will entice you to see the movie, so just trust me and check it out (it’s running on HBO and HBO streaming currently). Michael Shannon plays a father whose son appears to have some strange abilities. The boy has recently become the worship center of a strange cult, and when Shannon steals his son away in the night, the cult is determined to get him back. The U.S. government has also caught wind of the boy’s abilities and send an NSA agent to track him down as well. This is a sleek, clever, special little movie, and while some will have qualms about the ending, I think it is exactly the right choice.

Arriv.jpg4. Arrival  

Speaking of alien movies with clever endings, here’s another one! Arrival is the latest Denis Villeneuve film, and if you sensed my budding love for Jeff Nichols’s movies, then you can multiply that by a million for Villeneuve. His track record speaks for itself: Incendies, Prisoners, Enemy, Sicario, Arrival, and this year Blade Runner 2049! In a different year, Arrival could easily be the best film of the year. Still, number four ain’t bad. Arrival finds Amy Adams putting out another excellent performance as a linguistics professor tapped by the U.S. military to help them interpret an alien language. What makes this alien film different is that 12 alien space crafts have touched down all over the world, and in a world of itchy trigger-fingers, Adams’s encounters and translations hold the fate of the world in the balance. Adams is accompanied by Jeremy Renner who plays a theoretical physicist, and the two of them have great chemistry making for a richly character-driven sci-fi film.

CW3. Captain America: Civil War

Surprise, surprise! The People’s Critic liked a Captain America movie, but this time I’m not alone. Everybody liked this movie. It’s hard not to. Civil War boasts three outstanding achievements that no Marvel film before it has managed thus far. First, it introduces two of the best new characters (Black Panther and Spider-Man, both slated to receive upcoming stand-alone films) and does it with panache! I’ll leave the details about these new characters out so not to spoil anything for the rare reader who has yet to see this film, but both are quite satisfying and Spider-Man especially receives a worthy reboot after some questionable recent attempts by Sony Pictures. Second, the “Civil War” battle is a remarkable scene. This scene replaces the “Battle of New York” from Marvel’s Avengers as the Infinity Stone in the Marvel crown. DC executives responsible for Batman v. Superman (See my five worst films of 2016 for my thoughts on this one!) should take notes on how Marvel succeeds at fighting internal conflict with external conflict! Third, Captain America: Civil War manages to give all of its cast members room to breathe and make a memorable and worthwhile contribution.  No character is squandered, and as I alluded to earlier, this film explores some emotional depth but uses just the right amount of levity and humor to maintain an even tone.

rogue2. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Surprise, surprise, surprise! The People’s Critic liked a Star Wars movie! Again, everybody liked this movie, or at least the last 20 minutes, which are perhaps the best 20 minutes in any Star Wars movie ever! Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a strong, balanced, and entertaining film that plays how we wish the original prequels could have played. There’s a hint of nostalgia along with new and fresh perspectives, which make us forget that we all know where this is going and “forces” us to care and root for these new characters. Director Gareth Edwards designs and directs this film to feel connected but not tethered to the other films, and I think that is a delicate task to accomplish. There are also some major bombshells and any misgivings you have about the film are wiped clean away with the final 20 minutes. If you have any level of appreciation for Star Wars, you will leave the theater in high spirits!

la1. La La Land

I tried people. I tried not to toe the line. I tried not to be all “critic-y,” but goddamnit, my toes are still tap, tap, tapping to this beautiful, heartwarming, goosebump inducing, musical masterpiece. If Rogue One: A Star Wars Story had the best final 20 minutes of any Star Wars movie, La La Land has the best first and last five minutes of any movie in the last five years! What puts it at number one is that between those amazing first five minutes and outstanding final five minutes are 118 exhilarating, beautifully crafted, musical minutes. La La Land is a simple story of Jazz musician meets struggling actor, Jazz musician loses struggling actress, etc., but that’s ok. If the plot were any more dynamic, it would take away from the sensory experience of this film. Gosling and Stone are captivating as the leads and while their voices may not be meant for Broadway, they are perfect for a film that “dances” between worlds. Half nostalgic and half prognostic, La La Land shows us that writer/director Damien Chazelle is more than the real deal. He’s the next big thing! La La Land puts a nice bow on a tumultuous 2016 and is definitely the front-runner for best picture in my book.

The Five Worst Films of 2016

C25. The Conjuring 2  

I’m sad to start this list with a sequel to a film that made my top 10 in 2013. The Conjuring 2 doesn’t really advance the narrative of the original’s characters or reveal any depth to the uncertainty of its source material. In the same way that a television series might be developed for a network, but then the studio makes a deal to tie it to an already proven property in order to reap an existing audience, The Conjuring 2 feels like a Mad Libs horror movie script and the studio slapped The Conjuring 2 on top of it. This is a “been there, done that,” movie for the ages.

BvS4. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice

At the end of 2015, we were all gearing up to see what DC had to offer to combat the cinematic monopoly Marvel Studios has had over the superhero genre. Well, the results are in and two of their films make my worst of 2015 list; Batman v. Superman being the first. Yet another bloated set-up piece, these movies need to stop hinting at something and start showing us something. Warner Brothers needs to stop holding its cards too close to the vest and start revving this thing up before we lose interest entirely. Wonder Woman and Justice League are next up for 2017. Let’s hope I don’t have to reserve two more spots on the Worst list for 2017.

nerve3. Last third of Nerve 

I had other films in mind for this list, but I kept coming back to how disappointed I was with the ending of Nerve. Let me start by saying, Nerve as a whole has no business being on a worst of the year list. However, given that my top two movies of the year were given that status in no small part due to their phenomenal endings, I think Nerve stands as a wondrous example of how damaging a bad ending can be. I’ve never been more disappointed in an ending for a movie. Not because it was bad. It was fine. But if the ending was as principled and interesting as everything that came before it, we’d have a much better film. Director Henry Joost is a newbie, but if you’ve seen Paranormal Activity 3, Paranormal Activity 4, and the film Catfish, you’d see where I’m going with this. Endings are crucial and bad endings to good movies are exponentially more damaging.

Suicide.jpg2. Suicide Squad

DC is back again with the number two worst movie of 2016, Suicide Squad. Anticipation couldn’t have been higher for this one. What seemed like dream casting, mixed with a lighter, funnier tone lead many of us to believe this was the film that would right a sinking ship. Instead, it blew one more big, giant hole in the hull. Unfortunately, the box office total of my, Five Worst Films of 2016 list is nearly identical to my Top Ten Best Films of 2016 list. What does that tell you. People are paying for and going in droves to see these bad movies. Suicide Squad is hardly a movie. It’s disjointed, it’s annoying, it’s shallow, and worst of all, it’s boring. Viola Davis attempts to give some credibility and Margot Robbie will be iconic as Harley Quinn, but nothing can save this mess.

now1. Now You See Me 2

Lightening definitely didn’t strike twice for this fledgling attempt at building a franchise. Now You See Me was a perfectly fine, fun little movie, but not everything that is moderately successful needs a part 2 (or a reported part 3!). All the tricks are played out for this band of illusionists. The style was corny this time around, as original director Louis Leterrier was replaced by Jem and the Holograms director, Jon M. Chu. They couldn’t even get all of the original cast back for this thing as Isla Fisher would not sign on and also refuses to sign on for the third film. Red flags abound and poor Daniel Radcliffe never saw them coming as he looks utterly lost and confused in easily the year’s worst movie. Yuck.

Advertisements

Big Eyes

Big EyesDirector: Tim Burton

Writers: Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski

Cast: Amy Adams, Cristoph Waltz, Krysten Ritter, Danny Houston, and Terence Stamp

It bears mentioning that a conspicuous number of recent films have had a “stolen painting” premise at the core of their storylines. The Grand Budapest Hotel as well as the yet to be released Mortdecai, and Woman in Gold all feature this curious fad woven into their cinematic fabric. Now, Tim Burton’s Big Eyes ups the number to four within a year’s time, and while I’m not sure how long audiences are expected to relate to this bazaar trend, Big Eyes does nothing to discourage it.

Big Eyes tells the story of painter, Margaret Hawkins “Keane” (Amy Adams), who after being stifled by a bad marriage in 1950s Tennessee, moves with her young daughter to San Francisco in the hopes of starting a new life as an artist. There, she meets Walter Keane (Cristoph Waltz). Keane is everything Margaret had ever dreamed of: kind, romantic, charismatic, and an artist. Within months, Margaret falls for Keane and marries him, much to the chagrin of Margaret’s friend DeeAnn (Krysten Ritter). Now both officially Keanes, Margaret begins signing her distinctive paintings of waif girls with characteristically oversized saucer-sized eyes with her new surname. When Walter finds that Margaret’s waif-girl paintings begin to catch on as his dull Parisian cityscapes remain unnoticed, Walter assumes responsibility for all paintings signed “Keane” including Margaret’s. While Margaret is unhappy about Walter’s actions, his showmanship and charisma result in outrageous sales as long as Margaret can keep churning out paintings. Now knee-deep in fraudulent activity and smothered by her husband, Margaret feels she has no choice but to obey Walter and hand over her paintings and subsequently her humanity.

Waltz and Adams shine in Big Eyes. Both actors have cemented themselves as major players who elevate each film they are a part of, and this is no exception. Alexander and Karaszewski’s screenplay give both actors plenty of options for developing the tumultuous relationship. Adams embodies Margaret Keane’s struggle with respect and realism. While a victim of both time and circumstance, Adams does not let Keane entirely off the hook, in terms of the choices she made. Additionally Waltz does not allow Walter to sink into stereotype. In one particularly powerful scene, Walter goes toe to toe with an art critic played by Terence Stamp. Walter cannot take Stamp’s criticism even though he is technically not even the painter, which unbeknownst to both is precisely what Stamp is really criticizing.

While Big Eyes is an enjoyable film and a remarkably well acted one, it is basically a semi-complex tale of plagiarism. What makes this film most fascinating and intriguing is that it is a Tim Burton film. Burton, a director known for his dark, Gothic tales of oddity and peculiarity presents a film washed with sunshine and kissed by puppy dogs. It’s as if Tim Burton slapped his name on a Frank Capra picture…which is exactly the point! Burton brilliantly presents a film that bares his name but looks like it was created by another hand, skillfully mirroring his film’s thematic message and ironically creating perhaps his oddest and darkest film yet in the process. When David Lynch was selected to direct Disney’s The Straight Story in 1999, it certainly raised an eyebrow, but Lynch still maintained his ominous style even with a Disney film. Here, Burton purposefully adjusts his style going as far as having his reliable composer, Danny Elfman score the film with an uncharacteristically traditional score. I love the choices Burton makes with this film, all of which aid in leading up to the wonderfully absurd and enjoyable climax that really showcases Crisoph Waltz’s comedic chops.

Not that the film does not retain a few Burton trademarks. A clever black and white scene involving Walter on TV is oddly reminiscent of a similar scene from Edward Scissorhands and the “Big Eyes” motif is used to strange effect (fittingly, Amy Adams and Krystan Ritter have the biggest eyes this side of Christina Ricci and Amanda Seyfried). This is a film that has a lot to offer, plenty to analyze, and much to enjoy. However, it will certainly not be everybody’s canvas of choice; but this film, like Keane’s art itself, is nothing if not subjective. A-

Big Eyes is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 1 hour and 46 minutes.

The People’s Critic’s List of the Best and Worst Films of 2014

Interior of a Movie TheaterShould I get my annual ANGRY SIDE NOTE out of the way now? OkI still have yet to see Selma, American Sniper, Inherent Vice, and Foxcatcher appear in a theater anywhere near me. It’s not due to lack of trying, and it’s not due to North Korea. Year after year, films vying to qualify for Oscar eligibility will open their films in the minimal markets (LA and New York) and then choose some obsequious and noncompetitive weekend in January to open wide to audiences; this stupid phenomenon continues to persist.  Last year, films like Spike Jones’s Her, The Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis, and August: Osage County all opened in minimal markets and opened wide later in January.  I continue to champion that films should have to be widely released in the year that they wish to be nominated.  Audiences should have access to all academy qualified films and an opportunity to share their points of view before the “so-called” powers that be cast their votes. In fact, the one movie I should NOT be able to see, The Interview, opened in a local independent theater for a limited four day engagement! But hold on Foxcatcher, better cool your heels for a while and let the riff-raff pass, I guess. The films listed below all played fair and deserve to be seen and commended.

2014 has been a pretty bland year for movies.  Oscar nominations will be announced Thursday, January 15th, and I haven’t seen a more lackluster field of eligible films since 2011 when The Artist went on to win BEST PICTURE! Regardless, some good films were released this year, so once again – an 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 2014.

The Ten Best Films of 2014

Noah10.  Noah – Darren Aronofsky’s films are as diverse as it gets, and so while it is surprising to see his name attached to a high budget Biblical epic, it also is not surprising. Noah delivered in ways that seemed to go mostly unnoticed by audiences. This film came and went pretty quickly last spring and didn’t even come close to recouping its estimated $125 million budget. Still, Aronofsky’s take on the tale of Noah is spectacularly fascinating and truly more original and innovative than any other film of its kind in the last ten years.

 

The Imitation Game9.  The Imitation GameThe Imitation Game is an absorbing look at the life of British mathematician and cryptologist, Allen Turing as he attempts to thwart the Nazis by breaking their seemingly unbreakable Enigma communication codes. The film hinges very heavily on its performances, which are all excellent. Benedict Cumberbatch as Turing and Keira Knightley as his fellow codebreaker are especially great, and the film feels and looks very authentic, especially in its depiction of the many layers of World War II, most notably the pivotal role of intelligence in terms of how the war played out as well as the impossible decisions that must be made as a result. This film does justice to the wondrously incredible story at its core.

wild8.  WildWild is a surprising film of perseverance and beauty. Unlike many films of this genre, Wild spends more time examining the human instinct and its conflict with reason. This is what makes it most compelling and oddly most relatable. Quite honestly, this film resonated with me more than director Jean-Marc Vallée’s Oscar darling from last year, Dallas Buyers Club. Reese Witherspoon is on top of her game here as reluctant adventurer,Cheryl Strayed, and there is great strength in Wild and great heart.

 

Grand Budapest7.  The Grand Budapest Hotel2012’s Moonrise Kingdom was a nearly perfect cinematic experience, and it was Edward Norton’s portrayal of Scoutmaster Ward that made the film so enjoyable from start to finish. With Grand Budapest Hotel, director Wes Anderson capitalizes on this character-driven amusement again with Ralph Fiennes as M. Gustave, legendary concierge of the Grand Budapest Hotel. Never has an Anderson film had more fun with foul language, dark subject matter, and true human consequences. This elevates The Grand Budapest Hotel to the height of Anderson’s achievements.

Boyhood6.  Boyhood – While this film is my #5 film of the year, it is my #1 must see for everyone and perhaps the greatest cinematic experiment that I have had the pleasure of seeing in my lifetime. The plot is simple, the direction is appropriate, but the concept is fascinating, Richard Linklater and his small but talented cast headed by the newcomer and suddenly very familiar Ellar Coltrane follows its characters over a 12 year period as they simply live the life they lead. The experimental piece is that the movie was also filmed over 12 years allowing the cast to age along with the characters. This is a wonderfully successful film with great heart and a great use of music as well, including the added bonus of “Post-Beatles Black Album” playlist that is a must for any Beatles fan.

Get on Up5.  Get on Up – What is funk? Well take Get on Up, subtract last summer’s tepid Jersey Boys, and what you’re left with is solid gold, toe-tapping funk! And what we have here is a funk filled film. In the theater where I saw this film, two women were dancing in the aisles during one of the scenes. That speaks volumes to the power of James Brown’s music and the way that Tate Taylor utilized it. But an equal amount of credit must go to Boseman for his performance. He expresses the complexity of James Brown with every dramatic scene and he embodies the physicality of Brown in every performance scene. This is a performance on par with Jamie Foxx’s portrayal of Ray Charles in Ray, although Boseman does lip-sync to Brown rather than sing.  Still, you can’t dance-sync and Boseman is electric on his feet! I’m not sure how Oscar voters decide who to nominate, but it’s criminal if Boseman is overlooked this year for Best Actor.

Captain America4.  Captain America: The Winter Soldier – I know people are tired of hearing me crow about this film, but it is phenomenal. And just to piss those same people off just a little bit more, I was not that impressed with Guardians of the Galaxy. Too many films of this genre are born into intergalactic conflicts and absurdly fantastic plotlines, but the best of them are grounded, at least partially, in reality. The motive for Captain America has always been protecting his homeland from threats, and it is a credit to the Russo brothers and writers Christopher Marcus and Stephen McFeely to put him in an environment where he is doing that very thing. This is a throw-back to the old conspiracy thrillers of the 60s and 70s. Chris Evans brings the perfect balance of charm, bravado, and idealism to the role of Captain America, and Robert Redford puts forth a very real and noteworthy performance as Pierce, no doubt inspired by how Tommy Lee Jones treated his role as Colonel Phillips in Captain America: The First Avenger. I’m so ready for Captain America: Civil War, but I’m not sure it will surpass the impressive nature of this film.

gone girl3.  Gone Girl – David Fincher certainly has fans of the novel in mind in his adaptation of Gone Girl. While Flynn adapted her own novel for the screenplay, Fincher captures the novel’s tone beautifully keeping the audience at the edge of their seats for the film’s entire 149 minute running time. Comparisons to Hitchcock have been made in the past and while techniques vary, Fincher’s pacing, camera work, and tremendous use of score are very reminiscent of the great master of suspense. And then there’s the acting! Affleck and Pike are perfect in this film. The nuances, layers, and personalities of Flynn’s characters are fully realized in both lead performances. Mystery thrillers are far more dependent on proper characterization than virtually any other genre and these performances make way for some of the most satisfying twists since The Usual Suspects.

Birdman2.  BirdmanBirdman is a captivating film from start to finish. Stylistically, its long, choreographed shots sweep the viewer into the world of Michael Keaton’s character, Riggan Tompson, a former Hollywood star on a personal search for lost glory. Director, Alejandro Iñárritu expertly uses the medium of film to emphasize the often overlooked majesty and tension of theater, in essence earning the film’s subtitle, “The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance.” Birdman is a triumph of the art form and is certainly one of the most ambitious movies of the year.

interstellar21.  Interstellar – If you’re tired of me shouting about Captain America: The Winter Soldier, you’re probably also tired of me screaming about Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. Interstellar is the most immersive film of the year, eclipsing even last year’s Gravity in terms of cinematic experience. Nolan does not treat the audience with kid gloves and allows us to observe and appreciate the film without needless exposition or over-explanation. Clocking in at 3 hours in running time, the film actually moves with a deliberate and intrepid pace. Like successful cinematic space operas of the past such as 2001: A Space Odyssey or even Star Wars, Interstellar is enriched with thoughtfulness, theoretical rhetoric, and intensity! The film is also quite beautiful and awe-inspiring. Nolan, one of the last filmmakers still shooting on 35mm film, uses the technique to his stunning advantage. Darkness, color, perspective, and beauty are all heightened by Nolan’s camera work, and the film resonates with a voracity that feels appropriate for a quality depiction of interplanetary space travel. Like most Christopher Nolan films, the true strength of Interstellar is not in its cast but in its atmosphere and ambition. For a science-fiction film, Interstellar feels very authentic and while the film’s final act may challenge some viewers, everything works. This is a big movie and deserves to be my pick for the best film of 2014!

The Five Worst Films of 2014

So now that the best films are identified, it’s time to mention the five worst films of the year. This task was unfortunately tougher than usual since so many disappointing films opened this year. Still, I managed to whittle it down to five real stinkers.

Transformers5.  Transformers – Age of Extinction – This is a loud, long, and dumb movie, and while a niche exists for this kind of thing in the summer, but Transformers: Age of Extinction does not fill that vacancy with high quality entertainment, but rather strives for mediocrity with momentary flashes of obscene and immoral product pandering in the style of the famously satirical Wayne’s World scene, only completely without any sense of irony. This is an upsetting movie in so many ways, but there were still four movies that were worse!

Divergent4.  Divergent – How the hell did people like this movie? Most of the film is an excruciatingly long and played out training set-up piece for a lackluster climactic finish. Director Neil Burger is at least partly responsible for the flavorless and wishy-washy performances in this film. His direction involves running back to the well of successful YA novel adaptations and hand picking the qualities he thought worked in other places. There is no shortage of young adult novels that encourage the individual and warn against conformity; Divergent is one such novel. However, this film ignores those lessons and aims to have absolutely no originality or individuality from its acting right down to its execution.

Tammy3.  Tammy – This film was allegedly inspired by a dream that writer/director Ben Falcone had about his wife, Melissa McCarthy. I wish that this terrible nightmare of a film stayed inside his head and never had the chance to enter mine. I felt embarrassed for everyone involved in this movie from the moment it started all the way to its absurd and horrendously offensive conclusion. McCarthy has done better work in every single other film she’s been involved in and this film unfortunately is the only one that bears her name as “writer.” McCarthy is a force on the screen when the material is good, but Tammy will forever serve as a reminder for what happens when it is not.

Transcendance2.  Transcendence – I decided to watch Transcendence in my home theater while confined to my basement during a severe storm and tornado warning. What I thought I was doing is passing the time with an interesting film. In reality, what I did was give the tornado a run for its money in terms of devastation and calamity. Transcendence basically says to the viewer, “Hey remember that terrible movie from 1992, Lawnmower Man? Well, here’s another version that’s even worse.” If you like love stories with disembodied voices, watch Her, not this train wreck of a film. First time director, Wally Pfister is actually Christopher Nolan’s favorite cinematographer, but once he’s in the director’s chair, it’s a disaster. I thought this was sure to be the worst film of the year, but then my wife took me to…

The Best of Me1.  The Best of Me – So Nicholas Sparks has the rare distinction of penning the source material for a film that appears on this list two years in a row! Last year, Safe Haven started the list of worst films at #5. This year he move all the way to the top with The Best of Me. The Notebook was a successful film and put Sparks on the map in terms of his films being cinematic successes. Now every time one of his books is adapted, someone is trying to recreate that Notebook magic, and never has that been more apparent than with this film. We have the young couple who falls in love, we have a girl’s family who hates the boy, we have the same couple later in life, no longer together due to circumstances that came up. We have clichés all over the place. And then there’s the ending that basically alienates the core group of fans who would normally have liked this movie, making it basically impossible to like no matter who you are. Thus, given that this film should appeal to absolutely no one, it clearly deserves the top spot on the list of worst films of the year!

What do you think the best and worst films of 2014 were?  Sound off below or on my Facebook Page.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

ImageThe films of director Wes Anderson have obtained a cult status with a shrewd and astute base of fans. His niche style of film making is chocked full of trademark set designs, deadpan dialogue, and plots that can be best described as Norman Rockwellesque…on acid. However, with 2012’s Oscar nominated film, Moonrise Kingdom and this year’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, Anderson is looking to expand his fan base not by sacrificing any of his trademark oddities but by writing brilliant characters who are far more developed than those in his previous films.

Moonrise Kingdom was a nearly perfect cinematic experience, and it was Edward Norton’s portrayal of Scoutmaster Ward that made the film so enjoyable from start to finish. Anderson capitalizes on this character-driven amusement again with Ralph Fiennes as M. Gustave, legendary concierge of the Grand Budapest Hotel.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is the story of a fictional Eastern European hotel located in the republic of Zubrowka and the concierge, Gustave, whose reputation elevated it to its legendary status.

Told in flashback through the eyes of Gustave’s trusted lobby boy, Zero Moustafa to a young author, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a murder-mystery story that takes place between the World Wars where the Hotel becomes the constant in an ever-changing European continent.

Starting out in 1985, the story jumps and bounces through three main time periods. An aging author (Tom Wilkinson) addresses the audience to discuss how a writer is able to tell great stories. He mentions that great writers establish credibility with those with great stories so that they can write them. The film then jumps to 1968 where an adult Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham) recounts the outrageous and fabled story of Gustave to a young author (Jude Law) about his own life under the charge of the famous M. Gustave.

Gustave is established as a gifted concierge who sacrifices often to bring joy and comfort to the guests of The Grand Budapest. When an affluent and elderly guest (a barely recognizable Tilda Swinton) passes away, the future of the hotel and the future of a rare renaissance painting are in jeopardy as the selfish family of the deceased are pitted against the preservationist Gustave.

Fiennes is excellent as Gustave, emphasizing the importance of identity, culture, and heritage in a time of extreme instability. His fearless adventures find he and Zero in all kinds of situations where they must rely on a slew of imaginative supporting characters all from the mind of Anderson.

The Grand Budapest Hotel, like many of Anderson’s films, has a fabled tone and novel-style plot progression. It also has spirit and heart that are on full display. Never has an Anderson film had more fun with foul language, dark subject matter, and true human consequences. This elevates The Grand Budapest Hotel to the height of Anderson’s achievements. A-

The Grand Budapest Hotel is rated R and has a running time of 1 hour and 40 minutes.