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.

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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!

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!

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 People’s Critic’s List of the Top Ten Holiday Films

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????The holiday season is finally upon us.  With Thanksgiving in the rear-view mirror, The People’s Critic has been asked to re-post the Top 10 Holiday Film list.  Like my Top 10 Thrillers list posted in October, I made a few minor updates on the list, but I continue to stand by the rest.

At this festive time of year, people need guidance on how to make the most of the precious hours they will spend watching holiday movies.  Unlike Halloween movies, holiday movies suddenly feel weird once January rears its ugly head.  Thus, here is your guide to assure you make wise choices for your holiday entertainment.  I have pain-stakingly devised a secret list of criteria designed to assure a reliable systematic ranking.  (And yes, I am aware that I neglected to include A Christmas Story, The Polar Express, and a host of classics and musicals – if you don’t like it, make your own list.  Merry Christmas!  Where’s the Tylenol?)

Edward Scissorhands10.  Edward Scissorhands – Now hold on there!  Edward Scissorhands, a holiday film?  The film was released December 19, 1990.  It also has Christmas scenes and a beautiful “snow” motif.  But most importantly, it is a film about accepting differences – even if those differences involve robotic-like anatomy linked to scissor appendages.  Tim Burton’s masterpiece fits nicely under the holiday-guise and is a gothic allegory for society’s corruption!

 

The Ref9.  The Ref – Denis Leary strives for the main stream in director Ted Demme’s hilarious film about a cat burglar who takes the wrong couple hostage as he attempts to evade the police on Christmas Eve.  Leary finds himself the victim as his husband/wife hostages continuously drive him nuts with their bickering and fighting.  Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis are delightfully venomous as the couple and Leary is in fine form as the tortured criminal!

 

Trading Places8.  Trading Places – Based on a rather high-brow social experiment, Trading Places finds the lives of socialite Dan Aykroyd and street-bum Eddie Murphy suddenly switched as part of a wager between two rich CEOs.  The nature vs. nurture wager revolves around whether Aykroyd will resort to crime when he loses everything and whether Murphy will become a responsible executive when given opportunity.  As serious as this may sound, the movie is a triumph of the comedy legends.

 

Gremlins7.  Gremlins – “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.  In the same vein as Edward Scissorhands, this film dances the line between horror and comedy with great results.  A classic!

 

Home Alone6.  Home Alone – We all have Macaulay Culkin’s shocked face frozen in our cerebral cortex from when he slapped on too much aftershave.  However, John Hughes’s Christmas blockbuster is both a holiday film as well as a solid entry in the Hughes tradition.  Even with an 8-year-old protagonist, Hughes doesn’t let up on the youthful angst, creating a coming of age story wrapped up with a nice bow (and a few black eyes for those wet bandits).

 

planes trains5.  Planes, Trains, and Automobiles – Ok, so we’re in the top five, so I will curb my dark sense of humor that has clearly influenced the previous five entries…at least until number 2.  It’s John Hughes again with the film that made Uncle Buck possible, which in turn made Home Alone possible.  Although I’m sure the pitch meeting went something like this: “So John Candy and Steve Martin – SOLD!” the movie gives the two comedy icons plenty of material as they must reluctantly travel together to get home for Thanksgiving.  I don’t care who you are – if you don’t tear up the first time you see the final scene, you’re not human!

 

elf4.  Elf – Perhaps the first of the modern classics, John Favreau directs Will Ferrell who plays Buddy the elf who was raised by Santa only to discover he is actually human.  Favreau brilliantly balances the tone between silly and genius creating a film that is as enjoyable for children as it is for adults.  Ferrell is joined by James Caan, Zooey Deschanel, and Bob Newhart who all contribute to this film’s success.  This film has become virtually unavoidable, but it doesn’t mean it’s not good.

 

it's a wonderful life3.  It’s a Wonderful Life – Not just a great holiday movie, but one of the best films ever made.  Frank Capra’s crowning achievement finds Jimmy Stewart playing George Bailey who just can not get out of Bedford Falls.  In a film class I took, a professor made a very compelling case for how this film fits nicely in the horror genre in a twisted, Twilight Zone kind of way.  Nonetheless, the classic story about a man being shown what the world would be like if he never existed takes Dicken’s Christmas Carol to a new more relatable place where Scrooge is replaced by a nice guy who lets life get him down.

 

scrooged2.  Scrooged – Ok back to dark comedy territory.  I was told that for my “holiday movie list” Groundhog Day was not an appropriate title as the title “holiday movies” implies films that take place during or around November/December.  I will agree to disagree, but fortunately, there’s an easy alternative – Scrooged!  Bill Murray plays Frank Cross (“a thing they nail people to”), a TV executive who has let greed get the better of him.  This film is a showcase for Murray as it would likely  be terrible without him.  However, because of him, it’s so good that it’s my #2 holiday film!  And with the recent trend of NBC airing live musicals in December (last year’s The Sound of Music and this year’s Peter Pan), I have to wonder if NBC president Jeff Zucker keeps this film’s lesson in mind!  On a side note –  if you are looking for a Christmas-y Groundhog Day, it’s been brought to my attention that ABC Family created an absurd rip off called The 12 Dates of Christmas with Amy Smart and Zack Morris (Mark-Paul Gosselaar).

 

christmas vacation1.  National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation – This film has it all: memorable characters, big laughs, emotional moments, and quotable lines.  Chevy Chase attempts to host a family Christmas that promises to blow up in his face, even literally!  There is no getting tired of the jewel in the Griswold franchise crown; you’ll be sure to have the “hap-hap, happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny F@#kin’ Kaye!”

 

Honorable mentions that didn’t quite make the list: The Nightmare Before Christmas, Arthur Christmas, Love Actually, and Die Hard.

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