Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Top 5 Films of 2014

Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) - directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu

has everything. It's the one film from 2014 that has all the 'best of the year' bases covered. Great performances from an all star cast, tons of laughs, some dark introspective drama, suspense, a unique and infectious musical score, uncanny cinematography and technical wizardry, there's even random bouts of CGI rendered superhero carnage. By all accounts, this movie should appeal to everyone. It's also one of the most original and refreshingly bizarre films I've seen. Who would have thought that a flick about a washed up movie star trying to make it big on Broadway would prove so damn entertaining? I sure as hell didn't...but love being surprised now and again.

Nightcrawler - directed by Dan Gilroy

Jake Gyllenhaal was robbed. The all knowing Academy might have snubbed him in the best actor category but Gyllenhaal's work in Nightcrawler goes beyond all the best of the year stuff, it's one for the ages. In fact the only other performance that comes close to matching Gyllenhaal's manically intense portrayal of Louis Bloom, is Gyllenhaal's other scene stealing turn in Enemy where he plays two characters. The man's only real competition is himself! Nightcrawler is a dark and morose little movie that manages to titillate and horrify at the same time. Dan Gilroy's script and Robert Elswitt's gorgeous camera work, coupled with Gyllenhaal's performance of a lifetime, make's Nightcrawler one of the best, and most underrated films of the year.

Boyhood - directed by Richard Linklater

Richard Linklater knows how to get you. He perfected the art time lapse cinema with his Before trilogy, seducing audiences into an epic love/romance saga twenty years in the making. Turns out, Linklater was just warming up. He spent the past decade plus secretly working on Boyhood, the definitive millennial coming of age story that films it's young star growing from age six to eighteen. It may seem like a novelty, but Boyhood is really a remarkable, spellbinding piece of cinema that should be seen by everyone at least once in their lives.

Inherent Vice - directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

Joaquin Phoenix is Paul Thomas Anderson's new de facto partner in hi-jinx and I love it. Although the film's setting and comedic tone are light years removed from their previous collaboration, like The Master, Inherent Vice is a hazy, meandering slab of celluloid that focuses more on feelz and atmosphere than plot. There's more dick jokes in Inherent Vice though, that's for sure. Yes, I wish the film was a bit more streamlined and coherent at times [of course that's more a slight at Pynchon's source material than anything] but with Robert Elswitt's dream like visuals [two awesome DP jobs this year and the Academy snubs him why?!] and Josh Brolin's sublimely hammed up performance as Big Foot, I really didn't care that much and just went along with the ride.

Whiplash - directed by Damien Chazelle

Drum sex, the movie. If you have more than a passing interest in music or film then you should try your hardest to see Whiplash in theaters. If you have a deep rooted passion for both, then Damien Chazelle's firebrand debut film is required viewing! As both a drumming and movie geek, I was on the edge of my seat throughout Whiplash. I might have loathed Miles Teller in The Spectacular Now, but he's nothing short of amazing in this one. Then there's J.K. Simmons' terrifyingly brilliant work as the band leader from hell. Simmons' delivery of Chazelle's rapid fire dialogue, is genius plain and simple. There's no doubt that Whiplash is a Rocky or Reservoir Dogs caliber debut film that will be talked about for years to come.


Lots of good flicks came out this past year. I should have posted a top 10 list for all the great stuff I saw, but for the sake of continuity, kept the top 5 tradition going. Anyways, here are the rest of my favorite films from 2014:

Palo Alto
Gia Coppola's debut film is a dreamy ode to the wistless days of high school. The visuals and the soundtrack are intoxicating.


Wild and wacky sci-fi that doesn't blatantly insult your intelligence, Snowpiercer is a head scratching thrill ride that makes you think and squirm at the same time.

Gone Girl

The first act drags a bit but once Fincher rolls up his sleeves in the middle, Gone Girl becomes a brilliant thriller.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Marvel turned lame ass Captain America into the coolest Bourne/Bond/Batman crushing badass around. It's a miracle.

John Wick
He's back. John Wi...er, Keanu Reeves is back in the greatest 80's action film since the Reagan administration. The film's body count and classic one liners are phenomenal.

Check my Letterboxd profile for all things film related and reviews of my entire top ten.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Movie Review: Whiplash

, the dazzling debut film from writer/director Damien Chazelle, is undoubtedly the most intense and nerve-racking movie of the year. Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons deliver performances of a lifetime and Chazelle proves to be just as virtuosic behind the camera as the musicians/characters in the film.

Teller stars as Andrew Neiman, a fresh faced, first year student at the finest music academy in NYC. He's a nineteen year old drum prodigy who yearns to be "one of the greats." His drive is noticed early on by the school's infamous head conductor, Terence Fletcher (Simmons), who's notorious for pushing his students beyond the edge of sanity to achieve results. What happens next is a mind blowing update of the classic unstoppable force vs immoveable object troupe, or Tom vs Jerry, Itchy vs Scratchy...pick your poison. Neiman's unbridled passion for his craft, coupled with Fletcher's blood lust for immortality amongst the pantheons of jazz greats, results in a terrifying onscreen rivalry that slowly but surely morphs into the weirdest buddy picture of modern cinema. Neiman and Fletcher may be at odds but as the film progresses we see that they are really just two sides of the same OCD riddled coin. Can the student surpass the teacher, or will he be decapitated by flying objects during rehearsal? Imagine Anakin Skywalker being trained by Lee Ermey from Full Metal Jacket instead of Obi-wan and you'll start see what Whiplash is all about.

The film's opening scene foreshadows the rest of the movie. Neiman is practicing alone in an empty classroom and then Fletcher pops in and talks some trash to motivate him. That's basically the entire film in a nutshell. It's amazing how such simple story, with a minimal supporting cast, can prove so captivating in the long run. Chazelle's script, inspired by his own experiences at music school, is sharp and packed to the brim with band geek jargon [TEMPO TEMPO TEMPO] and nods to jazz legends; just as his choice of cuts and closeups really beefs up the tension during the already insanely intense performance sequences. Throw in J.K. Simmon's mind blowing, career defining performance and you've got not only one the best films of the year, but one of the best debut films ever.

Movie Review: Inherent Vice

Paul Thomas Anderson and Joaquin Phoenix, together again in a hilarious 1970's caper film? Sign me up.

Inherent Vice is another slab of thought provoking and gut-busting genius courtesy of PTA [The Master, There Will Be Blood, Boogie Nights], that continues his illustrious love affair with both Southern California locales, and weird fucking people in general. The film, adapted from Thomas Pynchon's head trip novel of the same name, follows hippie turned private eye "Doc" Sportello, as he bumbles through Los Angeles trying to crack an increasingly bizarre and convoluted missing persons case. Doc, played by a mega amped Phoenix, falls down a rabbit hole or weirdness, getting mixed up with the LAPD, neo-Nazi bikers, black power gang members, real estate moguls, happy ending girls, a shadowy international drug cartel and totally cracked out dentists. Trying to decipher Inherent Vice's plot is an effort in futility. It's like trying to ride a tornado, it's just not gonna happen.

Some people might be put off by the film's lack of coherence. I myself couldn't help but feel disappointed with its haphazard plot as I first walked out of the theater. But the more I thought about the picture and digested the whole experience, the more I wanted to back for seconds. Like all of PTA's movies, Inherent Vice literally screams out for repeated viewings [anyone else see There Will Be Blood three times at the cinema? Anyone?]. The Master was a fairly ethereal film that focused less on traditional narrative and more on feeling and tone. Inherent Vice follows a similar path, but while The Master was big on drama and had a somber, underlying tone, Inherent Vice is big on zany irreverence and is all about bombast.

Phoenix leads an all-star cast of over the top caricatures who deliver confusing bouts of exposition and side splitting laughs by the boat load. Josh Brolin is genius as Bigfoot, Doc's reluctant ally on the LAPD who spends half the film trying to make his life a living hell. Martin Short's cameo is pure comedic gold and Doc's uber hot girlfriend Shasta, played by newcomer Katherine Waterston, is a surf girl fantasy come true. Brilliant performances, gorgeous camera work [Robert Elswit & PTA are a match made in heaven], an awesome soundtrack and lots of laughs, Inherent Vice creates a beautifully hazy cinematic experience. Just don't be so uptight about the plot you'll be okay. Right on.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Movie Review: Horrible Bosses 2

Nobody will argue that Horrible Bosses 2 is an original or poignant film. In fact most people are probably wondering why they even bothered with a sequel. Not I however. I love me some dumb lolz and Horrible Bosses 2 brings the lowbrow humor in spades.

Last time, our heroes Nick, Kurt and Dale [Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day] hatched a zany scheme to kill their tyrannical employers that didn't work out so well but brought lots of cheap laughs and crazy hijinks to the big screen. It's pretty much the same deal here, only instead of plotting a series of murders, they've decided to go the kidnapping route. It's like the running gag from this years 22 Jump Street where they keep referring to the plot of the last movie, "Just like last time." Nick is still the only guy with common sense, Kurt is still a raging horn dog and Dale is the totally loveable but oh so wild miscreant. In fact the villain in this one is less twisted than any of the three 'horrible bosses' from the first film. Sure he's a douche-y cut throat business man, but there are millions of those dudes out in the world. This sort of makes the gang's plot to kidnap his son a feel a little contrived...but who cares? Shit is funny!

From the opening scene it's clear that this movie gives no fucks whatsoever. I don't know if they even had a script because the whole thing feels like a gloriously long improve session between the cast. Yes it's so super raunchy, crude and repetitive but, as a former twelve year old boy I can appreciate the lost art of juvenile, potty humor. The past decade of smart ass yet sanitized, Judd Apatow branded comedies has left a void in my heart. It's refreshing to see stupid comedy excel at being both.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Movie Review: The Hunger Games- Mockingjay (Part 1)

The latest installment of The Hunger Games movie franchise is easily the darkest film of the year. I'm not talking about the film's content either [although it's pretty grim itself]. No, I mean the picture quality is literally black as midnight. Lots of scenes take place in secret underground bunkers or inside abandoned buildings and it makes for one of the muddiest pictures I've ever seen. Be prepared to squint and grimace slightly while watching this one. Of course the film's ridiculously forced love triangle and sheer lazy directing/camera work might have you doing that anyways.

What's my beef with The Hunger Games you ask? In case you missed my evisceration of the last film, I'll summarize by saying they're just way too bland for my liking. Mockingjay 1.0 falls victim to the same troubles that plagued Catching Fire, and suffers from some new mistakes as well. The script is still a big bag of "meh" [as most films adapted from 'Young Adult' fiction tend to be] but Mockingjay lacks the dazzling set pieces that propelled the first two films. Jennifer Law...er, Katniss, is no longer a wee young lass trapped inside the games. That means no more crazy fight sequences or wacky costumes from the Capitol. Now Katniss is transitioning into the role of freedom fighter and hanging out with the resistance in their less than glamorous subterranean headquarters. Because Mockingjay was divided into two films to maximize profits, that means all the "cool" stuff is being saved for the series finally, which leaves nothing but exposition and Jennifer Lawrence making "OMG" faces every five minutes in this one.

The lame script and, you know...lack of any real climax, could have been countered by some crafty camera work or truly standout performances. Mockingjay 1.0 has none of that. John Wick might be the most cliched movie ever made; yet the directors counter the banality of it's plot with awesome camera tricks and direction that keeps the audience engaged. Mockingjay is by comparison...a snoozefest. The fact that Julianne Moore and Philp Seymour Hoffman share multiple scenes together, which constitutes an Amber Waves & Scotty J. Boogie Nights reunion, is The Hunger Games: Mockingjay- Part 1's only saving grace.