Before the Oscar nominations come out - and after turning in my nominating ballot last week (since you’re not supposed to discuss your vote beforehand) - I thought I’d share the results of my exhaustive movie-watching this awards season. Out of 140 movies sent by screener, iTunes or vimeo, I managed to watch over 100 - including a couple dozen in theaters the way you’re supposed to. Here are my favorite features of the year - with an addendum on a handful of notable disappointments.
TOP TEN – FEATURES
1. BIRDMAN – ***** - by far the most amazing film of the year. Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Edward Norton brilliant.
2. A MOST VIOLENT YEAR – ***** - Oscar Isaacs is outstanding as an honest man in a violent NY blue collar business. Written & directed by the guy who made a brilliant movie about cut-throat white collar business, Margin Call.
3. INTERSTELLAR – ***** – Gravity x10. Terrific storytelling, visuals. McConaughey, Hathaway always great to watch.
4. THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL - ***** - Wes Anderson sets the standard for quirky comedies.
5. BOYHOOD – ***** - brave in its ordinariness. A lyrical look at years passing without great drama or tragedy. Just life as it unfolds.
6. INTO THE WOODS – ***** - I’m a sucker for Sondheim and this is one of his most inventive. Performances and production are stunning.
7. THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING - ***** - Eddie Redmayne & Felicity Jones in a surprisingly uplifting movie about love and life’s limitless possibilities.
8. NIGHTCRAWLER – ****1/2 – Riveting but makes you wanna take a bath after. Jake Gyllenhaal is scary good.
9. INHERENT VICE – ****1/2 - P.T. Anderson & Thomas Pynchon combine for a raunchy romp. Lots of hippie hijinks and much weirdness. Lebowski-esque.
10. WHIPLASH - ***** - What an intense movie experience! JK Simmons, MilesTeller just brilliant.
ROUNDING OUT TOP 20 - FEATURES:
SELMA – ****1/2 - A brilliant performance by David Oyelowo almost pulls this civil rights drama into the year’s elite circle. DEAR WHITE PEOPLE - ***** - Not even submitted for AMPAS voting but I loved it. Original, funny, insightful, topical & timely. THE IMITATION GAME - ****1/2 – fascinating story, wanted more about his life and inner struggles as gay man. Brilliant Benedict Cumberbatch.
KILL THE MESSENGER - ****1/2 – detailed, well-told tale of gov’t secrets & the cannibalistic world of journalism. Jeremy Renner. Another AMPAS omission.
ROSEWATER – ****1/2 - Jon Stewart has made an important, well-crafted tale of totalitarianism & what it takes to fight it.
A MOST WANTED MAN - **** - Worthy swan song for Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Political thriller w. chilling perf. by Robin Wright.
THE LEGO MOVIE - **** - Original, funny even for adults.
TRASH - ***** - A buried treasure! How brilliant is Stephen Daldry at directing kids? Watch this and see how it’s done. Slumdog Millionaire meets City of God meets The Goonies. No U.S. distribution and doesn’t open in U.K ‘til 30 Jan., 2015. Really belongs in Top 10.
IDA – ****1/2 – classic Euro ‘60s, from lingering two-shots to a two-for-the-road storyline w/ a Holocaust twist. Beautiful b&w cinematography of bleakest Poland.
GETT: THE TRIAL OF VIVIAN ANSALEM – **** - a little drawn out but shocking expose of religion in civil courts. Brilliant perf. by Ronit Elkabetz
WORST FILMS OF 2015 Rather than a list, permit me a brief rant about 2015 Films that got some decent reviews but left me cold. The coldest - and top of my list for Biggest Head Scratcher of 2015 - was AMERICAN SNIPER. Rambo gets a home life & PTSD. A pointless, racist, soulless exercise. Like a conversation with an empty chair. And by the way, anyone who knows anything about filmmaking should know that all the “action” sequences critics are wetting themselves over were shot by 2nd unit (i.e., “action”) director, Robert Lorenz, Clint’s longtime producing partner. Another one that got some attention but couldn’t keep mine was THE JUDGE. What were the filmmakers trying to make? A character study? A whodunit? Who cares? Not worthy of Downey & Duvall’s talents. FOXCATCHER was well made (Bennett Miller’s a fine director) and acted but can someone tell me why this was a story anyone was supposed to care about? LOVE IS STRANGE made it onto one NY Times critic’s Best list but it’s my candidate for Worst of the Year. Maudlin, boring, with plot holes you could almost fit a director’s ego thru. Lithgow & Molina were wasted. Lastly, ST. VINCENT was burdened with every cliché in the book: crusty old guy, cute friendless kid, hooker with a heart of gold and throw in Bill Murray playing himself. High fructose corn syrup. There were others I’d suggest not wasting your movie viewing time on - that some critics gushed over - but most of you have probably never heard of them, so why bother?
Feedback on any of the above is both welcome & encouraged.
Anything and Everything that has Nothing to Do with the Movies
Sometimes, we go to a movie to get away from the world and sometimes we go to see what’s going on in the world. This blog will offer comments on the world, the movies and their occasional overlap.