Thursday, January 29, 2015

Ted 2 and Child 44 Trailers

Seth MacFarlane transitioned flawlessly from television comedy to the big screen with his hilarious directorial debut, Ted. In 2015 he returns with the highly anticipated sequel, except there's no Mila Kunis this time around. With Ted 2 we find the foul-mouthed fury guy as a newlywed attempting to have a child. However, in order to do so, he'll have to convince a court of law that he's entitled to the same rights as a human. Mark Wahlberg reprises his role and Amanda Seyfried steps into the spotlight in the first official trailer for Ted 2.

Both Tom Hardy and Gary Oldman are two of Hollywood's most under-recognized actors. The duo team up yet again - having previously worked together on impressive films such as The Dark Knight Rises and Lawless - only this time, their bringing their thick Russian accents. Based on Tom Rob Smith's British novel of the same name, Child 44 is set in Stalin-era Soviet Union where a devoted soldier investigates a serial killer targeting children. Arriving in theaters on April 17th, 2015, on the surface Child 44 appears to be a solid early-year release.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Fantastic Four (Teaser) and The DUFF Trailers

In an attempt to once again reignite the longest running Marvel superhero team, Fantastic Four hit theaters this summer. Chronicle director Josh Trank reintroduces us to the quartet of young scientists who gain superhuman abilities after an experiment goes wrong. Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Bell star as the Fantastic Four and the film's debut teaser trailer (below) is definitely worth checking out.

This February while the Oscars take center stage, an under the radar comedy may be the next big teen hit. The Perks of Being a Wallflower supporting star, Mae Whitman, headlines Ari Sandel's debut directorial effort, The DUFF. After a high school senior receives the unflattering news that she's the "designated ugly fat friend" (DUFF) in her group of friends, she attempts to reinvent herself and destroy this social stigma that's been placed upon her. I was impressed by the latest trailer for The DUFF and I'm curious to see if it can stand out in the teen genre.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Oscar Talk - Part 3

We're less than four weeks out from the Academy Awards and a clearer picture has finally formed in many of the major races. If you plan on enjoying the annual awards show Sunday night February 22nd, then I suggest signing up for my FREE OSCAR CONTEST with a chance to win $50 in gift cards to a movie theater chain of your choice (Regal/AMC).

Last evening's SAG awards, which is truly a prestigious honor throughout the acting community, reinforced many of the assumed winners in its five feature film categories. For a full list of winners from last night's SAG awards, click here. And now, here's a current look at how the major Oscar races appear to be playing out:

Best Picture

Despite all of the early precursor love for the coming-of-age flick, Boyhood, I'd say the Best Picture competition is far from decided. A few of the eight entrants are essentially just filling out the ballots, but some serious arguments can be made for Birdman or The Imitation Game pulling off the upset.

Predicted Winner: Boyhood

Who Else Could Win: Birdman and The Imitation Game

Other Nominees: American Sniper, The Grand Budapest hotel, Selma, The Theory of Everything and Whiplash

Best Director

Boyhood auteur Richard Linklater has been the beneficiary of Golden Globe and Critics' Choice wins in the director race, but he's certainly not a shoe-in for the Oscar statue. Birdman's visionary Alejandro G. Inarritu has a firm core of supporters who will work hard to make a shift in the momentum as the final voting unfolds. 

Predicted Winner: Richard Linklater - Boyhood

Who Else Could Win: Alejandro G. Inarritu - Birdman

Other Nominees: Wes Anderson - The Grand Budapest Hotel, Bennett Miller - Foxcatcher and Morten Tyldum - The Imitation Game

Best Actor

One of the only intriguing results from last night's SAG awards was Eddie Redmayne's conquest over Michael Keaton in the Best Actor race. Prior to the evening's events, I would have given a slight edge to Keaton as both men won Golden Globes for their performances. However, the upset, which even caught Redmayne himself by surprise, definitely shifts the momentum in the young Englishman's favor. This is one category that you'll want to keep an eye on over the next few weeks. 

Predicted Winner: Eddie Redmayne - The Theory of Everything

Who Else Could Win: Michael Keaton - Birdman

Other Nominees: Steve Carell - Foxcatcher, Benedict Cumberbatch - The Imitation Game and Bradley Cooper - American Sniper

Best Actress

The next trio of races, including this one, seem pretty much solidified. Although I've actually spoken out against rewarding Julianne Moore's assumed title for her turn in the middling drama Still Alice, it appears that only the end of the world itself could stop her from winning the award.

Predicted Winner: Julianne Moore - Still Alice

Who Else Could Win: Essentially no one feels realistic, but her staunchest competition comes from Reese Witherspoon - Wild

Other Nominees: Marion Cotillard - Two Days, One Night, Felicity Jones - The Theory of Everything and Rosamund Pike - Gone Girl

Best Supporting Actor

Another theoretical "sure-thing" on Oscar night appears to be J.K. Simmons winning in the best Supporting Actor race. Make no mistake about it, Simmons is every bit as advertised in the musical drama Whiplash and he's completely deserving of the honor. You might as well look forward to his acceptance speech.

Predicted Winner: J.K. Simmons - Whiplash

Who Else Could Win: In another universe both Ethan Hawke - Boyhood or Edward Norton - Birdman might walk away with the statue

Other Nominees: Robert Duvall - The Judge and Mark Ruffalo - Foxcatcher

Best Supporting Actress

Boyhood has been riding a comfortable wave of success and its acting performance that's benefited the most is given by supporting star Patricia Arquette. But even if the iconic drama fails to run away with multiple wins on Oscar night, Arquette's performance shouldn't be effected. This is hers to lose and, frankly, it just won't happen.

Predicted Winner: Patricia Arquette - Boyhood

Who Else Could Win: Emma Stone - Birdman is a distant second

Other Nominees: Laura Dern - Wild, Keira Knightley - The Imitation Game and Meryl Streep - Into the Woods

Best Original Screenplay

In the Best Original Screenplay competition there are a trio of films who could end up victorious. For starters, Birdman has fared the best in the early stages of the game with Golden Globe and Critics' Choice wins and it gives the film a slight advantage at this point. However, much love had been given to Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel and similar to last year's critical darling, Her, this is the film's best chance at a win. Finally, if Boyhood runs rampant on Oscar night, this could be a category the indie flick steals.

Predicted Winner: Birdman

Who Else Could Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel or Boyhood

Other Nominees: Foxcatcher and Nightcrawler

Best Adapted Screenplay

It would be devastating if one of the year's most beloved titles, The Imitation Game, went home empty handed on Oscar night. And since this could be the film's best chance at taking home a title, I"m putting my stock behind it for now. However, it won't be an easy task with the formidable indie sensation Whiplash right on its heels. The Theory of Everything boasts an outside chance at claiming the win, but I'm still saying, "there's a chance". 

Predicted Winner: The Imitation Game

Who Else Could Win: Whiplash and to a lesser extent The Theory of Everything

Other Nominees: American Sniper and Inherent Vice

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Rapid Reviews: Cake and The Boy Next Door

One of the most talked-about Oscar snubs this year was the omission of Jennifer Aniston in the Best Actress race. As a well known sitcom star who's found comfort in comedic and light-hearted dramatic roles throughout her career, Aniston tackles a more challenging character in Daniel Barnz's Cake. Yet, instead of honoring her gutsy and self-loathing performance just like the Golden Globes and SAG had already done, the Academy chose to look the other way in favor of a more regular entrant, Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night).

Jennifer Aniston takes center stage as Claire, a cynical chronic-pain support group member who becomes fascinated with the recent suicide of another attendee, Nina (played by Anna Kendrick). As Claire continues her habitual abuse of pain killers in an attempt to numb herself of a traumatic past event, she finds herself on the doorstep of Nina's surviving husband, Roy (Sam Worthington). Claire's new friendship with Roy forces her to reflect on her own life as the brittle woman struggles to cope with her past and toes the line of suicide herself.

Jennifer Aniston trades in her skimpy outfits and age-defying makeup for a baggy wardrobe and physical scars in an Oscar-baiting role that unfortunately didn't pan out. Her commitment is full throttle as Aniston's performance undoubtedly carries Cake from depressing scene to depressing scene. However, a dull screenplay that unravels painfully slow counteracts the film's praiseworthy performances. All in all, Cake tells a genuinely sad and periodically uplifting story in a less than impressive manner.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C+

With the countless teacher-student sex scandals that make headlines every week, filmmaker Rob Cohen (The Fast and the Furious) embraces this taboo subject matter by dishing out his latest cinematic dud, The Boy Next Door. And while it's no secret that January is known for unveiling sub-par and thoughtless titles to compete against the Oscar juggernauts craving a bigger box office, Cohen's film is about as low as it gets.

Jennifer Lopez stars as Claire Peterson, a recently separated high school Literature teacher stuck in limbo over forgiving her cheating husband or moving on from their tainted relationship. Meanwhile, a new 19 year old senior named Noah (Ryan Guzman) moves in next door to take care of his sick uncle, and the young man develops an interest in Claire. After an awful blind date one evening, the emotionally vulnerable teacher takes to a bottle of wine and succumbs to Noah's tempting seduction. But as she continues to tell him their one night stand was simply a mistake, the high-tempered teen begins to show his true colors.

There are so many issues with The Boy Next Door I don't even know where to begin. Everything from its hokey opening flashback to set-up the story all the way to the film's surprisingly violent finale, The Boy Next Door just screams made-for-tv-movie. The events are completely unrealistic and the fully grown 27 year old Ryan Guzman is a laughable casting decision for the role of Noah. In all seriousness, the best part of the movie was that I only had to sit through 91 minutes of it.

Stars: 1 star out of 4

Grade: D

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Johnny Depp's Best Performances

The eccentric actor, Johnny Depp, has enjoyed a long and prosperous career as an A-List celebrity. Love him or hate him, Depp has given countless performances that moviegoers will never forget. Despite his increasingly tiresome collaborations with Tim Burton that have come to feel like recycled roles over and over again, Depp's career work is certainly worthy of recognition. As his latest comedy, Mortdecai, arrives in theaters this weekend, I've decided to devote January's Movie List of the Month to Johnny Depp's greatest performances (click here for December's list).

*** Disclaimer - I'm ashamed to admit I've never seen Ed Wood or Benny & Joon

Honorable Mention: Donnie Brasco (1997)Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) and What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993)

#5. Edward Scissorhands (1990)

Probably more out of nostalgia than anything else, my first inclusion on the list is a childhood love of mine, Tim Burton's Edward Scissorhands. This classic earned Depp his first Golden Globe Nomination and spawned a lengthy partnership with him and his famed director.

#4. Finding Neverland (2004)

Marc Forster's Finding Neverland had a strong Oscar showing with 7 nominations in total and 1 win for Best Score. Yet, the occasionally slow-paced drama landed Johnny Depp one of his three Best Actor nods from the Academy in the impressive role of author J.M. Barrie whose friendship with a family helped spawn his classic tale of Peter Pan

#3. Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003)

Admittedly, Robert Rodriguez's Once Upon a Time in Mexico is a personal favorite of mine and probably the most controversial inclusion on the list. In the final installment of Rodriguez's "El Mariachi" character, Depp stars as CIA Agent Sheldon Sands who attempts to foil an assassination attempt on the President of Mexico. Although I've never been a huge outspoken fan of Robert Rodriguez's stylish work, Depp's sleek performance transforms Once Upon a Time in Mexico into an unforgettable action-thriller.

#2. Pirates of the Caribbean (2003)

Johnny Depp had an enormous career resurgence following the worldwide success of Gore Verbinski's action-comedy franchise, Pirates of the Caribbean. As the flamboyant Captain Jack Sparrow, Depp delivered one of his finest performances ever and it nearly earned him his first Oscar statue. However, Depp was nominated but unforgivably lost out to a grossly over-embellished turn from Sean Penn in Mystic River. Yet, Depp had the last laugh as the Pirates franchise has become one of the most profitable franchises in the history of film.

#1. Blow (2001)

Despite being critically panned, Ted Demme's Blow has transformed into film beloved by the masses. Depp stars as real life drug kingpin George Jung, the man responsible for establishing the cocaine market in the U.S. during the 1970s. Blow transcends the typical gangster flick and develops a very sincere story that ultimately humanizes a socially perceived villain. This is by no means an easy task for any director, but Johnny Depp's brilliant onscreen work has a sense of originality and authenticity that only he could provide. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

2015 Oscar Pool

Back by popular demand co-writer Greg Rouleau and I will be running another FREE Oscar Pool where you select winners in EVERY Academy Awards category. Different point values are assigned to the different races and the person with the most points wins a $50 gift card of their choice to either Regal/AMC. This year has a little caveat, though. If we get 100 entries into the pool, we'll increase the prize to a $75 gift card.

Remember, it's completely free to enter, all you need is an e-mail address and to sign up by clicking HERE. After you submit an e-mail address and create a username use the following information to join the contest:

Pool Type: Oscars 2015
Pool Name: 87th Academy Awards - By Greg and Dave
Password: oscars2015

You have until Sunday February 22nd to make your selections, so there's no immediate rush. Once again it's COMPLETELY FREE to join and a whole lot of fun for any fan of movies who plans on watching the Oscars anyway.

Note: You must live in the continental United States to be eligible for the prize.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Dave's 2014 Movie Awards

It's a little later than usual, but my yearly movie watching is all about done. The only notable titles I'm yet to see are J.C. Chandor's A Most Violent Year and Mike Leigh's Mr. Turner. So just as I did for 2013, here are my own personal Oscar-like picks for the major categories. And here they are, my "best of" selections for 2014.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Honorable Mention: Guardians of the GalaxyThe Imitation Game and Kill the Messenger

#5. Wild

#4. American Sniper

#3. The Fault in Our Stars

#2. Whiplash

And the winner is ...

#1. Gillian Flynn - Gone Girl

Although I haven't read Flynn's best-selling book, all her twists and turns are beautifully translated to the big screen in one of the year's best thrillers. Her omission from the Oscars was an absolute snub.

Best Original Screenplay

Honorable Mention: Birdman. Interstellar and The Skeleton Twins

#5. Cheap Thrills

#4. Chef

#3. Nightcrawler

#2. Boyhood

And the winner is ...

#1. E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman - Foxcatcher

This pair of Oscar Nominated screenwriters develop a gripping story that escalates with such perfectly manufactured tension. Foxcatcher is unforgettable thanks largely in part to their script.

Best Supporting Actress

Honorable Mention: Camern Ejogo - Selma. Keira Knightley - The Imitation Game and Sienna Miller - American Sniper

#5. Laura Dern - Wild

#4. Carrie Coon - Gone Girl

#3. Patricia Arquette - Boyhood

#2. Rene Russo - Nightcrawler

And the winner is ...

#1. Emma Stone - Birdman

Emma Stone continues to prove she's a very gifted actress, maybe never better than she is in Alejandro Inarittu's Birdman. Her driving scene alongside Michael Keaton is the film's best and most honest onscreen moment ... just brilliant!

Best Supporting Actor

Honorable Mention: Ethan Hawke - BoyhoodMark Ruffalo - Foxcatcher and Zach Galifianakis - Birdman

#5. John Goodman - The Gambler

#4. Riz Ahmed - Nightcrawler

#3. Sam Rockwell - Laggies

#2. Edward Norton - Birdman

And the winner is ...

#1. J.K. Simmons - Whiplash

This is one category I expect the Oscars to get right. J.K. Simmons has always been an overlooked character actor, but he commands recognition with a rangy role in the Sundance winning, Whiplash.

Best Actress

Honorable Mention: Amy Adams - Big Eyes, Essie Davis - The Babadook and Kristen Wiig - The Skeleton Twins

#5. Julianne Moore - Still Alice

#4. Shailene Woodley - The Fault in Our Stars

#3. Felicity Jones - The Theory of Everything

#2. Reese Witherspoon - Wild

And the winner is ...

Rosamund Pike exploded onto the scene with an unbelievable breakout performance in Gone Girl. She was electric, explosive and everything you wanted from the character of Amy Dunne. 

Best Actor

Honorable Mention: Bill Murray - St. Vincent, Jeremy Renner - Kill the Messenger and Miles Teller - Whiplash

#5. Eddie Redmayne - The Theory of Everything

#4. Bradley Cooper - American Sniper

#3. Jake Gyllenhaal - Nightcrawler

#2. Michael Keaton - Birdman

And the winner is ...

#1. Steve Carell - Foxcatcher

In the year's best film, Steve Carell goes through a complete transformation to perfectly capture the manipulative wealthy tycoon, John E. du Pont. Foxcatcher's dark story is brought to life by Carell's eerily complex character.

Best Director

Honorable Mention: Clint Eastwood - American Sniper, Jon Favreau - Chef and Dan Gilroy - Nightcrawler

#5. Alejandro G. Inarittu - Birdman

#4. David Fincher - Gone Girl

#3. Christopher Nolan - Interstellar

#2. Bennett Miller - Foxcatcher

And the winner is ...

#1. Richard Linklater - Boyhood

Here's another race I suspect the Academy will get right. Linklater's groundbreaking cinematic achievement can't be overstated. Boyhood draws the audience into its story and connects with a character that grows up before our eyes, it's such a unique experience from a genius filmmaker.

Best Picture

Honorable Mention: Cheap Thrills, Interstellar and St. Vincent

#5. Chef

#4. Nightcrawler

#3. Gone Girl

#2. Boyhood

And the winner is ...

#1. Foxcatcher

I've spent the last three months putting my entire support behind Bennett Miller's Foxcatcher. I was infuriated by the perplexing Oscar results that found the film recognized in two acting categories, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay, yet it missed out on a Best Picture nomination. Foxcatcher is a magnificent piece or filmmaking that masters the art of subtle storytelling and boasts elevated performances from Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo and the equally impressive Channing Tatum.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Rapid Reviews: The Wedding Ringer & Still Alice

When it comes to movie theater selections after the turn of the new year, January is known for pitting the major Oscar contenders against fluff-films that come and go without much notice. Yet, most people are completely aware of the newest Kevin Hart comedy, The Wedding Ringer. Since Hart, a piece of contemporary comedy gold, usually doesn't fly under the radar very well, let me be the one to temper expectations for his latest go-around with debut director, Jeremy Garelick.

When chubby loner Doug Harris (Josh Gad) lands a fiance way out of his league, a series of little white lies put him in desperate need of a best man and 7 groomsmen. Luckily for Doug, Jimmy (Kevin Hart) provides exactly the type of service he requires and is willing to be the first to successfully pull off what his industry calls, "The Golden Tux" (a pseudo wedding party of this size). Now, if only Doug, Jimmy and 7 other strangers can buckle down and get their cover stories straight, this crazy bunch of misfits will actually have a shot at pulling off a historic wedding day mirage.

The Wedding Ringer helplessly falls into the "easy to get to get through, but nothing special" catalog. Its humor is consistent throughout, albeit far too over-the-top at times, and the acting is decent enough for a film of this scope. I've been a longtime fan of Josh Gad as he continues to deliver endearing characters with such jocular precision. However, a forced finale that's clearly hinted at, but lacking in proper writing and execution, ultimately reduces this absurdly-premised comedy to a mediocre result.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C+

Completely shifting gears from a mindless comedy to a sentimental Oscar-bait drama, Julianne stars in Still Alice. Released in a limited fashion prior to the new year, in order to qualify for the awards season, Moore has already been handed an Academy Award Nomination for her work in the film. And if everything unravels as many prognosticators are predicting (including myself), on February 22nd she'll be accepting her first Oscar statue and delivering a speech for the whole world to witness.

Still Alice follows a renowned linguistics professor from Columbia University (Julianne Moore) who discovers tiny lapses in her memory around her 50th birthday. When these fearful instances start to increase in frequency, Alice visits a physician and discovers that she's suffering from a genetic form of early onset Alzheimer's disease. As the illness begins to deteriorate her mental capacity, Alice and her loved ones are all forced to live with these heart-breaking consequences.

I've always enjoyed Julianne Moore's long list of accomplished work. But after sitting through Still Alice's relentless and painful melodrama for 100 minutes, I came to the realization that her presumed Oscar win would be more of a "lifetime achievement" recognition than the repercussions of this specific role. 2014 boasted a fine collection of exceptional lead performances from women, some of which were far superior to Moore's work here. And although she clearly does the most she can with a feeble screenplay and a lackluster story, there are plenty of reasons to avoid this over-bearing drama.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4.

Grade: C

Thursday, January 15, 2015

2015 Oscar Snubs & Surprises

This morning nominations were handed out for the 87th annual Academy Awards event in February (for a full list of nominees click here). As it goes every year, a handful of unpredictable nominees generate quite a stir. So here they are, the biggest 2015 Oscar snubs and surprises:

Best Actress Race

I, like many, had comfortably nestled Jennifer Aniston (Cake) in my Best Actress top 5, but the surprising twist of events found Oscar darling Marion Cotillard nominated again for her role in the French-language film Two Days, One Night.

Best Director Race

In the Best Director battle I was thrilled for Foxcatcher visionary, Bennett Miller, who found himself nominated over DGA inclusion Clint Eastwood (American Sniper) and the potential headline-maker, Ava DuVernay (Selma), who could have been the first female of color ever nominated for Best Director.

Best Picture Race

And then, in a strange turn of events after their directors had both missed on nominations, American Sniper and Selma landed in the 8 films recognized for Best Picture. However, darker-themed films like Foxcatcher, Nightcrawler and Gone Girl were all snubbed. Further proving that Academy voters have a prototypical film-type that they seek.

Best Actor Race

As a lover of Foxcatcher, another big inclusion I was thankful for was Steve Carell making the final cut in the extremely crowded Best Actor category. Also, American Sniper had a huge morning and found its leading star, Bradley Cooper, in the mix. But with every inclusion comes a snub, and perhaps none was bigger than Jake Gyllenhaal's refined performance in Nightcrawler. It was also a bit surprising to see Ralph Fiennes fall from contention considering his film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, tied Birdman for the most nominations with nine total. David Oyelowo (Selma) also missed out on a nomination, but I'm a little less surprised about his omission.

Best Supporting Actress Race

Another nomination I was happy to see was Laura Dern's generally unheralded work in Jean-Marc Vallee's Wild. Yet, it was a shame to see her nomination at the expense of another Nightcrawler casualty, Rene Russo, who gave a much finer performance than many of the finalists.

Best Adapted Screenplay Race

Omitting Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl) in the Best Adapted Screenplay competition, are you kidding me? Flynn's unwarranted snub came at the hands of a far inferior screenplay and film, Paul Thomas Anderson's adaptation of Thomas Pynchon's Inherent Vice

Best Animated Feature Race

Finally, on a much less serious note, everyone expected The Lego Movie to not only be nominated, but to compete for the crown. However, I was not a fan of the film whatsoever and glad to see it left off the list at the hands of Irish film Song of the Sea and the Japanese film The Tale of The Princess Kaguya. Both of which HAVE to be better than The Lego Movie by default. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Predicting the 2015 Oscar Nominations

Oscar Nominations will be handed out tomorrow morning and after skimming over the long list of precursor awards, I'm going to give my best predictions for the names you should expect to make the final cut tomorrow in the major race. So here they are, my 2015 Oscar Nominee predictions:

Best Original Screenplay

Predicted Nominees: Birdman, Boyhood, FoxcatcherThe Grand Budapest Hotel and Nightcrawler

Best Adapted Screenplay

Predicted Nominees: American SniperGone Girl, The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything and Whiplash

Best Supporting Actress

Predicted Nominees: Patricia Arquette (Boyhood), Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game), Rene Russo (Nightcrawler), Emma Stone (Birdman) and Meryl Streep (Into the Woods)

Best Supporting Actor

Predicted Nominees: ** Steve Carell (Foxcatcher), Ethan Hawke (Boyhood), Edward Norton (Birdman), Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher) and J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)

**Note: In a surprise change of events after BAFTA nominations listed Steve Carell in the Supporting Actor race, many are expecting Carell will land here rather than Lead Actor, but there's still plenty of uncertainty.

Lead Actress

Predicted Nominees: Jennifer Aniston (Cake), Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything), Julianne Moore (Still Alice), Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl) and Reese Witherspoon (Wild)

Lead Actor

Predicted Nominees: Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game), Ralph Fiennes (The Grand Budapest Hotel)Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler), Michael Keaton (Birdman) and Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything)

Best Director

Predicted Nominees: Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel), Ava DuVernay (Selma), Alejandro G. Inarritu (Birdman), Richard Linklater (Boyhood) and Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game)

Best Picture

Predicted Nominees: BirdmanBoyhood, Foxcatcher, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, NightcrawlerSelma, The Theory of Everything and Whiplash

*** Stay tuned tomorrow for a reaction to the announced nominees!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Top 10 Films of 2014

The Golden Globes have named their winners and Oscar Nominations will be announced on Thursday morning, so I guess that means this is the perfect time to reflect on 2014's cinematic offerings. While I wasn't blown away by many of the 100 new films I saw over the course of last year, there were plenty of solid titles released in 2014. So before we get into the Top 10, let's take a look at the films that just missed the cut.

Honorable Mentions: American Sniper, Laggies, The Skeleton Twins and Whiplash

*** Note: I still haven't seen A Most Violent Year

I never would have imagined the adapted teenage love story, The Fault in Our Stars, landing on this list, but it's difficult to argue against a beautifully acted, well written and strongly directed film. By now, you've probably heard about the soulful performance given by its leading lady, Shailene Woodley. Without taking anything away from her wonderful work, it's the overlooked newcomer Ansel Elgort who steals the film. The duo star as a pair of cancer-stricken teenagers who haphazardly stumble across a great romance. And although they're completely aware of what little time they may have left together, the fateful young lovers bravely embrace their future head-on. The Fault in Our Stars certainly plays to its sentiment, yet the film is leaps and bounds above such a minimizing label.

As it turns out, one of the year's most lucrative films also ranks as one of its best. I saw Guardians of the Galaxy fully aware of all the film's fine praises, and the action-comedy lived up to its billing. An unlikely band of misfits unite together to save the galaxy from complete annihilation. For as ludicrous as it looks and as strange as it sounds, director James Gunn delivers a completely thrilling and wildly hilarious film. The action sequences are visually pleasing and tasteful in length, traits that I definitely appreciate. I don't think I'm overstating it when I say that Guardians of the Galaxy is the best Marvel movie I've ever seen.

The general consensus among critics was that  St. Vincent was an above average, take it or leave it level of film. However, I enjoyed Bill Murray's latest comedy enough to see it land on my end of the year list. When a single mother (Melissa McCarthy) and her son (Jaeden Lieberher) move next door to a miserable old war vet named Vincent (Bill Murray), the boy and old man form a strange bond. Ted Melfi offers up a hearty drama about finding role models in the unlikeliest of places. St. Vincent is a crowd-pleasing experience that's supported heavily by Bill Murray's exceptional performance.

One aspect of this list that I'm pleased to notice is its diversity. With a teen romance drama and a movie-printing action blockbuster already making appearances on the list, the 7th best film of the year remains unpredictable with a little indie gem called Cheap Thrills. An unwavering concoction of dark comedy and psychological thriller, the film follows a loving husband and father named Craig (played by Pat Healy). When Craig discovers an eviction notice and loses his job all in the same day, he migrates to a local bar to have a drink. An unexpected run-in with an old friend and a wealthy new married couple transforms Craig's night into a high-stakes game of "fear-factor" where he learns just how far he's willing to go for financial security. Cheap-Thrills is an absolute must-see for anyone who can stomach the ride.

I've been a long-time admirer of Christopher Nolan's daring work as a filmmaker. As the director of Memento, The Prestige, Inception and The Dark Knight trilogy, it's understandable that his sci-fi epic Interstellar was one of the most anticipated films of the year. And in typical Nolan fashion, he did not disappoint. While I wouldn't call Interstellar his best work, the auteur still manages to push boundaries and require his audiences to venture deep into the furthest reaches of their minds, a commendable feat. No matter how you felt about the film's ambitious third act, which I actually enjoyed a lot, there's no denying that Christopher Nolan is a risk-taker. And as Interstellar proves, in my humble opinion, he's a very successful one.

#5. Chef

One of the films that set the bar awfully high throughout the year was Jon Favreau's indie comedy, Chef. As a passionate tale of doing what you love, all wrapped around a stellar father-son story, Chef satisfied our craving for an early-year hit. Despite its social media agenda and its all-too-happy final scene, Jon Favreau gives a winning return to his indie roots as the writer, director and star of this passion project. Completely omitted from the awards season discussion, and perhaps wrongfully so, Chef includes many ingredients deserving of acknowledgement. The film's genuine script is crowded with hilarity and countless worthwhile life messages. As a feature completely dedicated to its subject matter, there's plenty to savor with Chef.

This year was packed with amazing dark thrillers and dramas, and Dan Gilroy's Nightcrawler was no exception. It proves to be a remarkable directorial debut for Gilroy, as the film and its leading star, Jake Gyllenhaal, continue to pick up steam in the Oscar hunt. Gyllenhaal stars as Lou Bloom, a sociopath who finds his life calling as a videographer in the gritty world of crime journalism. Bloom's keen perspective and disregard for ethics help him manipulate his sidekick employee and a news producer (Rene Russo) as he climbs the ranks in this gruesome industry. Gyllenhaal is electric on screen and his supporting cast all elevate their game in Nightcrawler, one of the year's finest thrillers.

The fantastic career of filmmaker David Fincher has been well documented, and his 2014 adaptation of the Gillian Flynn novel of the same name, Gone Girl, is an unpredictable and suspenseful edge-of-your-seat experience. Ben Affleck stars as Nick Dunne, a husband who reports his wife's disappearance and becomes the center of the investigation as all signs begin to point to him. Gone Girl delivers a magnificent ensemble headed by Rosamund Pike's unbelievable work as missing wife Amy Dunne. Fincher is in superior form, Flynn pens her own screenplay and the acting is simply brilliant, leaving Gone Girl as one of 2014's elite films.

#2. Boyhood

As the Oscars creep closer and Golden Globe winner Richard Linklater's Boyhood takes control of the Best Picture race, this film will slowly become a household name. Just as impressive as the final product are the circumstances set around this cinematic masterpiece. Linklater shot the film in bits and pieces over the span of 12 long years, in turn developing one of the most authentic and captivating coming-of-age films of all-time. Ellar Coltrane plays Mason, a young boy we watch grow before our very eyes into an insightful and spirited young man. From the ages of 6 to 18, we see Mason's experiences growing up with a single mother (Patrica Arquette) desperate for stability, and how these moments impact his transformation into adulthood. It's a simple fact, you've never witnessed anything like Boyhood before. It's a once in a lifetime experience that would make a fine Best Picture winner any year, especially this one.

It's an undeniable truth, most films suffer from inflated expectations. Other ones, such as Bennett Miller's unforgettable instant-classic, Foxcatcher, take those expectations and run relentlessly with them. I literally waited years for this film, and not a single frame is wasted in this gripping and tense tale of manipulation and obsession. Channing Tatum stars as Olympic Gold Medalist wrestler, Mark Schultz, who was overshadowed by his older and more sociable brother, Dave's (Mark Ruffalo), legacy. But when a wealthy multi-millionaire named John E. du Pont (Steve Carell) asks Mark to move to his Foxcatcher Farms and coach a highly competitive wrestling team at his facilities, the younger sibling jumps at the opportunity to pave his own path. However, the toxic relationship formed between du Pont and Mark would ultimately lead to devastating consequences. Some may argue Foxcatcher as a sluggish and slightly ambiguous drama, but I think they couldn't be further from the truth. Foxcatcher is an evenly paced and beautifully subtle film that progresses eerily into a ticking time-bomb of a finale that you'll never forget. Anyone who enjoys an interesting story surrounding multi-dimensional characters is guaranteed to appreciate my top film of the year, Bennett Miller's Foxcatcher.

Monday, January 12, 2015

2015 Golden Globes Recap

Last evening's 72nd annual Golden Globes award show was as enticing as we hoped it would be. From hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler's hilarious Emma Stone - human "Big Eyes" - monologue joke to Jeremy Renner's truth serum "Golden Globes" remark (in reference to Jennifer Lopez's bosomy outfit), the celebrity drink-fest and celebration really had it all. But aside from the many laughs and genuine acceptance speeches, it was just refreshing to see a decent amount of upsets in the movie categories. Lately it's felt as though the parity between awards shows has gotten exhaustively monotonous, and last night's Golden Globes sustained its mystery and intrigue by keeping the voting honest. For a full list of winners, click here.

One of the evening's biggest winners was the indie sensation, Boyhood. The cinematic achievement took an unprecedented 12 years to complete so, as expected, filmmaker Richard Linklater took home the Best Director hardware for his Best Picture- Drama winner. Boyhood's matriarch, Patricia Arquette, continued her awards season conquest in the Supporting Actress race, all together validating the film's frontrunner status for the Oscars. Despite my clamoring for Bennett Miller's Foxcatcher as my favorite movie of the year, I would be completely on board with the Boyhood train at February's showcase.

Perhaps the biggest shocker of the night came in the Best Picture - Comedy/Musical competition where the presumed winner, Alejandro G. Inarritu's Birdman, fell victim to the steady challenger, Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel. Although I agreed with the Hollywood Foreign Press and graded Anderson's film slightly higher than Inarritu's, it was surprising to see Birdman lose considering it defeated its foe in both the Best Actor - Comedy/Musical (Michael Keaton won over Ralph Fiennes) and Screenplay races.

Furthermore, the Stephen Hawking biopic, The Theory of Everything, took home a pair of wins at the Globes. As bit of a surprise in the Best Original Score category, the film's leading star, Eddie Redmayne, has been a staunch contender the entire way. Redmayne's Best Actor - Drama win was well-deserved, but his acceptance speech was regrettably cut short due to time constraints. This sets up a mammoth-sized Oscar showdown between Keaton and Redmayne that will be worth keeping an eye on as SAG announces its winners later this month.

Finally, there were a few "sure-things" that went as planned last night as well. In the Best Actress - Drama race Julianne Moore continued her unstoppable march to Oscar glory for her performance in the Alzheimer drama, Still Alice. Furthermore, J.K. Simmons (Whiplash) has been a fantastic storyline this year as he checked another item off the list on his way to a Best Supporting Actor Oscar.

It's always difficult to predict how yesterday evening's outcomes will effect the Oscar races. But with nominations being announced this Thursday, Academy members have plenty of time to let the Globes sink in before they cast their final votes. No matter what happens, it will be an entertaining ride.