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Best of 2014: Movies

With Oscar season upon us, I’ve caught up on about all the movies I want to see this year. This list was difficult for me, because there are a few shockers that I didn’t think would make the cut. There were many movies this year that let me down, but just as many that surprised me. There’s quite a mix of indie and blockbuster here, as well.

First, some honorable mentions that unfortunately didn’t make the cut:

American Sniper

Begin Again

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Into the Woods




And without further ado, here’s my official top ten:

10. The Imitation Game

The Imitation Game Movie New Pic (2)

While British biopics are plentiful this year, The Imitation Game stands out. Telling the story of Alan Turing, a mathematician brought in to crack the Nazi code at Bletchley Park, The Imitation Game honors his legacy as it should be. Benedict Cumberbatch gives the performance of his career as Turing. Morten Tyldum keeps the pace afloat, as it’s a tense and calculated film, but also a beautiful and uplifting one.

9. Obvious Child


Female-led dramedies tend to get lumped into two categories: Lena Dunham, or mumblecore, but every once in a while a movie breaks through and puts all of those tropes through the wringer. Obvious Child is that movie. Full of wit and raw emotion, Obvious Child is a story of relationships; those that go bad, but also those that flourish. As comedienne Donna finds herself at a crossroads when faced with an unplanned pregnancy, we find ourselves not just along for the ride, but right there next to her.

8. Whiplash


A completely different kind of music drama, Whiplash is the little indie that could. Courtesy of newcomer Damien Chazelle, Whiplash touches on themes of passion and the pursuit of excellence, and features a tight script and great music. But most of all, Whiplash gives us JK Simmons as drum instructor Fletcher, who pushes Andrew (Miles Teller) to his limits. He’s terrifying, and Fletcher is the best villain of the year. It’s a role that came late in Simmons’s career, but one that solidifies him as a great force.

7. Interstellar


Christopher Nolan’s best film to date, Interstellar is one of the most ambitious films I’ve ever seen. But Nolan pulls it off, delivering sweeping sequences and jaw-dropping space imagery that will blow you away. It’s no Gravity, but Interstellar is something different. A deep and personal drama that just happens to be set in space. The stakes are high, and knockout performances from McConaughey and Chastain keep it afloat, leading up to a finale that will leave heads scratching and viewers hungry for more.

6. Boyhood


I went back and forth on Boyhood multiple times after seeing it, but I’ve finally seen the light: Boyhood is an astounding achievement that will go down as one of the best movies of the 21st century. Directed by Richard Linklater, Boyhood was shot in 12 year intervals, as we see Mason’s development from boy to man. It’s risky, to be sure, but the beauty of Boyhood lies not in its “plot,” but rather in little moments. Little moments between father and son, between brother and sister, that add up to mean something more. It’s something beautiful.

5. Live Die Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow


The best action film of the year, Edge of Tomorrow is just straight fun. But this never comes at the expense of the story, which is both razor-sharp and exciting. Newly minted sci-fi star Tom Cruise pairs brilliantly with Emily Blunt, and the two are the most unlikely duo of the year. With breathtaking action sequences and great visuals, Edge of Tomorrow is new old-fashioned fun.

4. A Most Violent Year

A-Most-Violent-Year-movie (1)

An excellent crime drama, JC Chandor’s third film is as bleak as they come. Taking place in the most violent year in New York history, A Most Violent Year tells the tale of a struggling businessman Abel and his wife Anna as they navigate the dark world of entrepreneurialism. Gripping performances from Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain keep the crime drama always entertaining, and the film creeps up on you in a way unlike any other. Every sequence is calculated, every frame telling a tale. It’s masterful and smart filmmaking.

3. Wild


Based on the memoir by Cheryl Strayed, Wild is the journey of Strayed to recover after her mother’s death, and rediscover herself. What could have been a one-note story like Eat, Pray, Love, Wild is exhilarating filmmaking courtesy of director Jean-Marc Vallee. Told in fragments, Wild zeroes deep into Strayed’s psyche, and we get a personal and deep tale of redemption and forgiveness. Reese Witherspoon gives the performance of her career, as she dives deep into what made Strayed tick. A faithful adaptation of the novel, Wild is just as exciting as it is moving.

2. Birdman


From Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu, Birdman is one of the most original movies I’ve seen all year. The story of Riggan Thompson, who stages a comeback in the form of a broadway musical, touches on themes of redemption and family, but most prominently, Birdman is affecting and  intimate. Michael Keaton delivers an outstanding performance as the main role, and Edward Norton and Emma Stone provide excellent support. Comically bleak and often times laugh out loud hilarious, Birdman is cinematic perfection.

1. Gone Girl

GONE GIRL, from left: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, 2014. ph: Merrick Morton/TM & copyright ©20th

A mainstream hit with intelligent plotting and intrigue around every corner, Gone Girl is a miracle. Director David Fincher keeps you on your toes for the entire 150 minutes, and surprises and twists abound. But it never feels cheap. Gone Girl is the product of smart screenwriting from Fincher and book author Gillian Flynn, who wisely adapted her novel. Couple the excellent screenplay with amazing cinematography, score, and performances from Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck, and we have a new classic on our hands.

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Posted by on January 16, 2015 in Other


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Marry Me


Marry Me‘s opening scene is funny as hell. Annie (Casey Wilson) has waited years for her husband Jake (Ken Marino) to pop the question, and she unloads on him after he doesn’t propose after their vacation, only to learn that he was planning a proposal all along, with all of their friends and family in the room. It’s a hilarious scene, one that introduces you to the two leads and sets the stage for a pretty solid pilot episode. While not everything comes together, Marry Me is a very promising and likable show.

It’s Wilson, fresh off her role on Happy Endings, who grounds most of Marry Me‘s first episode. No one can blame her for waiting so long for Jake to propose, yet when he does, everything goes wrong and they try to propose again and again until they get it right – it’s pretty damn funny. Annie seems like a mix of Lena Dunham’s Hannah and Mindy Kaling’s Mindy, likable yet narcissistic, romantic yet crude, and she carries the show alongside Marino. Hopefully the writers give her more to do than be a bitchy fiancee, and it seems we’re headed in that direction with some romantic flashbacks, but right now I could see a lot of viewers being put off by Annie. And while Jake is a typical romantic straight guy, I hope we get to learn more of him. Hopefully he’ll be less Danny Castellano and more Jim Halpert.

Unfortunately a weak supporting cast and some writing issues hinder Marry Me from being the best it could be. Annie’s gay dads are some fodder for some cheap jokes, but they shine as probably the best part of the supporting cast so far. Annie’s unlikable and frankly strange friends feel too sitcom-y to even be real people and Jake’s single friend Gil (John Gemberling) is your typical fat sidekick, basically playing Bevers from Broad City all over again. I’m sure they’ll flesh out some more later on, but right now it just seems strange to shoehorn them into a pilot where they don’t fit.

While most of the jokes land (especially in Wilson’s opening tirade), some feel too easy. Comparing their inseparability to Paula Deen and the N-word seems like a rejected Jimmy Fallon joke, and “like Sandra Bullock in Gravity” has all the makings of a Family Guy cutaway. Fortunately the cast’s delivery is spot-on, often to the point of hilarity. Wilson and Marino are both sharp and quick, and Jake’s mother Myrna (JoBeth Williams) has a few gems of her own. Some physical comedy moments courtesy of Wilson will have you laughing hard, and I’m sure she’ll continue to be the shining light in Marry Me.

I only bring up these comparisons to other shows because Marry Me seems to borrow so much from successful sitcoms that it rarely feels like anything new. A little bit of How I Met Your Mother with the romantic flashbacks, and a little bit of Modern Family with the supporting cast, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. That’s the reason the show works. The writing is quick and witty, and Wilson’s delivery is spot-on at times. The show is grounded in Annie and Jake’s love for each other, and it works. The supporting cast leaves a bit to be desired, but there’s only been one episode, so I’ll give it a chance. And you should too.

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Posted by on October 14, 2014 in TV Reviews


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The Affair



Showtime’s latest drama, The Affair, had an impressive premiere. Told from two different perspectives, the show charts the relationship of Noah and Alison after they meet on vacation in Long Island. Noah is married to his wife Helen, and the two have four bratty children. They go to Long Island to visit Helen’s father’s beach house, and along the way at a diner he meets Alison, a waitress who recently lost her child.

This is a great setup for a great cast of characters, in a show that throws your expectations out the window on an exciting and unique season premiere. For the first 30 minutes, we spend our time getting invested in Noah’s life, as he goes through these moments with his family. For the next 30 minutes, we switch over to Allison’s side, and we learn about her relationship with her husband Cole, and how she came to meet the mysterious man Noah.

It’s a careful and meticulous pilot, one that warrants repeats viewings. The “two sides to every story” device isn’t new by any means, but the writers have sprinkled in little tidbits that you’ll notice here and there, as we learn the discrepancies between Noah and Alison’s stories. For example, in the diner scene, Noah’s daughter begins to choke on her food. In Noah’s tale, he dislodges the food from her throat while Alison watches. But in Alison’s story, Noah is helpless and she saves his daughter’s life. It’s interesting moments like these that are shown from a dual perspective. It’s something we’ve come to see from a modernist marriage tale, what something like Gone Girl has given us.

Dominic West and Ruth Wilson are both underappreciated actors, and in Wilson’s case, hopefully this will put her on everyone’s radar. West plays a brooding yet empathetic father, one we want to learn more about immediately, in the same vein as Don Draper. He taps into Noah’s fatherly side but also his exotically romantic side, as he explores Long Island and meets Alison. Alison is a grief-stricken mother, caught in an abusive (I say abusive because their stories are contradictory as you’ll learn) relationship with Cole. Wilson is the show’s heartbeat, a character that almost everyone can see themselves in. A supporting cast is rounded out by the excellent Maura Tierney and Joshua Jackson, and you’re looking at an awards-friendly, outstanding team of players.

So as the audience we are left to wonder what happened between Noah and Alison and why they are telling us this. Well, as we find out (semi-spoiler alert) at the end of the episode, they are telling these stories to the police, in an interrogation scene. It’s a chilling and great ending that gives the pilot even greater meaning. We are wondering what the hell happened to net these characters in a situation like this, and in True Detective-like fashion, this scene gives a framework to the previous 55 minutes of the show. It will be interesting to see how The Affair balances the two aspects that make the show tick: that is, its storytelling duality and its flash-forward moments. Right now, though, even after one episode, The Affair has me more excited than any other fall drama.

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Posted by on October 14, 2014 in TV Reviews


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Gone Girl



Gone Girl is a harrowing portrait of a marriage turned sour. From director David Fincher, whose last hit was another adaptation of a popular thriller novel, Gone Girl is the best movie of the year so far. With a breakout performance from Rosamund Pike, and another great turn from Ben Affleck, Gone Girl is a complete thrill ride, and makes great use of all of its 150 minute running time

Gone Girl is based on the novel of the same name by Gillian Flynn. The film follows Nick and Amy Dunne, a young married couple living in Missouri. On the day of the fifth anniversary, Amy suddenly disappears. The film traces Nick’s steps to figure out what happened, all while avoiding suspicion from the public eye and the police.

It would be an understatement to say that I enjoyed the novel. It’s one of my favorite books of all time, and I had the privilege of meeting Flynn last spring. It’s expertly written, with tense dialogue and twists and turns that keep you engaged. Flynn returned to penn the screenplay for the film, and she nails it. It gets the tone of the novel just right, the atmosphere, characters, and everything is on point.

The film is expertly plotted, and makes perfect use of of its long run time. Flynn and Fincher do a great job of keeping you guessing at every time. Even having read the book, I still had many “oh shit!” moments. It was like I was reading the novel again, and that’s a good thing.

Gone Girl has such an eerie atmosphere to it, it’s almost scary. A thriller for the 2014 audience, Gone Girl is both a marriage thriller and a media satire. The film tackles things like the economic recession, critiquing suburban WASP-types and the pervasiveness of news media in a small Missouri town. It asks us to question how much we really know about our partners, Both Nick and Amy are unreliable narrators. We find more out about each spouse as the film progresses, and we find ourselves picking sides early on and going back and forth throughout the movie. The film makes expert use of flashbacks and narration from Amy’s point of view, and the first half of the film is dedicated to flashbacks about how Nick and Amy first met, and their transition from New York newlyweds to out-of-work homeowners in Missouri. It’s a cold, calculated film, one that won’t make you scream out of terror, but might give you a panic attack. It never seems formulated to shock, but when it does, Fincher will shock you.

The performances are spot-on all around. Ben Affleck is phenomenal as Nick. It’s not the best performance of his career, but Nick doesn’t demand that kind of a performance. Just take a look at the scene where Nick and Amy’s parents announce her disappearance. His smug smile to the camera is exactly what you’d expect from someone like Nick. He does his best to put on a good show for the cameras, all while doing his own thing behind their backs. He runs a bar with his sister, Margo, played by the wonderful Carrie Coon, in a performance that should put her on the map. Margo is our entry point into the story. She’s Nick’s voice of reason, and the two are a great pairing on screen.

But it’s Rosamund Pike who shatters our expectations as Amy Elliot Dunne. I’m not a huge fan of over-narration in films, but her chilling voice and flashback intonation will keep you enthralled. She’s such a well-written character, and Pike easily deserves an Oscar nomination for this performance. Other supporting roles come from Tyler Perry as Nick’s attorney Tanner Bolt. He does a great job despite a choice that might make you scratch your head. Tanner understands Nick, and trains him how to act in front of the camera, in front of talk show host Sharon Schieber (Sela Ward). Neil Patrick Harris and Scoot McNairy also appear as Amy’s former love interests, and it’s Harris who gets a considerable amount of screen time as the creepy stalker Desi Collings.

One thing I love about Gone Girl is that the police force is not incompetent. It would’ve been easy to make a critique of modern detective work, but Gone Girl’s police team, comprised of Kim Dickens and Patrick Fugit as Rhonda Boney and Jim Gilpin, respectively. Dickens is a considerable force, a southern, small town girl who for the most part is on Nick’s side. But as the public turns against him when dark shadows from his past resurface, Dickens and Gilpin find themselves challenged by what they themselves believe and what the public thinks. As they follow Amy’s treasure hunt of clues that she leaves behind, they start to reconsider what they believe about the case.

Throw in a chilling soundtrack from Fincher’s favorites, Trent Reznor and Attticus Ross, and you have such a well crafted, ingenious thriller. It’s smart, provocative, and will make you question things about the people you hold dear. Affleck and Pike are outstanding, and the cinematography and atmosphere surrounding the film is just perfect. I couldn’t have asked for a more spot-on adaptation of one of my favorite novels, from one of my favorite directors no less.


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Posted by on October 3, 2014 in Movie Reviews


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