Top 10 Movies of 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy10. “Guardians of the Galaxy”

I love when a filmmaker uses a soundtrack or film score as a leading character. Much like Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction,” James Gunn uses the soundtrack as a leading character that takes the audience on this incredibly epic, emotional and fun journey. I loved that the soundtrack was something the characters were experiencing as well. Chris Pratt was absolutely perfect for the role–though, my favorite performances were from actors off-screen! Bradley Cooper (Rocket) and Vin Diesel (Groot) did an incredible job of integrating their performances into the story while never filming ANY scenes with the other leading cast members. What’s awesome is that Vin Diesel only says roughly five words in the entire film (“I Am Groot” & “We are Groot”). When Diesel was recording his dialogue, his script had two different sections. On the left side, it said “I am Groot” and on the right side were sentences/paragraphs of what that particular version of “I am Groot” meant for that scene. That way, he was able to inflect a certain way to establish the emotion of the moment. Also, major credit to Gunn for expanding the IMAX sequences to the full IMAX screen. “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” are my favorite Marvel flicks since the first “Iron Man. If I did a Top 11, “Captain America: Winter Soldier” would be number eleven. The Russo Brothers did an incredible job with that picture and I loved that that they used practical effects for a lot of the first two acts. The action sequence on the bridge is incredible. They also did a great job of bringing Black Widow up front to an awesome leading action role. I loved Johansson and Evans together!

American Sniper9. “American Sniper”

Bradley Cooper is quickly becoming one of the best actors working today! Rarely do you see an actor, who was part of a major franchise like “The Hangover,” completely shed that famous character. Cooper’s performance as Chris Kyle, the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history, is INCREDIBLE! Cooper was physically (he gained 40 lbs. for the role) and mentally unrecognizable. He became Chris Kyle and grabs the viewer from the first frame of the film. I loved that Clint Eastwood focused primarily on the content of Chris Kyle’s book, i.e., Kyle’s legacy, legend and struggle to balance his home life with his war life. “American Sniper” is easily Eastwood’s best film since “Mystic River.” You feel like you are right there behind the sniper rifle with Cooper. If you haven’t seen Bradley Cooper on Broadway for “The Elephant Man”, do so immediately! One of the most incredible performances I’ve ever seen.

Edge of Tomorrow8. “Edge of Tomorrow”

One of the most underrated films of 2014–an incredibly fun, well-edited, acted and constructed film. Doug Liman has directed some of my favorite flicks of all time, i.e., “Go,” and “Swingers.” Cruise and Blunt have fantastic chemistry. While there was CGI when it had to be used, Blunt and Cruise also performed many of their own stunts which makes it feel so much more immersive. The film has some of the best action sequences I’ve seen all year and it was shot in 35mm, which looks gorgeous! If you’re looking to buy or rent this film now, you have look for “Live Die Repeat!”

Nightcrawler7. “Nightcrawler”

I still can’t believe that Jake Gyllenhaal wasn’t nominated for an Oscar for his extraordinary performance in “Prisoners.” Gyllenhaal has one of the most interesting careers I’ve seen from an actor. Ever since “Donnie Darko,” he has chosen some of the most fascinating and diverse roles. If you haven’t see “Zodiac,” “Prisoners,” or “Enemy,” do so immediately! “Nightcrawler” is a fascinating character study and a film that makes you think a lot about our media and the way stories are reported. The film is obviously a satire of that element but it’s hard to avoid thinking about the ideas in the real world. Gyllenhaal and co-star Rene Russo deliver two of the best and most complete performances of their respective careers.

The Grand Budapest Hotel6. “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

I saw this film in March and I’m still geeking out about the different aspect ratios that Wes Anderson used. The film jumps back and forth between different decades and Anderson had the brilliant idea of showing each decade in a different aspect ratio. Anderson is one of the few filmmakers who allows the audience to appreciate his filmmaking while never losing suspension of disbelief in the story. Every single shot in the film is perfectly framed and I loved the use of miniatures. Alexandre Desplat’s score blends beautifully with the story, performances and cinematography. Watching a Wes Anderson film is like staring at a beautiful art piece for two hours.

Gone Girl5. “Gone Girl”

For the record, I did NOT read the book before seeing this film. I did this on purpose because I wanted to experience David Fincher brilliance without knowing any story points. I sat in a dark theatre with my jaw dropping and tears flowing from sheer shock of all the twists and turns. I hadn’t experienced a level of excitement like that in a long time. The film reminded me why I loved going to the movies. Fincher is one of the few filmmakers I love who shoots digitally. The look of his films are completely original. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ score is absolute perfection and I love that Fincher uses it as a leading character just as he did in “The Social Network.” Rosamund Pike delivers the best performance I’ve seen this year from an actress. Her transformation and overall screen presence is breathtaking. Also, Tyler Perry was fantastic–a great turn and an excellent casting choice. Neil Patrick Harris had to shoot his death sequence thirty-seven times! Fincher had thirty-seven beds, sheets and carpets that the filmmakers would roll in and out of the room for each take! There were two removable walls to move everything in and out!

Whiplash4. “Whiplash”

One of the scariest films I’ve ever seen. I know this is a strange comparison, but J.K. Simmons’ character reminded of the shark in “Jaws.” Every single time Simmons was on-camera, I was scared out of my mind. I had no idea what he was going to do and that unpredictability freaked me out! I know this year’s Best Actor category is really tight, but I would love to see Miles Teller get some love. Simmons is clearly the best aspect of the film, but Teller helps him be the best and really carries the film well. The brilliance of Simmons is that you can feel his presence even when he is not in a scene. The same went for Anthony Hopkins in “The Silence of the Lambs.” Hopkins was only in that film for 16 minutes yet he feels like he’s in the entire movie. Keep in mind that Hopkins won Best Actor for that performance, not supporting. I want to use this space real quick to mention two other performances that I loved this year. Neither “Foxcatcher” nor “The Theory of Everything” are in my Top 10 films of 2014 but they both contain two of my favorite performances of the year. Sure, Steve Carell is brilliant in “Foxcatcher,” but I really feel that Channing Tatum is the breakout performance. Incredibly subtle and internal. For “The Theory of Everything,” Eddie Redmayne is INCREDIBLE as Stephen Hawking. Redmayne had to shoot the film out of order. He would get to set and in the morning, shoot his sequences as Hawking in the wheelchair. Then, an hour later, he would be back to running around as Hawking at age 18. Then, an hour later, he would be walking around on the sticks. The fact that Redmyane had to jump in and out of all those different parts of Hawking’s life is just incredible!

Birdman3. “Birdman”

I remember seeing “Amores Perros” in 2000 and being blown away, emotionally, to the point where I couldn’t speak when it ended. That feeling was multiplied by a thousand when I saw “21 Grams.” Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu is one of the best filmmakers working today and has directed his best film to date with “Birdman.” Though it is difficult not to make comparisons to Michael Keaton and his “Batman” movies, the film was apparently written by Inarritu after going through a mid-life crisis when turning fifty. Keaton, as well as Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts and Amy Ryan, are all incredible, but the real star of this film is Emmanuel Lubezki. Lubezki already changed the game with his incredible cinematography on “Gravity,” but he really took his craft to a whole new level with “Birdman.” The film is shot and edited to look like one continuous shot for almost two hours. Sure, this has been done before. There have been movies that have actually achieved one continuous shot without any edits. Lubezki achieved it through trick continuous shots, meaning that there are edits which are covered up. Remember the classic Hitchcock movie, “Rope?” Since Hitchcock was shooting on film in the 1940s, if he wanted to do an extremely long take, he would have to move the camera to black area to cut the camera without the audience knowing. Therefore, he could zoom in on a black jacket or some object, cut the camera and you would never know. With all that said, Inarritu allows the audience to appreciate this incredible filmmaking technique while never losing their suspension of disbelief in the story. I have to mention Antonio Sanchez’s incredible score. I love the percussion angle and it’s absolutely ludicrous that Sanchez has been deemed ineligible to be nominated for an Oscar. RIDICULOUS!

Boyhood2. “Boyhood”

A cinematic masterpiece that is equally masterful in concept as it is in execution! Richard Linklater’s film could have easily been a gimmick but he never let the concept overpower the incredible story, themes and emotions. I just sat there having my mind blown by the performances while also appreciating this incredible concept. I still can’t believe that Ellar Coltrane had no contract. He could have walked away after year eleven without any issues! The fact that Linklater would meet with the cast a few days each year, for twelve years, is just mind-blowing to me. The beauty of the film is Linklater’s subtlety. I loved that he didn’t post “Year one,” or “Year eleven” on screen. It was all done through music and visuals. You would hear a Britney Spears song or a Coldplay song and know what year it was. You would see the Presidential election signs and know what year you were in. Plus, you are watching the actors get older as the film progresses. Patricia Arquette deserves Best Supporting Actress for her incredible performance and mainly because of the ending sequence. Arquette will always be one of my favorite actors because she stars in my favorite movie of all time, “True Romance.”

Interstellar1. “Interstellar”

I don’t even know where to begin with this film. I saw “Interrstellar” FOUR TIMES in 70mm IMAX and I want to go one more time before it leaves. When I was eight years old, I remember sitting on a couch, in between my parents, watching “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.” An amazing feeling came over me that changed my entire life. It was the exact moment I fell in love with cinema and how films are made. I just sat there in awe by what James Cameron had done and I wanted to know how he did it, just like someone who wants to know how a magic trick is done. 22 years later, that same feeling came over me again when watching “Interstellar.” The film is easily Christopher Nolan’s most complete, ambitious, masterful and emotional film to date. The fact that Nolan used no green screen is still blowing my mind. Nolan believes in practical effects and built fifty-foot spacecrafts and then projected images of space on huge screens so that the actors could look at the windows and see what we were seeing. That created an extreme level of immersion that I hadn’t felt before. I’ve always loved Nolan’s films (“The Dark Knight,” “Inception”), but I always felt they lacked emotional engagement. This was the first time I cried, real tears, in a Christopher Nolan film. The sequence when McConaughey watches the twenty-three years of footage is one of the most emotional sequences of the year. Nolan purposefully kept that footage from Matthew McConaughey until the day the scene was filmed. What we see on camera is the first time the actor saw the footage. I love that the reaction is completely genuine. Nolan is the rare filmmaker that still shoots on FILM! I can’t tell you how incredible that is and how much better film looks over digital. It’s hard to describe it, but NOTHING can replace the grainy, cinematic and beautiful look of film. I’ll take multiple cigarette burns any day of the week over a pristine digital print. Not only does Nolan shoot on film, he also shoots 70mm FILM for a good portion of his movies. The beauty of seeing the film in a 70mm IMAX theatre is watching the film jump from the 35mm moments to the 70mm moments. It’s gorgeous to see and something that is fading quickly, unfortunately. There’s a reason why some of the greatest filmmakers of our time are still shooting on film (i,e., Nolan, Scorsese, J.J. Abrams, Wright, Tarantino, etc.). “Interstellar” is a perfect example of a film that requires multiple viewings. I’ve seen it four times and still haven’t fully grasped everything. That’s the beauty of it, though! If you try to fully understand it, you are going to get discouraged. It’s a film that should be experienced. Let it take you away. Also, can someone please nominate Bill Irwin for Best Supporting Actor for playing TARS? Irwin played TARS practically through puppeteering. INCREDIBLE! Last but not least, I have to mention Hans Zimmer’s EPIC and MOST AMBITIOUS score of his career. Nolan allows the score to be a leading character, so much so that it covers some of the dialogue. Zimmer wrote parts of the score before Nolan even told him the genre of the movie! The use of church organs is beyond epic and must be experienced in a massive theatre. “Interstellar” is one of the best films I’ve seen in years. The flick gave me real tears and Nerd Tears!

Worst Film Of the Year: “Winter’s Tale”

Most Disappointing Film of the Year: “Godzilla”

Most Underrated Movie Of The Year: “Snowpiercer”

Most Suprisingly Awesome Flick: “John Wick”

Interstellar Review

InterstellarReleased: 2014

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Every once in a while, a film comes along that is so mind-blowing, you can feel the impact it will eventually have on cinematic history.  Whether it be Christopher Nolan’s use of practical effects and ZERO green screen, Zimmer’s masterful/ambitious score, or the fact that Nolan still shoots on film, “Interstellar” proves that an original idea can still come out of Hollywood and blow people’s minds.  Upon repeat viewings, this film reveals more of itself to the audience and it’s gloriously mind-blowing.  If you thought “Inception” was a mind-bender, you haven’t seen anything yet.  This time, Nolan has found his heart.

I honestly don’t even know where to begin with this review.  Words like game-changer and masterpiece come to mind but it’s much more than that.  It’s a FILM (And yes, it’s so refreshing to call it that) that is massive in scope, effects and ideas yet is extremely grounded in its emotional core about a father and daughter.  When you strip everything away, that father/daughter relationship is the core to the flick.  I’ve seen the film twice and I still haven’t fully grasped all the science and ideas but I do know that I walked away experiencing an incredible love story that took me on one of the most incredible rides I’ve ever been on. I do know that it is Nolan’s most emotional and complete film to date.  Listen, I’m obsessed with films like “The Dark Knight” and “Inception,” but I always felt they lacked the emotional punch that I wanted.  “The Dark Knight” transcended the superhero genre and “Inception” blew people’s minds with its story and visuals.  I just never felt there was a massive heart to either of those films. With “Interstellar,” Nolan locates that heart while also delivering his out-of-this-world visuals and ideas.

In a day and age where computer-generated effects have become a crutch for filmmakers, it is beyond refreshing to see a director building massive sets and set-pieces while using ZERO green screen.  That is worth repeating.  NOLAN USED ZERO GREEN SCREEN. He built massive spacecrafts and then projected images of space (using front projection) on the windows so that the actors could experience it in real time, which obviously makes it more immersive for the actors and the audience.  Nolan would then film the actors in the spacecrafts and capture that realism in-camera! The same went for films like “The Dark Knight” where he really flipped that massive 18-wheeler (he had a catapult underground that lifted the truck off the ground that was later digitally removed).  Also, “Inception,” where he built one-hundred-foot spinning hallways for the zero gravity fight sequences.  Of course, that was an homage for the spinning hallway that Stanley Kubrick had in “2001: A Space Odyssey.”  It’s just refreshing to see a filmmaker actually direct action sequences rather than relying so much on CGI.  Sure, there is CGI used in “Interstellar,” but only when necesssary.

Let me start off by saying that I’m a massive FILM advocate.  Nothing I’ve seen so far has come close to the cinematic look of shooting on film (especially 70mm or 35mm anamorphic).  Filmmakers like Nolan, J.J. Abrams, Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese and Edgar Wright are all doing their best to make sure film doesn’t become extinct.  You can’t replace the way film captures color and light and I feel that is the reason why some of the greatest filmmakers in the world still use it.  When watching “Interstellar” in 70mm IMAX, you get a sense of how important film really is.  And yes, Nolan did shoot over an hour of the film with IMAX cameras.  Therefore, like “The Dark Knight,” the film transitions back and forth.  Make sure you find yourself seeing the film in a 70mm FILM IMAX theatre vs. a digital theatre.  The screens are bigger and 70mm is much higher quality than digital projectors.

Before I go on and on about what I feel is Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece, let’s take a look at a spoiler-free plot line.  Essentially, the human race is on the verge of extinction.  Earth has become uninhabitable and we are being forced to find other planets.  Matthew McConaughey plays a father of two children, who is chosen by someone or something to lead a crew into space for the purpose of traveling through a massive wormhole to look for habitable planets for the human race.  The film also stars Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Jessica Chastain, Bill Irwin (who practically/brilliantly plays the character of TARS), and more.  That is all I’m going to say plot-wise, as you should experience everything for yourself.

Combined with the masterful 70mm imagery, Hans Zimmer delivers his most ambitious and interesting score to date.  The use of church organs is both haunting and beautiful and really adds to the emotional aspect of the film.  There was something beautifully jarring about how sound was used in this film.  While Zimmer’s score was a massive focus, the use of silence was a key factor as well.  The sequences where it would just cut to silence were incredible!

As with most movies and most Nolan films, there are flaws.  Yes, as incredible as “The Dark Knight” was, the film did contain flaws.  I always felt the pacing was a bit off and that Maggie Gyllenhaal was miscast.  With “Interstellar,” there were some extremely cheesy dialogue sequences and a bit too much exposition.  There were a couple of times where characters had dialogue about obvious visuals that we could have understood ourselves.  I thought the over-referencing of Newton’s and Murphy’s laws was a little bit corny.  If they were mentioned once, I could understand, but it was a bit overkill.  There is a lot going on and Christopher Nolan and his brother, Jonathan Nolan (who co-wrote the screenplay), do a great job of “dumbing down” the science.  There were just times where the dialogue almost felt too obvious.  There are also pacing issues where the film sometimes drags but then picks itself right back up again.

Let’s take a step back and realize how incredible it is to see an original idea in Hollywood.  We are so inundated with sequels, prequels and films based on books that we almost forget there are original ideas out there.  This film is ambitious, imaginative and thought-provoking.  While flawed, it still works on all levels.  There were times where my jaw dropped and times where I was crying.  The film strikes a chord about humanity and how unique our connection is to one another.

I always say that I get these things called Nerd Tears, where I get so geeked out that I start crying.  This can happen during dialogue, action or by simply hearing a film score.  With this film, Nolan delivered both real tears and Nerd Tears! It was the first time I ever cried emotional tears in a Christopher Nolan film.

As an end note, do yourself a favor and find the closest 70mm IMAX film theatre.  That is the way the picture was shot and intended to be seen.  There are SIX different ways to watch “Interstellar” including 35mm film, digital, digital IMAX, 70mm, 70mm IMAX, etc.  If you live in the DC/VA/MD area, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center and Lockheed Martin IMAX (National Air and Space Museum) are playing the film in 70mm IMAX and the screens are six stories tall!

“Interstellar” is my fifth 5/5 rating of 2014, so far! The other four include “Boyhood”, “Gone Girl”, “Birdman” and “Whiplash.”