Oscars 2015: Who Should Win

'Boyhood' should take home the top prize on Oscar night, and deservedly so. (IFC Films/aceshowbiz.com)

‘Boyhood’ should take home the top prize on Oscar night, and deservedly so. (IFC Films/aceshowbiz.com)

It’s that time of the year again, when all the best and brightest (that’s a stretch) in Hollywood come together to collectively pat themselves on the back and anger Fox News (with the exception of American Sniper that is!). Every year, I watch the Golden Globes and I watch the Oscars because I want to see who wins. And without fail, at the end of each and every telecast, I think to myself, “why did I just watch that?” I assume this year will be no different, but, that won’t stop me from telling you who I think should win. Away we go…

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Final List for 2014!

2014 at the movies has come and gone and my overall feeling is….”ehhhhhh.” Kind of lukewarm, to be honest, and maybe that’s why I didn’t get out to the theaters as much as I had in prior years. There were certainly some movies that were fantastic which I expected (Interstellar), summer surprises (Guardians of the Galaxy), and crushing disappointments (Hunger Games). But as a whole, 2014 won’t go down as a great year in film, for me. It came to an end with a few highlights, but certainly not enough to make up for the first 10 or so months. Nevertheless, here is my list for the top movies I saw in 2014:

1. interstellar poster Interstellar

2. TheImitationGame poster The Imitation Game

3. gone girl poster Gone Girl

4. 22 jump street poster 22 Jump Street

5. poster Edge of Tomorrow

6. guardians poster Guardians of the Galaxy

7. MPW-90199 The Grand Budapest Hotel

8. MPW-92327 (1) Captain America: The Winter Soldier

9. birdman poster Birdman 

10. neighbors poster Neighbors

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and the rest…

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11. Foxcatcher

12. Calvary

13. The Skeleton Twins

14. Into the Woods

15. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part I

Review: The Imitation Game

Benedict Cumberbatch is extraordinary as Alan Turing, in this truly exciting film. (The Weinstein Company/aceshowbiz.com)

Benedict Cumberbatch is extraordinary as Alan Turing, in this truly exciting film. (The Weinstein Company/aceshowbiz.com)

In a year of disappointing movies as a whole, The Imitation Game was a very welcome success, and a truly huge one at that. I’ve been so excited to see films with enormous Oscar buzz, that look so good (BirdmanFoxcatcher), yet fail to deliver as I hoped they would. But this one was much different: an incredible true story, told over three-time periods all at once, with tremendous acting and fantastic tension and humor.

The movie is about Alan Turing, a mathematician who helped build a machine for Britain that would crack the Nazi’s Enigma code. Turing, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, was quite the odd soul, thinking only in black and white and in numbers, unable to truly relate to others. Throw in the fact that he was a closet homosexual, which was quite illegal at the time, and he truly stood out for a number of wrong reasons. But his personal quirks and sexual orientation aside, Turing turned out to be one of the biggest reasons the allies won World War II.

The story was told in three different times of Turing’s life: his childhood education at a boy’s school, during WWII, and in 1951 when he was being investigated. Director Morten Tyldum did a tremendous job of piecing the movie together intersecting all three pieces. I was able to learn so much about how Turing became the man he did, and what his life turned out to be, all while on the edge of my seat as he and his group attempted to break the Enigma code.

What was also quite impressive was the acting, and I’ll save Cumberbatch for last. Everyone did such a good job, and I knew that was the case because it never felt like I was truly watching a movie, or watching certain actors. Everything blended in so perfectly, it was as if it was a History Channel documentary (before History Channel became insane). But the lead man turned out to be the best – by a mile. There’s no doubt he’ll be at the very least nominated for an Oscar, and I don’t know if I’ve personally seen a stronger performance in 2014. The slight stutter, the awkward walking, the personality traits (inability to interact and form “true” dialogue or relationships)…it was all so well done.

I’ve said this before and this film made me realize it yet again: one of the best kind of experiences you can have at the movies is when there’s something unbelievably thrilling that has no sex, guns, CGI, or special effects. All you need is a brilliant story and dynamite acting, and The Imitation Game had plenty of that.

 

THE IMITATION GAME: original_barnstar original_barnstar original_barnstar half_barnstar (out of 4)

2014 Update

Just a quick update – I won’t publish or set my top movies of the year just yet, as I’m still waiting to see (and planning to see) Whiplash!

Review: Into the Woods

 

Blunt and Corden were good, but not enough to make me enjoy a musical. (Walt Disney Pictures/aceshowbiz.com)

Blunt and Corden were good, but not good enough to make me enjoy a musical. (Walt Disney Pictures/aceshowbiz.com)

There are a few important notes to make for this review which have to be stated right from the start. The first, is that this is one of the only movies (possibly the only one) I’ve ever seen in theaters and reviewed that I didn’t want to see. I mean, why go see something if there’s no desire, right? But, it was my girlfriend’s choice on New Year’s Eve, so that was that. Second, is that I am not fond of musicals whatsoever. I don’t necessarily hate them, but they don’t do anything for me, and I never feel like I’m watching a ‘movie’…just a bunch of people singing. With that said…

Into the Woods had a pretty star-studded cast, and I enjoyed the screen presence of a lot of them. Emily Blunt and Anna Kendrick seem like talented singers and even showed acting skills as well. Meryl Streep, who will probably get nominated for an Oscar for her role (when doesn’t she?) was clearly talented in her role. It was also nice to see Tracey Ullman on the silver screen, remembering her from her comedy of years past. And the unknown (to me) and pleasant surprise was James Corden. On the other side of the coin were duds in Chris Pine and Johnny Depp. Pine seemed like the studio saying, “Let’s go get a big-name actor, good-looking, doesn’t matter if he can sing.” Boy were his scenes awkward. And Depp…oh where to begin: the last time I truly enjoyed a movie of his must be over a decade ago.

The story itself, which was explained to me beforehand so that I wasn’t completely lost, borrows from a number of old fairy tells and melts them into one dark, interesting story (taking place in the woods, if that wasn’t clear). Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel, and Little Red Riding Hood were all there. I suppose this is where my mild distaste of musicals comes in because the movie just felt dragged out, and repetitive, and nothing really happened unless people broke into their songs (yes, I understand that’s the point). It all just felt so foreign to me, and I could never really get around to enjoying it for what it was. It wasn’t a horrifying film, but not something I enjoyed very much at all either. I won’t give it zero stars or one star, because it wasn’t bad, it wasn’t trashy or offensively awful. So, I’ll bump it to two.

 

INTO THE WOODS: original_barnstar original_barnstar (out of 4)

Review: Foxcatcher

 

Infrequent moments of greatness left me wanting more from 'Foxcatcher.' (Sony Pictures Classics/aceshowbiz.com)

Infrequent moments of greatness left me wanting more from ‘Foxcatcher.’ (Sony Pictures Classics/aceshowbiz.com)

When the audience knows exactly how a story will unfold, it’s a difficult process for the filmmakers. As was the case with Foxcatcher, the true story of rich, psychotic John E. du Point who trained USA wrestling at his estate, only to later commit murder in cold blood. It’s a disturbing story to be sure, and with the audience already knowing each piece of the puzzle, the film had to have stirring performances as well as the ability to relive the events in a way as surprising as can be.

My hopes of this film being a favorite of the year were diminished after about 45 minutes of running time, and only went down from there. That’s not to say it was a bad movie at all, but the slow nature of every scene, and the feeling that the movie just dragged on for long periods, left me mildly disappointed given my expectations. There were some exceptions, naturally, that resulted in shocking and terrific pieces of the movie. But those moments were too few and far between.

The acting was good, across the board. The supporting case was fine, but I’m speaking of the three leads: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, and Mark Ruffalo. I’m a huge Carell fan, and to see him take on a loaded drama, shows just how far he’s come in his acting career. With all of the Best Actor buzz surrounding him, I was somewhat shocked at how lukewarm I considered his performance to be. Aesthetically, with the hair, nose, teeth, walking style, and his manner of speaking, it was terrific. But it was almost as if his character didn’t have a lot to say. Somewhat…boring, I guess. Tatum was the actor who at times, shined brightest, in my eyes. Both he and Ruffalo had such memorable moments together in this film, but like the story’s highlights – these moments were far too infrequent.

I’ll look at Foxcatcher as perhaps a missed opportunity to do something great with such a loaded story. There was good acting, moments of greatness and shock, but overall a sense of waiting. It was waiting for the movie to completely come together and deliver something extraordinary. It never happened. With Oscar buzz aside, it’s still something I enjoyed, but not nearly as much as I thought I would.

 

FOXCATCHER: original_barnstar original_barnstar half_barnstar(out of 4)

Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part I

Even Jennifer Lawrence couldn't save this placeholder of a movie from falling flat. (Lionsgate Films/aceshowbiz.com)

Even Jennifer Lawrence couldn’t save this placeholder of a movie from falling flat. (Lionsgate Films/aceshowbiz.com)

Of all the things that made the last installment in the Hunger Games series – Catching Fire – so enjoyable, it was the strong performances from high caliber actors and intense and very gripping story which made it such a damn good time at the movies. With one book left to tackle, Hollywood did as only Hollywood can do: split it unnecessarily into two movies spaced a year apart (money!). The outcome, at least the half that I’ve been able to see, left a lot to be desired. Almost all of the excitement from the last film vanished, and I never once got pulled it by a character or moment from the story.

Picking up after the beginning of the rebellion in the prior movie, Katniss, and her family and friends, are now living in another district. Peeta is behind held in the capitol, his brain washed by the president, spewing propaganda to counter the rebels. The entire film is essentially a very slow back and forth of Peeta being recorded saying something bad about the rebels, and Katniss being recorded saying something bad about President Snow. It’s quite repetitive, and there weren’t spurts of action exciting enough to keep me wide-eyed and intrigued. I’m not saying I needed it to be a popcorn summer hit kind of film with all-out action, but boy was this dragging and in need of a little firepower. Also, it may have just been me, but half the movie felt like Jennifer Lawrence walking slowly to look at something and then breaking down in tears. It happened so often that it just got humorous by the end.

All of the A-list actors that brought so much goodness to Catching Fire – Jennifer Lawrence, Donald Sutherland, Woody Harrelson, Philip Seymour Hoffman – as well as newcomer Julianne Moore, were quite underwhelming across the board. Nobody gave a performance that I can point to as a standout, or bright spot. Nobody seemed really inspired, and when you put that together with a slow story, it doesn’t turn out well in the end.

I’d like to think that the franchise took a big downturn only due to the splitting of the last book into two movies. My hope is that this time next year, the final movie regains that fire and excitement and ends with a bang. Mockingjay – Part I felt like boring holdover material, which in a word, was disappointing.

 

THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY – PART I: original_barnstar original_barnstar (out of 4)

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