Top 10 of 2014

Top 10 of 2014For most of the year, I asserted that this was kind of a down year for movies in terms of quality and to a lesser degree, of box office as well. Although there have been some really good movies that would be contenders for the best movie of the year in any year, I still think that overall there were fewer movies that had the slam dunk quality overall of years past.

Still, the movies on this top 10 list were all of very high quality and you won’t go wrong in watching any of them. I was pleased to see that there were a number of indie movies that really stepped up the game; in fact, I think it’s a safe bet to call this the Year of the Indie. While some of these are indies in name only, distributed by major studios who have developed distribution arm for foreign films and smaller scale American films produced outside of the studios (i.e. Fox Searchlight, Sony Classics and Paramount Vantage), plenty are true indies with no financing or distribution from a major.

We continue to see a migration of traditional distribution in which movies received a theatrical release, followed about six months later by a home video release and ending up with a premium cable release about a year after the initial theatrical release. That is no longer the case as people are more and more watching films at home rather than in theaters. Some of the major indie distributors like Magnolia and IFC are releasing their films in On-Demand format concurrently with their theatrical release (and often ahead of it) which makes good fiscal sense for them. Mid-majors like Weinstein and Lionsgate have begun to follow suit. Universal even decided to release the acclaimed Joe Carnahan film Stretch into on-demand without a theatrical release which is a bit disturbing but sensible as well. We might see marginal studio films going that route more often in the future.

As with previous years, you can learn more about each movie on the top 10 list by clicking on the title to access my initial review, or clicking on the photo of the movie to go to the movie’s website or Facebook page when available. The information given should be self-explanatory. This year we’re also adding the top 10 films’ Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic scores as of the date I write the blurbs.

As always, the list is entirely arbitrary. How I rank these movies today isn’t necessarily how I would rank them tomorrow. I am also ignoring half-points from the initial ratings so you might see a 9.0 ranked ahead of a 9.5. It’s my list. Deal with it. In any case, at the end of the day the order the films are ranked in is unimportant save for the number one movie of the year. The thing to remember is that all of these films including the honorable mention films are all of the highest quality and you can’t go wrong seeing any of them. Hopefully this list will suggest a few to you that you might have missed during the year or didn’t get distribution in your home town. Many of them will be already out on home video or VOD, while a few may still be in your local theaters. Do yourself a favor and try and see as many of these as you can. You won’t regret it.


There are a number of movies that didn’t quite make the cut of the top ten. I thought I’d add them here so you can get an idea of which ones came close, were considered and ultimately not chosen. Again, I will stress that all of these are quality films worth seeking out if you’re looking for entertainment, enlightenment or insight. I didn’t include links here but if you want to read my reviews of any of these, simply type in the title into the search field and have at it. So, in no particular order;

The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Wind Rises, The Babadook, Before I Disappear, Ida, The Trip to Italy, Doomsdays, Tim’s Vermeer, Copenhagen, Chef, Bad Words, The Final Member, The Zero Theorem, The Devil’s Knot, The Railway Man, Cold in July, Blue Ruin, The Fluffy Movie, The Hundred-Foot Journey, Interstellar, The Boxtrolls, The Good Lie, Birdman, Foxchaser, Wild, Slingshot, Ernest and Celestine, The Lunchbox, Jodorowsky’s Dune, The LEGO Movie, Locke, Force Majeure, Life Itself.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier10. CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER

(Disney/Marvel) Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Redford, Anthony Mackie, Toby Jones, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo, Hayley Atwell. Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo

Released April 3, 2014 Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America fresh from saving New York City from an alien invasion is an integral part of SHIELD, protecting the world and particularly the United States, from threats too powerful for local law enforcement to handle. But something is attacking SHIELD from within and Rogers, who knows nobody from this era after having been frozen in the Arctic for nearly half a century, doesn’t know who to trust or what to believe. He’s a black and white kind of guy in a shades of grey world.
WHY IT IS HERE: Hearkens back to the political thrillers of the 1970s coupled with a modern special effects-laden action film. Was the box office champion for much of 2014 until a Marvel mate came to take the crown from Cap. But more importantly, people began to see that Marvel movies could be a lot more than superhero films.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Cap takes out an elevator full of would-be assassins.
CRITICAL MASS: Rotten Tomatoes: 89% positive reviews. Metacritic: 70/100.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $259.8 million domestic, $714.1M total (as of 1/13/15).
BUDGET: $170 million
STATUS: Currently available on home video. Download from iTunes/Vudu/Amazon. Stream on Vudu/iTunes. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray on Netflix.

Whiplash9. WHIPLASH

(Sony Classics) Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Paul Reiser, Melissa Benoist, Austin Stowell, Nate Lang, Chris Mulkey, Damon Gupton, Suanne Spoke, Max Kasch, Charlie Ian, Jayson Blair, Kofi Siriboe, Kavita Patil. Directed by Damien Chazelle

Released October 10, 2014 A driven young jazz drummer attending a prestigious music conservatory in New York City yearns to be the best, and in order to do that will have to make sacrifices. Taken under the wing of a stern taskmaster of an instructor, the two strong wills meet head on as Chazelle asks us to consider at what point the price of greatness becomes too dear.
WHY IT IS HERE: Newcomer Chazelle has delivered a taut, engaging movie in which two performances take front and center. Teller proves that he can be a compelling lead actor, while veteran character actor Simmons delivers the performance of his career for which he has already won a Golden Globe and is the odds-on favorite for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar next month.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Andrew’s drum solo in a situation in which he had been set up to fail, yet ends up triumphing despite the adversity.
CRITICAL MASS: Rotten Tomatoes: 95% positive reviews. Metacritic: 88/100.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $6.2 million domestic, $7.1M total (as of 1/13/15),.
BUDGET: $3.3 million
STATUS: Scheduled for home video release on February 24. Digital download pre-order available on Vudu.

Gone Girl8. GONE GIRL

(20th Century Fox) Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Patrick Fugit, Carrie Coon, David Clennon, Lisa Barnes, Missi Pyle, Emily Ratajkowski, Casey Wilson, Lola Kirke, Boyd Holbrook, Sela Ward. Directed by David Fincher

Released October 2, 2014 When his wife disappears, Nick Dunne fears the worst – maybe she’s been kidnapped or possibly, given the blood at the scene of the crime – murdered. But when signs point to Nick being the killer, suddenly the sympathy he’d been receiving turns to something else. Almost nobody believes him. However, even Nick doesn’t suspect what’s going on and who’s behind it.
WHY IT IS HERE: One of the big box office hits of 2014 took a lot of people by surprise. Fox did a masterful job of marketing the film without revealing its twists and turns. Fincher directs it masterfully, making sure that everything that happens onscreen has a reason for it. Pike got a Golden Globe nomination for her star-making performance and may well net an Oscar nom as well.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: I can’t reveal too much about the scene without spoiling the surprises but let’s just call it “NPH gets lucky…or does he?”
CRITICAL MASS: Rotten Tomatoes: 89% positive reviews. Metacritic: 79/100.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $167.2 million domestic (as of 1/14/15), $365.4M total.
BUDGET: $61 million
STATUS: Currently available on home video. Download from iTunes/Amazon/Vudu/Target Ticket. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray from Netflix/Blockbuster. Stream from Amazon/Vudu/iTunes/Target Ticket.

The Imitation Game7. THE IMITATION GAME

(Weinstein) Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Rory Kinnear, Alan Leech, Matthew Beard, Charles Dance, Mark Strong, James Northcote, Tom Goodman-Hill, Steven Waddington, Ilan Goodman, Jack Tarlton. Directed by Morten Tyldum

Released November 28, 2014 The story of Alan Turing wasn’t a particularly happy one. A brilliant mathematician with a lifelong passion for cyphers, he was enlisted by the British Army during the Second World War to crack what was then thought to be an unbreakable code – Enigma. The Germans used it for all their communication and the Allies were losing the war largely because of it. The socially awkward Alan has a secret of his own – and that secret might just lose the war for the Allies altogether.
WHY IT IS HERE: Well-acted throughout, with an Oscar-worthy performance by Cumberbatch in the lead role, with Knightley giving some fine support. The movie is told as something of a wartime thriller, but it’s so much more. The agonizing decisions that Turing had to make in order to make his machine work and then on keeping their progress hidden from the Germans is truly heart-wrenching.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: An a-ha moment that leads to a breakthrough.
CRITICAL MASS: Rotten Tomatoes: 90% positive reviews. Metacritic: 72/100.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $41.0 million domestic (as of 1/14/15), $81.9M total..
BUDGET: $14 million.
STATUS: Still in wide release.

Mission Congo6. MISSION CONGO

(C-Colony) Pat Robertson, Robert Hinkle, Jessie Pott. Directed by David Turner and Laura Zizic

Released April 5, 2014 A compelling documentary that looks at televangelist Pat Robertson and his humanitarian aid program Operation Blessing. Ostensibly sending medical supplies and personnel to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (then known as Zaire) to help aid the hundreds of thousands of refugees from Rwanda which was then in the throes of a civil war and genocide, the filmmakers contend that Robertson’s prime focus was mining diamonds and not saving lives.
WHY IT IS HERE: While decidedly one-sided (Robertson was invited to be interviewed but declined – he’s steadfastly denied the charges) the evidence is presented in an organized and thoughtful manner. Using tax returns, archival footage and eyewitness accounts, the filmmakers put together a pretty damning case against the preacher.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The footage showing the real places supposedly helped by Operation Blessing and how the reality differs greatly from how Operation Blessing portrays things.
CRITICAL MASS: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: No information available.
BUDGET: Not available.
STATUS: Not available. May still be playing the festival circuit.

The Kill Team5. THE KILL TEAM

(Oscilloscope Laboratories) Adam Winfield, Jeremy Morlock, Justin Stoner, Andrew Holmes, Chris Winfield, Emma Winfield, Eric Montalvo. Directed by Dan Krauss

Released April 6, 2014 Some may remember a few years back a squadron of soldiers that was brought up on charges of unjustifiably murdering Afghan civilians and keeping human remains as souvenirs of their misdeeds. This is a documentary about the men in that squadron, how they were hung out to dry by the Army who denied the atrocities that they were later to have proven that they committed had actually happened.
WHY IT IS HERE: A very gripping look at one of the less savory incidents of the war. We focus mainly on Winfield, who tried to blow the whistle on what was happening but instead ended up in prison. This illustrates how officers are treated differently than enlisted men, how CYA is a military code in and of itself and how innocents get caught in the middle. The very best documentary of 2014, a year in which great documentaries were the norm and a Florida Film Festival favorite.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The aftermath of the sentencing of Adam Winfield.
CRITICAL MASS: Rotten Tomatoes: 90% positive reviews. Metacritic: 72/100.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $18,983 domestic (as of 1/16/14), $18,983 worldwide.
BUDGET: Not available
STATUS: Currently available on home video. Download from iTunes/Vudu/Amazon. Rent DVD from Netflix. Stream from iTunes/Vudu/Amazon.

Guardians of the Galaxy4, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY

(Disney/Marvel) Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Lee Pace, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel (voice), Bradley Cooper (voice), Glenn Close, John C. Reilly, Djimon Hounsou, Michael Rooker, Benicio del Toro, Karen Gillan, Josh Brolin. Directed by James Gunn

Released August 1, 2014 A group of misfits, criminals and genetic mistakes are all that stands between the universe and a power-mad fanatic who has hold of one of the most powerful artifacts in reality. Led by the displaced human Peter Quill – who prefers to be called Star Lord – the beautiful and deadly assassin Gamora, the sentient tree Groot, the genetically enhanced Rocket Raccoon and the vengeful strong man Drax the Destroyer, these five will stand against Ronan the Accuser and the machinations of the evil Thanos – and the Infinity Gem.
WHY IT IS HERE: Spectacle, action, comedy, pathos – this film has it all. The box office champion of 2014 (although that will have likely changed by the time this is published, or at least shortly thereafter), this proves that Marvel can take some of their most obscure properties and make huge box office hits out of them. Some have said this will end up being the Star Wars for this generation. Okay, well, that was me that said it. In any case, Da Queen would kill me if this didn’t at least make my Top 5.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: One of the Guardians mourns a fallen comrade.
CRITICAL MASS: Rotten Tomatoes: 91% positive reviews. Metacritic: 76/100.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $333.2 million domestic (as of 1/20/15), $772.8 million total.
BUDGET: $170 million.
STATUS: Available on home video. Download from Amazon/iTunes/Vudu/Target Ticket. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray from Netflix. Stream from Amazon/iTunes/Vudu/Target Ticket.

Her3, HER

(Warner Brothers) Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Scarlett Johansson (voice), Olivia Wilde, Chris Pratt, Rooney Mara, Kristen Wiig (voice), Bill Hader (voice). Directed by Spike Jonze

Released January 10, 2014 In the near future, we rely on computers more than ever and it takes a powerful operating system to keep up with demand. When a new OS with the capacity for learning debuts, it hits some people like a ton of bricks. For Theodore Twombly is in love – with his operating system.
WHY IT IS HERE: Although it came out for an Oscar qualifying run in December 2013, most of the country didn’t get to see it until January. Shaply funny in places with a wit and an eye for our modern social media obsessed culture. This would have ended up on last year’s even harder to crack top 10 if we’d had the opportunity to see it in December.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Theo and Samantha have a steamy bedtime conversation.
CRITICAL MASS: Rotten Tomatoes: 94% positive reviews. Metacritic: 90/100.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $25.6 million domestic (as of 1/20/15), $47.4 million total.
BUDGET: $23 million.
STATUS: Available on home video and on HBO. Download from Amazon/iTunes/Flixster/Vudu. Stream from iTunes. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray from Netflix.

The Double2. THE DOUBLE

(Magnolia) Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska, Wallace Shawn, Yasmin Paige, Noah Taylor, James Fox, Cathy Moriarty, J. Mascis. Directed by Richard Ayoade

Released May 9, 2014 Simon is a mousy but hard-working office drone has an existence of invisibility; people forget that he’s worked there for seven years and the girl of his dreams won’t even give him a second glance. All that changes when James starts working in the office. James is everything that  Simon is not – self-confident, charismatic and irresistible to women. However, James is also everything that Simon is – an exact physical double. And, to Simon’s despair, he is taking over Simon’s life.
WHY IT IS HERE: Yeah, I know that the retro-futurist look is nothing new but few movies take advantage of it as well as this one, and none since Brazil in an office environment. Eisenberg delivers the kind of performance that serves notice that he’s not a nebbish-y kid anymore. This was the best narrative film from this year’s Florida Film Festival and my favorite overall.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Some cops talk to Simon about the chances he’ll commit suicide.
CRITICAL MASS: Rotten Tomatoes: 82% positive reviews. Metacritic: 68/100.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $200,406 (as of 1/21/15), $1.7 million total.
BUDGET: Not available.
STATUS: Available on home video. Download on Amazon/iTunes/Vudu/Target Ticket. Stream on Netflix/Amazon/iTunes/Vudu/Target Ticket. Rent Blu-Ray/DVD on Netflix.

Boyhood1. BOYHOOD

(IFC) Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, Ellar Coltrane, Lorelei Linklater, Steven Prince, Bonnie Cross, Marco Perella, Libby Villari. Directed by Richard Linklater

Released July 11, 2014 We capture the life of a young boy growing into a young man over a 12-year period. Young Mason, his single mom, his sister Samantha and his dad cope with the vagaries of being a divorced family, through abusive stepdads, periods of acting out, attempts to find himself as he goes through high school and prepares for college. Filmed over a period of 12 years with the same cast and much of the same crew makes the aging process natural and believable.
WHY IT IS HERE: If Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel were still alive, I believe they’d both likely vote this the film of the decade or at least one of them. This is the ultimate slice of life film and Linklater deserves all the accolades he’s received for this movie. There are no mysteries, no explosions, no contrived romances – but nonetheless this movie pulls you in and affects you deeply, thanks to some wonderful performances and Coltrane’s natural abilities. Sometimes the universe lines up in such a way that everything works the way you hope it would – this is one such instance.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: There are several but there’s a conversation between Mason and his dad at a graduation party which is priceless.
CRITICAL MASS: Rotten Tomatoes: 98% positive reviews. Metacritic: 100/100.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $24.6 million domestic (as of 1/21/15), $43.8M total.
BUDGET: $4 million.
STATUS: Currently available on home video. Download from Amazon/iTunes/Vudu/Flixster. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray from Netflix. Stream from Amazon/iTunes/Vudu/Flixster.


Four-Warned: November 2014

InterstellarEvery month I’m going to look at every movie on the release schedule and try to assign them a numerical value corresponding to how anxious I am to see it. The lower the number, the more I want to see it. A one means I would walk through hell and high water to see it; a four means there’s no interest whatsoever. The numbers are not arrived at scientifically but they aren’t arbitrary either.

The numbers aren’t a reflection of the artistic merit of any of these films, but merely a reflection of my willingness to go to a movie theater and see it. The top four scores will be gathered as a means of reflecting the movies I’m anticipating the most; you may use that as a guide or not.

Most of the movies will never play theatrically where you live (unless you live in either New York or Los Angeles) but many of those that won’t will be available through Video-on-Demand; check with your local cable or satellite providers to find out if any specific movie is available through that medium.

Each entry is broken down as follows:

NAME OF FILM (Studio) Genre A brief description of the plot. Release plans: Wide = Everywhere, Limited = In selected markets. RATING A brief comment

Keep in mind that release dates are extremely subject to change, even at this late date.

3. BIG HERO 6 (1.5)


RATING SYSTEM: 1) Must-see, 2) Should-see, 3) Perhaps-see, 4) Don’t-see

NOVEMBER 4, 2014

WORST FRIENDS (Level 33) Genre: Romantic Comedy. Badly injured in a car accident, a prankster has only a childhood friend and a physical therapist to help him recover – until his friend’s high school crush moves back in to town. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 Looks mildly interesting.

NOVEMBER 5, 2014

INTERSTELLAR (Paramount) Genre: Science Fiction. With the Earth no longer able to support life, a desperate attempt is made to use a wormhole to find us a new home. Release Strategy: IMAX (expands Standard Wide November 6). RATING: 1.0 The latest from Christopher Nolan looks like an epic science fiction experience.
NATIONAL GALLERY (Zipporah) Genre: Documentary. A fascinating glimpse backstage at London’s National Gallery as administrators argue (politely), docents wax rhapsodic and restorers…erm, restore. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.7 The love that goes into a major museum like this is evident but so is all the work.

NOVEMBER 7, 2014

21 YEARS: RICHARD LINKLATER (Gravitas) Genre: Documentary. The career of the Godfather of Independent Films is examined through interviews and animation. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 Interest in the director is high after the success and likely Oscar nominations of Boyhood.
A MERRY FRIGGIN’ CHRISTMAS (Phase 4) Genre: Comedy. After realizing he left his son’s gifts at home, Boyd takes an 8 hour road trip back home with his eccentric father to make sure his son has a Christmas. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 One of Robin Williams’ last films.
ACTRESS (The Cinema Guild) Genre: Documentary. Brandy Burre, who gave up a role on The Wire to start a family, decides to resume her career even though it might cost her that same family. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 I can’t say as this doesn’t have some fascination but I don’t know that I’m especially eager to see a portrait in narcissism.
THE BETTER ANGELS (Amplify) Genre: Drama. Preparing him for future greatness, the childhood of Abraham Lincoln was difficult and tragic. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.3 Filmed in black and white and produced by Terrence Malick, the movie looks gorgeous and has an impressive cast, enough to make this worth keeping an eye out for.
BIG HERO 6 (Disney) Genre: Animated Feature. In a future megalopolis a boy inventor adapts his robot to take on an insidious menace, joining like-minded teens in a team of high-tech heroes. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D). RATING: 1.5 Marvel’s first animated feature for Disney looks charming and fun.
ELSA AND FRED (Millennium) Genre: Comedy. After his daughter puts a grieving widower into a small apartment, he meets a sassy and vivacious woman who teaches him that however much life he has left deserves to be lived to the fullest. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.3 With a cast that includes Oscar winners Shirley MacLaine, Christopher Plummer and Marcia Gay Harden, how can you go wrong?
FUGLY! (Paladin) Genre: Comedy. Following a near-death experience, a Latino comic is forced to re-evaluate his life and accomplishments. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 John Leguizamo is one of those guys who is always compelling no matter how good the material.
JESSABELLE (Lionsgate) Genre: Horror. Jessabelle returns home after a serious car accident to recuperate only to discover that a malevolent entity there has been waiting for her and doesn’t intend for her to leave – ever. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.7 Very much a Southern Gothic looking movie has been release date shuffled and moved from a wide release to a limited one, making me wonder how much faith the studio has in the film.
THE LOOKALIKE (Well Go USA) Genre: Comedy Thriller. A drug lord’s obsession with a young woman puts in jeopardy a big drug deal when she dies inadvertently, causing his associates to frantically find a lookalike to keep things from going sideways. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.0 Intriguing cast, kind of a goofy premise…this one’s a wait-and-see for me.
ON ANY SUNDAY, THE NEXT CHAPTER (Red Bull Media House) Genre: Documentary. This sequel 30 years after the original shows that motorcycle racing is still a grand passion not only in America but abroad. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.7 The Red Bull logo is EVERYWHERE in the trailer which gives me a good deal of pause when recommending this.
OPEN WINDOWS (Cinedigm) Genre: Thriller. When an actress refuses to honor a commitment to a win-a-date contest, her unscrupulous manager gives the disappointed winner the option of unlimited access to her via hidden webcams, putting both him and her at terrifying risk. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 From promising up-and-coming horror director Nacho Vigalondo comes this modern riff on Rear Window.
THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING (Focus) Genre: Biographical Drama. Stephen Hawking went from a promising British student to a man in the throes of an insidious disease to one of the most brilliant minds of our time. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.6 Could be a career-making role for Eddie Redmayne.
THE WAY HE LOOKS (Strand) Genre: Drama. Fed up with bullying and his over-protected mom, a blind kid determines to study abroad much to the consternation of his best friend but when the student reconsiders after meeting a young man in town, things get even more complicated. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 A Brazilian coming-of-age film set to a soundtrack of Belle and Sebastian; how much more indie can it get?
WEST (Main Street) Genre: Drama. After the mysterious death of her boyfriend, an East German escapes to the West with her young son, only to discover that her past is catching up to her on the other side of the wall. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 Sounds intriguing but unable to locate a trailer online.
WHY DON’T YOU PLAY IN HELL? (Drafthouse) Genre: Action Comedy. In the midst of a yakuza war an ambitious film crew view for the chance to film a live battle to the death. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 A deranged Japanese self-parody over the obsession to make movies.

NOVEMBER 14, 2014

ALWAYS WOODSTOCK (Gravitas) Genre: Musical. An aspiring singer after losing her job and her fiancée pawns her ring and goes home only to find her muse and the love of her life. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.3 Seen this before in other films, although a good young cast including James Wolk, Alison Miller and Rumer Willis gives it one on the plus side.
BAD TURNS WORSE (Starz Digital Media) Genre: Crime Drama. Three teens, partying on stolen money, end up indebted to a sociopathic criminal who forces them to steal from his vicious boss – at which time things go from bad to worse. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.0 Mark Pellegrino makes for a charismatic villain but rest of trailer looked a bit bland.
BEYOND THE LIGHTS (Relativity) Genre: Musical. The latest R&B diva/superstar is crumbling under the pressure until she falls for a local cop assigned to her detail. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.5 A version of The Guardian without Whitney Houston seems kind of pointless.
DUMB AND DUMBER TO (Universal) Genre: Comedy. Lloyd and Harry return after a 20 year absence to find Harry’s daughter – did anyone miss them? Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.4 The Farrelly Brothers, once the toast of Hollywood comedies, now find themselves in sore need of a hit.
FOXCATCHER (Sony Classics) Genre: True Life Drama. An initially supportive but deeply disturbed multi-millionaire sets up a wrestling training center for the Olympics but his efforts only end in tragedy. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 1.0 Said to be a sure thing Best Actor nomination for Steve Carell.
THE HOMESMAN (Roadside Attractions) Genre: Western. Three women on the edge of the American frontier who have been driven mad by the harsh life must be transported to Iowa where a kindly minister will take them in but the journey is a dangerous one. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.3 The latest from Tommy Lee Jones has a cast that includes Meryl Streep and Hilary Swank; will Oscar look past their general disdain for Westerns?
MISS MEADOWS (eOne) Genre: Action. Beneath the refined exterior of a school teacher lies a gun-toting vigilante who believes in correcting bad behavior the hard way. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 A modern revision of a vigilante film with a patina of quirky humor.
OCCUPY THE FARM (Self-Released) Genre: Documentary. Urban farmers in the Berkeley area take on the University of California to protect prime farmland from being sold for development. Release Strategy: New York City (opens in Los Angeles November 21). RATING: 2.2 Asks the very pertinent question who gets to decide what public land is used for.
RED ARMY (Sony Classics) Genre: Sports Documentary. The Red Army hockey team is one of the best in history; their impact on social change in the Soviet Union is largely unknown in the West but is immeasurable. Release Strategy: New York City (expands January 2015). RATING: 1.7 I love hockey but this isn’t strictly speaking about hockey.
ROSEWATER (Open Road) Genre: True Life Drama. A reported for Newsweek is arrested in Iran and held as a spy, tortured but refuses to break. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.4 An inspiring story of personal courage and the triumph of will from director Jon Stewart – yes, THAT Jon Stewart.
SAVING CHRISTMAS (Goldwyn) Genre: Faith-Based Drama. During an office Christmas party, a man realizes his brother-in-law who is unenthusiastic about the holiday needs to be shown the true meaning of Christmas. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 4.0 Strictly for conservative Christians, a present from Kirk Cameron.
WOLVES (Ketchup) Genre: Horror. Fleeing after the brutal murder of his parents which he’s accused of, a popular high schooler searches for answers about who he is and where he comes from. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.7 Not so sure this brings anything new to the werewolf genre.

NOVEMBER 19, 2014

BAD HAIR (Cinema Tropical/FIGA) Genre: Drama. As school picture day approaches, a nine-year-old Venezuelan boy fears he has “bad hair” and wants his frizzy hair straightened. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 3.0 The TIFF trailer is a bit incoherent but it would be interesting to get a glimpse into the slums of Caracas.
PULP: A FILM ABOUT LIFE, DEATH AND SUPERMARKETS (Oscilloscope Laboratories) Genre: Musical Documentary. One of the smartest and quirkiest bands to come from the Britpop movement, they prepare to say goodbye after 25 years with a final concert in their hometown of Sheffield. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.2 Criminally overlooked in the U.S. they are cult favorites in their native Britain.

NOVEMBER 21, 2014

A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT (Kino Lorber) Genre: Horror. In a small Iranian village the people living there are oblivious that there is a vampire in their midst. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.7 A VERY different take on the traditional vampire film and an unfiltered look at small town Iran.
EXTRATERRESTRIAL (IFC Midnight) Genre: Sci-Fi Horror. A young woman goes to her parents vacation cabin to cope with their divorce, bringing along a group of friends to keep her company when they witness the crash of an alien ship – and soon realize that the occupant is still alive. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 While the idea doesn’t seem particularly innovative the execution seems pretty strong judging on the trailer.
THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY – PART 1 (Lionsgate) Genre: Science Fiction. Panem erupts into civil war and Katniss becomes a symbol for the resistance but President Snow will stop at nothing to keep her out of this larger game. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.3 Maybe the best of the young adult book franchises except for Potter.
THE MULE (XLRator) Genre: Crime Comedy. Based on actual events, an Australian drug mule captured by the police decides to retain the product in his stomach in order to conceal the evidence. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 Just. Friggin. Weird.
REACH ME (Millennium) Genre: Drama. When a motivational book by a mysterious author goes viral it affects a disparate group of people in different ways. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 An impressive cast but movies about self-help books that revolutionize people’s lives always seem to end up being a bit of a circle jerk.
VHS: VIRAL (Magnolia) Genre: Horror Anthology. A group of fame-obsessed teens unwittingly become the stars of a viral video that they may not survive. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.7 In all honesty some of these anthologies can be real hit or miss but this one looks to be honest-to-God scarier than hell.

NOVEMBER 26, 2014

HORRIBLE BOSSES 2 (New Line) Genre: Comedy. The three losers from the first movie have gone into business for themselves only to find that business has been stolen out from under them, forcing them to turn back to a criminal act to set things right. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.6 Somehow doesn’t look quite as funny as the first film but given the talent onscreen am still optimistic this might be worth checking out.
PENGUINS OF MADAGASCAR (DreamWorks Animation) Genre: Animated Feature. The lovable title creatures go on an adventure of their own, filled with mystery, intrigue and snacks. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D). RATING: 2.4 The best part of the Madagascar franchise might be way better than those movies if we’re lucky.

NOVEMBER 28, 2014

THE BABADOOK (IFC Midnight) Genre: Horror. A mother struggles with her six-year-old boy but the sinister presence of a storybook monster may turn out to be real and threatening them both. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.3 One of the most acclaimed films to come out of this year’s Florida Film Festival.
BEFORE I DISAPPEAR (IFC) Genre: Drama. In the midst of committing suicide, a junkie gets an urgent call from his sister to babysit her daughter. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.2 One of my favorite films from this year’s Florida Film Festival, you can read my review of it here.
THE IMITATION GAME (Weinstein) Genre: Biographical Drama. During World War II, genius mathematician Alan Turing is called upon to break the unbreakable code – Enigma. Release Strategy: Limited . RATING: 1.9 More possible Oscar consideration for Benedict Cumberbatch.

Interstellar, Big Hero 6, The Theory of Everything, Foxcatcher, The Imitation Game, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, Horrible Bosses 2, The Penguins of Madagascar

Before I Disappear

When you're a junkie in New York, the surreality never ends.

When you’re a junkie in New York, the surreality never ends.

(2014) Drama (Fuzzy Logic) Shawn Christensen, Fatima Ptacek, Emmy Rossum, Paul Wesley, Ron Perlman, Richard Schiff, Joseph Perrino, Isabelle McNally, Joseph DeVito, Hani Avital, James Chen, Greg Connolly, Anthoula Katsimatides, Josh Mann, Sean Ringgold, James Andrew O’Connor, Patrick Miller, Jacqui Denski, Stephanie Kurtzuba, Roseanne Ludwigson. Directed by Shawn Christensen

Florida Film Festival 2014

Out of our life choices comes our life; those choices tend to define who we are and not only in the eyes of others. We are what we do. That doesn’t mean that our worst life choices can’t be redeemed but it’s never easy. Sometimes it takes a really bad night for us to find redemption, especially if we’re not particularly looking for it.

Richie (Christensen) is the very poster boy for “loser” – a New York City junkie. He makes what meager money he can by cleaning toilets in a hip club with underworld connections that don’t quite pay his debts and barely pay for his drugs. He lives in a POS apartment that even a cockroach might turn its nose up at – assuming cockroaches have noses which I don’t think they do. But I digress.

Late one night he makes a terrible discovery in one of the bathroom stalls, the kind of discovery that can shut a club down even if it’s connected. His hamfisted boss Bill (Perlman) encourages him not to speak of what he has seen and as a gift he gives him some heroin.

Richie may be a junkie but he understands the streets. He knows what’s what and he knows that his boss intends for him to take the heroin and die. Richie still has a little pride left however; he’s going to slit his own wrists. Ha ha on you, Bill.

As Richie soaks in the tub waiting for the end to come the phone rings. More as a Pavlovian reflex than anything else, he answers it – it’s his sister, Maggie (Rossum) whom he has been estranged from and hasn’t spoken to in years. She’s desperate – she’s been detained and has no one to pick up her daughter Sophie (Ptacek) from school. Maggie is shrill and nearly hysterical and so Richie rouses himself, bandages himself up with packing tape and plods off to save the day.

In the course of a day into the wee hours of the morning, Sophie will accompany Richie from the refined apartments and schools of the hoi polloi to the seediest underbelly of skid row. Sophie, smart and driven, is used to having her schedule planned to the tick. Richie is used to things going wrong. The two couldn’t be further apart on the evolutionary scale if Richie sprouted a tail and hung from trees by his toes. Yet somehow, they find that blood really is thicker than water and that not every winner has it all, nor every loser without redeeming qualities.

That sounds like typical Hollywood crap no doubt; two opposites coming together and making of each other something better than they were. Christensen does it so skillfully here however, so organically that you believe every sordid second of it. Part of the reason this works is that Christensen was wise enough to cast himself in the lead. Perhaps that sounds more like ego than wisdom but trust me, it’s not ego when you deliver. Christensen has that look of a puppy whose been kicked too many times by a cruel master. That cruel master in Richie’s case is life itself.

Throughout the movie, Richie is writing a suicide note to Vista (McNally), his girlfriend who he has been separated from. It’s never explicitly stated, but I get the sense that Vista has preceded Richie into the great beyond and that’s part of Richie’s motivation for wanting to slit his wrists. Still, his little niece gives him a reason to delay that trip at least for a little while.

The chemistry between Ptacek and Christensen is also genuine. Ptacek is a mature actress, much more so than you would think from someone of her tender years. Sophie has a great deal of strength on the surface, but beneath the veneer she’s a lonely little girl who wants to make her mommy proud. The part is equal parts sass and vulnerability and Ptacek pulls both off masterfully.

Schiff, Perlman and Rossum are all veterans who have a trio of fine resumes; other than Rossum, none of them are on screen much but they make the most of their time and give the film a little more cache than it might have otherwise.

Before I Disappear is essentially the extension of Christensen’s Oscar-winning live-action short Curfew which introduces the characters in a very similar situation. Ptacek and Christensen both appear in it, although there is a different actress playing Maggie. Still, when you can get someone like Emmy Rossum who to her credit is doing a much different role than we’re used to seeing from her.

This is a keeper, folks. It’s one of those movies that has just enough levity to keep from being dreary, but is serious enough to retain authenticity. It will put you through an emotional wringer and make you care about Richie and Sophie and even Maggie who can be quite bitchy. While some may not appreciate the sleazy element and the glimpse at a very sordid part of the world, one can’t help but think that this could be the kind of film that inspires an entire movement – call it modern noir if you like. Just be sure and give me the credit when you do.

REASONS TO GO: Gritty. Well-performed all around. Terrific story. Christensen amazing in lead.

REASONS TO STAY: Might be too rough for some.

FAMILY VALUES:  A whole lot of foul language, disturbing images, drug use, violence and brief sexuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Debuted at this year’s South by Southwest where it won the Audience Award.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/12/14: Rotten Tomatoes: no score yet. Metacritic: no score yet.



NEXT: Le Chef

2014 Florida Film Festival Begins Tonight!

Florida Film Festival 2014Tonight the 2014 Florida Film Festival gets underway and it promises to be a good one. Cinema365 looks forward to this event every year and this year is no exception. 170 feature films and shorts from all over the globe as well as just around the corner will take all our attention for the next nine days and nights.

My own personal recommendations include Before I Disappear, a feature based on the Oscar-nominated short Curfew. This was screened for critics a couple of weeks ago and although I never saw the short, I was impressed with the depth of emotion and passion in this film. It’s a sure winner this year. Also, you might keep a look out for Joe which stars Nicolas Cage in a return to the indie wunderboy form that marked his early years as an actor. Documentary fans should check out The Kill Team which looks at the squadron of soldiers courtmartialed for killing Afghan civilians for sport; it may well be the very best film of this year’s festival.

We’ll be there to cover all of those and plenty more. So many films that our coverage will extend well past the festival’s end. Each movie playing the festival this year will get the Festival logo on the review, even if the review is published after the festival is history. If you haven’t been to a film festival, this is the one to see – it’s where filmmakers, stars and fans hang out in one big fun party atmosphere.

Well, I’m off to the Regal for the opening night festivities and the opening night film A Trip to Italy starring Steve Coogan. Hope to see you all there or in the upcoming nine days!

Florida Film Festival 2014

Florida Film Festival 2014Last night, the Florida Film Festival announced their line-up for 2014 and it is another impressive one. The Festival will run from April 4 through April 13 this year and 170 feature films and shorts are on this year’s menu. While we won’t be previewing all of them, this is just a taste of some of the films you can expect to see.

Last year’s opening night film, 20 Feet From Stardom, went on to win an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature and opening night guests were wowed by one of the film’s stars, Merry Clayton (the female voice on the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter”) crooning a sensual and amazing version of Leon Russell’s “A Song for You.” While that set an awfully high bar, this year’s opening film has plenty of quality of its own. A Trip to Italy is the sequel to 2010’s The Trip and returns stars Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon as well as director Michael Winterbottom. Once again Coogan and Brydon play versions of themselves, sent to write restaurant reviews but this time not in the North of England but in Italy. They kept audiences in stitches with their impressions and comedic routines but deep down there was a story that kept the interest of the readers. I can’t wait to see what they do in the sequel.

Ernest and Celestine netted an Oscar nomination of its own for Best Animated Feature at the recent Academy Awards and while it lost to Frozen this story about the unlikely friendship between a bear and a mouse is sure to delight children of every age. The British crime comedy Dom Hemingway stars Jude Law as a safe cracker newly released from prison who wants to reconnect with his daughter and settle his debts but that proves to be a proposition far less easy than it sounds. For No Good Reason documents artist Ralph Steadman’s remarkable career, his collaborations with writers Hunter S. Thompson and William Burroughs and of course his unsettling and iconic drawings. Johnny Depp hosts this passion project. 

Joe is the latest from director David Gordon Green and stars Nicolas Cage as a rough and tumble ex-con with a hair-trigger temper who falls in with a young boy whose life has been at least as hard luck as his own. The ex-con takes a liking to the boy who finds in Joe a father figure which doesn’t sit too well with the boy’s actual father. This is said to be one of Cage’s best performances in years and might just elevate him out of the poor reputation he’s had in recent years. The Double is a stylish modernization of the Dostoevsky novella in which a shy and abused young worker, played by Jesse Eisenberg, has his life taken over by a brash and manipulative doppelganger, also played by Eisenberg. 

Gabrielle is a French-Canadian romance about a developmentally challenged woman’s quest to assert her independence. Obvious Child tackles the controversial subject of abortion as a young stand-up comedian finds her life turned upside down by an unexpected pregnancy. Before I Disappear chronicles a despondent young man’s attempts to commit suicide marred by his responsibility to babysit his niece. In Words and Pictures stars Clive Owens and Juliette Binoche play teachers of English and Art who in an effort to inspire students who couldn’t care less declare a war between words and images. Cheatin’ is the newest animated feature by Oscar winning animator Bill Plympton – ’nuff said. 

Crimes Against Humanity pairs a woman whose pet rabbit has died and who has been hospitalized with frequent nosebleeds with a pompous boyfriend whose investigation of sexual escapades at the university he works at becomes an obsession. In I Believe in Unicorns a woman with a vivid imagination falls for a skateboarding punk and chooses to run away with him, leaving her disabled mother behind. Doomsdays covers two slackers who convinced the apocalypse is just around the corner take to squatting in vacant Catskills vacations homes until the food runs out or they are chased off. The addition of two other would-be squatters changes the dynamic irrevocably. This year’s Audience Award winner at Slamdance was Copenhagen, a voyage of discovery of a young man who journeys to the Danish capital to discover his last living relative and finds love instead. Last I Heard stars Paul Sorvino as a mob boss who returns from prison to find that his gang has become inconsequential and the world a far different place than he left it. 

No No: A Dockumentary follows the fabled career of Pittsburgh Pirate pitcher Dock Ellis who famously pitched a no-hitter while tripping on LSD in 1970. How he overcame his addictions and reached out to help others in similar straits is one of baseball’s great untold stories. Levitated Mass is a fascinating look at artist Michael Heizer’s monumental task of transporting a 340 ton boulder from a Southern California quarry to the L.A. County Museum of Art and creating a media and social sensation in the process. American Jesus examines the pervasive Christianity in all it’s different forms and effects on American culture as seen through the eyes of a Spaniard. 

Mail order brides is the subject of Love Me as the documentary filmmaker follows several relationships that were established in that manner and discovers that they aren’t all you might think. Mission Congo details the abuses of an American televangelist in the Congo following the Rwandan genocide under the guise of humanitarian aid. The Sacrament is the latest from horror auteur Ti West and covers a filmmaking crew’s descent into the hellish secret of a Utopian religious cult during a documentary shoot. The Babadook was one of the films at this year’s Sundance that got a great deal of attention; in it a single mom reads to her son from a mysterious storybook which prompts strange and frightening occurrences in their home.

Chu and Blossom stars Ryan O’Nan, Mercedes Ruehl and Melanie Lynskey in a story about  a unique Korean exchange student adjusting to life in the United States. After Winter, Spring is a loving tribute to a way of life that is rapidly disappearing – the French family farm. Led Zeppelin Played Here looks into a mythic concert that may or may not have taken place. 

In addition to new movies, there are some classics that will be available at the Festival this year including the Oscar-winning murder mystery Murder on the Orient Express with an all-star cast, The Big Lebowski which is one of the Coen Brothers’ classics, the Italian thriller Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion and the James Bond classic Goldfinger

There are usually celebrities involved at Film Festivals and the FFF has had their share. Not all of the celebrity attendees have been confirmed at press time but two who are on the list for 2014 include Paul Sorvino who will be in attendance on Friday April 11 for the screening of his new film Last I Heard and Giancarlo Esposito for a screening of Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing in celebration of the film’s 25th anniversary.

That’s just a rundown of some of the films that will be on the docket for this year’s Festival. There are also panel discussions and of course the legendary parties that the Festival throws every year.Ticket packages and passes are on sale now at the website (just click on the logo above to go directly there) and individual film tickets will be on sale Saturday, March 15th. 

This promises to be another memorable Festival and if you’ve never been, you owe it to yourself to go and experience it firsthand. Words can’t describe the experience but it is fun, engaging and unforgettable. Filmmakers and celebrities rub elbows with film fans at the Festival and you never know who you will run into while grabbing a drink at the Eden Bar at the Enzian. It might even be me.

As always, movies from the festival will have the Festival logo above attached to the review to mark it as a proud participant in the 2014 Festival. Cinema365 will cover the Festival from beginning to end and beyond – last year we posted over 50 reviews of Festival films and related events and we should be in the same neighborhood this year. This is one event that I look forward to all year long and as we get closer to opening night, the excitement is building exponentially. This truly is one of the great Film Festivals in the country – it has been ranked as one of the 50 best in the entire world by IndieWire and the top 25 coolest in the country by MovieMaker magazine. That isn’t by accident; while I do tend to gush about the Festival it is really a unique event. If you love movies – and even if you don’t love ’em but just love to socialize – this is your event. Get your tickets now – you’ll thank me for it later.