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.

HONORABLE MENTION

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.

The Lunchbox (Dabba)


Irrfan Khan reads his fan mail.

Irrfan Khan reads his fan mail.

(2014) Drama (Sony Classics) Irrfan Khan, Nimrat Kaur, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Lillete Dubey, Nakul Vaid, Bharati Achrekar (voice), Yashvi Puneet Nagar, Denzil Smith, Shruti Bapna, Nasir Khan, Lokesh Raj, Sadashiv Knodaji Pokarkar, Aarti Rathod, Krishna Bai, Raj Rishi More, Santosh Kumar Chauraslya, Swapnil Sinha, Baaburao Sankpal. Directed by Ritesh Batra

There is something about human nature that demands connection. We need to have it almost as much as we need to eat and drink. Without it, we wither away like a flower that receives no water. That connection must be genuine, too – it is far too easy to be alone in a crowd.

Ila (Kaur) diligently prepares lunch for her husband Rajeev (Vaid). She gets advice on how to make her meal more delicious from her Auntie (Achrekar) who lives upstairs and helpfully sends spices down in a basket through the kitchen window, a kind of makeshift dumbwaiter. Every afternoon, a dabbawallah picks up her lunch, compactly stored in aluminum containers stacked in a canvas bag, and delivers it to her husband’s office. In Mumbai, millions of these lunches are delivered each day from homes and restaurants. Researchers from Harvard University once observed and analyzed their system and discovered that only one in a million deliveries ever went to the wrong address.

My savvy readers can guess where this is going. Ila’s lunch is mis-delivered to the office of Saajan Fernandes, a government bureaucrat who is getting ready to retire. He’s kind of a prickly sort and has been since his wife passed away. Shaikh (Siddiqui), a young go-getter, has been tapped to replace him and is eager to be trained in the job. Shaikh is a bit of a butt-kisser and this irritates Saajan terribly, so he finds ways of avoiding his overeager replacement.

The lunch he receives from Ila is delicious – much more so than the bland and lifeless crap he normally gets from the local restaurant. Saajan devours the entire contents of the lunchbox and sends it back empty to Ila who is pleased. Rajeev almost never eats all of the lunch she sends him, returning part or sometimes all of it. Thinking she has pleased her husband, she makes herself look as pretty as she can (which is dang beautiful indeed) and waits for him to come home.

To her dismay, when he returns home it’s the same thing – a cold distance between him and his desultory response to her questions about the meal make it clear he hadn’t eaten a morsel of it. Puzzled, she sends her next lunchbox out with a note hidden in the naan bread. Saajan finds the note and is intrigued, responding back. Soon the two are corresponding back and forth, their anonymity allowing them to be more confessional than they would normally be. These two lonely people – Saajan alone without company, Ila in a loveless marriage – form an unexpected bond.

In fact, loneliness is a theme in the movie. All three of the main characters – while Shaikh is preparing to get married, he is an orphan who has no family at all – are lonely in some way. It is the communication between Saajan and Ila that transforms the three of them. We can see the anonymous messages left with the naan as a kind of metaphor for modern social media, how we as a society have become more dependent on anonymous faceless communication with people we don’t know on Facebook and services like it, sharing intimate things about our lives with people we’ve never been in the same continent with. It is a fascinating phenomenon when you think about it and speaks to our own need for communication and connection more eloquently than anything I could possibly write.

Khan is one of India’s most respected and beloved actors, having made something of a splash here in this country as well, albeit mainly in supporting roles. Here you get to see him at his best; his eyes communicate his misery and loneliness even though he demonstrates great compassion through all his grumpy exterior. It really is an amazing performance and were he a western actor, this movie would undoubtedly have been released in the fall for Oscar consideration. Still, perhaps someone will take notice and we will get to see more of this wonderful actor.

Kaur has been nominated for acting awards for her performance here which stands up even with Khan at his best, which is saying something. Not only is she a spectacular beauty, she manages to convey the stress of her situation through tired eyes. She manages to be a loving mother to her daughter and a loving daughter to her mother (Dubey) even as Ila’s father (N. Khan) is dying of lung cancer. It’s an affecting performance.

Granted the plot is essentially light and fluffy, but then remember this is the country of Bollywood and light and fluffy entertainment is really their hallmark, but there is depth here that likewise reminds us that this is also the country that produced Satyajit Ray. While this isn’t quite to the standards of that master’s work, it does serve to remind us that like Indian cuisine, Indian cinema can have unexpected moments that make us re-evaluate our opinions of what it is we’re consuming. This is truly a film worth seeking out if you can.

REASONS TO GO: Sexy but not overtly so. Kaur is absolutely gorgeous and both she and Khan provide moving performances. The food looks really yummy!

REASONS TO STAY: Somewhat lightweight. The ending was ambiguous which may be unsatisfying for some.

FAMILY VALUES:  The tone and material may be a bit too adult for small children.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Irrfan Khan, one of India’s most respected actors, is best-known in the U.S. for his appearances in The Amazing Spider-Man and Life of Pi.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/23/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 96% positive reviews. Metacritic: 76/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Same Time, Next Year

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

NEXT: Oculus

New Releases for the Week of April 18, 2014


Transcendence

TRANSCENDENCE

(Warner Brothers) Johnny Depp, Paul Bettany, Rebecca Hall, Kate Mara, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy, Cole Hauser, Clifton Collins Jr., Lukas Haas. Directed by Wally Pfister

A brilliant A.I. engineer is on the verge of a game-changing breakthrough when he is shot with a radioactive bullet by members of an anti-technology group. His wife and best friend know his only chance for survival is to finish his experiment – to download his intelligence and essence into a computer. Unsure about the ethics of such an endeavor, they nonetheless proceed – and soon discover their worst fears being realized.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, promos and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, IMAX (opens Thursday)

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: PG-13 (for sci-fi action and violence, some bloody images, brief strong language and sensuality)

2 States

(UTV) Arjun Kapoor, Alia Bhatt, Amrita Singh, Revathy. A Punjabi boy and a Tamil girl face overwhelming obstacles in trying to get their parents to allow a marriage between the two of them. This is based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Chetan Bhagat.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

Bears

(DisneyNature) John C. Reilly (voice). Follows two new mama bears in the rugged, majestic and often dangerous terrain of Alaska as they try to teach their cubs everything they need to know to survive – while protecting them from the many dangers of the Alaskan wilderness.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Nature Documentary

Rating: G

A Haunted House 2

(Open Road) Marlon Wayans, Gabriel Iglesias, Jaime Pressly, Essence Atkins. After exorcising the demons from his last girlfriend, a man starts fresh with his new girlfriend and her two children in a new house. Unfortunately, supernatural trouble follows him as he starts to realize that it may not be the house that’s haunted – maybe it IS him!

See the trailer, interviews, clips and B-Roll video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Horror Spoof

Rating: R (for crude and sexual content, nudity, pervasive language, drug use and some violent images)

Heaven is For Real

(Tri-Star) Greg Kinnear, Kelly Reilly, Margo Martindale, Thomas Haden Church. Based on actual events, this details the story of a young boy who lies near death’s door and makes a miraculous recovery. When he comes to, he claims he has been to heaven and while there are those who are skeptical, his pastor father is disturbed that his son knows things that happened before he was born – things he couldn’t possibly know, providing a challenge to his faith and his beliefs.

See the trailer, clips, featurettes, interviews and B-Roll video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opened Wednesday)

Genre: Faith-Based Drama

Rating: PG (for thematic material including some medical situations)

Le Week-End

(Music Box) Jim Broadbent, Lindsay Duncan, Jeff Goldblum, Judith Davis. A British company, married for umpteen years, returns to the scene of the crime – their honeymoon in Paris. Trying to rekindle the romance that has been missing from their relationship, they succeed and then some as the romance of the City of Lights takes hold.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for language and some sexual content)

Lotoman 003

(Panamericana) Dalisa Alegria, Fernando Carrillo, Julian Gil, Fausto Mata. This hit comedy franchise from the Dominican Republic makes it’s American debut in select theaters in the U.S.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: NR

The Lunchbox

(Sony Classics) Irrfan Khan, Nimrat Kaur, Nakul Vaid, Lillette Dubey.A frustrated housewife cooks lunch for her increasingly distant husband. When her lunchbox is inadvertently sent to the wrong recipient, a correspondence ensues between two lonely souls.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romance

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic material and smoking)

Make Your Move

(High Top) Derek Hough, BoA, Wesley Jonathan, Will Yun Lee.Two young people from completely different worlds meet in one of New York’s hottest underground clubs and discover that they have common ground in dance.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Urban Dance

Rating: PG-13 (for language including sexual references, and brief violence)

Race Gurram

(Ficus) Shruti K. Haasan, Ravi Kishan, Prikash Raj, Allu Arjun. Two brothers who are polar opposites and constantly squabble and play increasingly spiteful pranks on one another are forced to unite when a corrupt politician wants revenge against the one brother who contested his election.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

Under the Skin

(A24) Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy McWilliams, Lynsey Taylor Mackay, Dougie McConnell.  An alien masquerades as a human woman, using her amazing sexuality to snare human prey. As she spends more time on Earth however, she begins to change as she finds the complexity and joy of human life irresistible, putting her on a collision course with her own kind.

See the trailer, featurettes and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Sci-Fi Thriller

Rating: R (for graphic nudity, sexual content, some violence and language)

Four-Warned: February 2014


The Monuments MenEvery 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.

FOUR TO SEE
1. THE MONUMENTS MEN (1.1)
2. WINTER’S TALE (1.2)
3. WELCOME TO YESTERDAY (1.3)
4. NON-STOP (1.4)

FOUR TO SEEK OUT (FILMS NOT IN WIDE RELEASE)
1. THE WIND RISES (1.3)
2. A FANTASTIC FEAR OF EVERYTHING (1.5)
3. THE LUNCHBOX (1.6)
TIE. REPENTANCE (1.6)

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

FEBRUARY 4, 2014

SCORNED (Anchor Bay) Genre: Horror. While on a romantic weekend with her boyfriend, a woman discovers he’s having an affair with her best friend and spirals into an uncontrollable rage and lust for revenge. Release Strategy: VOD only. RATING: 2.2 Clearly a play on the “hell hath no fury” thing.

FEBRUARY 7, 2014

7 BOXES (Shoreline) Genre: Action. A wheelbarrow delivery boy in a busy Mexican market makes a delivery that will involve him in a crime of which he has no knowledge. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 IndieWire described it as “Fast and Furious with wheelbarrows;” who knew the world needed a movie like that.
A FANTASTIC FEAR OF EVERYTHING (Indomina) Genre: Comedy. When a children’s book author becomes a crime novelist and researches Victorian-era serial killers, his life becomes infused with paranoia and intrigue. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.5 If Simon Pegg is starring in it, I’m already halfway in the door.
A FIELD IN ENGLAND (Drafthouse) Genre: Horror. Deserters from a battle during the Second English Civil War find themselves running into a horror far worse than the one they left. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 An atmospheric period piece from the director of the excellent Sightseers.
AFTER THE DARK (Phase 4) Genre: Thriller. 20 college students, confronted by imminent nuclear catastrophe, must decide which ten of them will enter an underground shelter and reboot the human race. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.8 Actually looks kind of fascinating and thought-provoking.
CAVEMEN (Well Go USA) Genre: Romantic Comedy. After years of meaningless one-night-stands, an L.A. ladies man looks for true love – which is incredibly difficult to find. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 Didn’t see anything in the trailer that would indicate that this is any different than a thousand other rom-coms out there.
HASEE TOH PHASEE (Reliance) Genre: Bollywood. In order to prove his love to his betrothed, a young man puts her sister up in his house – and quickly becomes closer to the sister. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.1 No, I don’t get it either.
KIDS FOR CASH (SenArt) Genre: Documentary. While a small town celebrates a strict judge who means to keep the kids of the town in line, one parent dares to stand up and question his motives. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.7 An indictment of the judicial system working hand-in-hand with for-profit prison systems.
THE LEGO MOVIE (Warner Brothers) Genre: Animated Feature. An ordinary LEGO mini-figure is mistaken for a hero and ends up hanging out with Batman, Wonder Woman and all the LEGO heroes. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.8 There is some appeal here but damned if I can put my finger on it.
LOVE AND AIR SEX (Tribeca) Genre: Romantic Comedy. A depressed man recovering from a breakup flies to Austin in order to “accidentally” run into his ex but instead runs into another couple breaking up who are hell-bent on keeping him and his ex from getting back together. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.1 Kind of confirms my theory that young people have far too much time on their hands.
THE MONUMENTS MEN (Columbia) Genre: Historical Drama. A group of art experts at the conclusion of World War II try to save art and architectural treasures stolen by the Nazis from being destroyed. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.1 Thought this was going to be an Oscar contender for last year but still looking forward to seeing this big time!
NURSE 3D (Lionsgate) Genre: Thriller. Living a double life, a nurse develops an unhealthy obsession with a beautiful young colleague. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 Paz de la Huerta like you’ve never seen her before; this looks very sexy but kind of unchallenging.
THE OUTSIDER (RLJ/Image) Genre: Action. A British mercenary searches for his missing daughter and discovers that a corrupt cyber-billionaire may be at the center of the mystery. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.3 I’m always up for seeing James Caan, but Craig Fairbrass looks like an action star in the making.
THE PRETTY ONE (DADA) Genre: Drama. When a beautiful young woman dies in a car accident, her wallflower of an identical twin takes over her identity. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.7 Zoe Kazan is an up-and-coming actress who has a brilliant future ahead of her.
SOMEONE MARRY BARRY (FilmBuff) Genre: Romantic Comedy. Attempts to find a trio of friends woefully socially inappropriate friend a wife backfires when his new girlfriend turns out to be just like him. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 Tyler Labine has been a guilty pleasure of mine ever since I first saw him in Reaper.
VAMPIRE ACADEMY (Weinstein) Genre: Young Adult. Attending the academy to learn to protect a member of vampire royalty, a human girl becomes embroiled in a far-reaching conspiracy. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.8 Shouldn’t this be a series on the CW?
WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE (Cinedigm) Genre: Action Comedy. Office drones trapped on an island during a corporate retreat led by a psychotic ex-Marine must find a way to survive…despite themselves. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.0 JCVD as the villain and a pretty decent cast as the cubicle losers…might be worth a look.

FEBRUARY 12, 2014

THE NEW BLACK (Self-Released) Genre: Documentary. Examines the thorny issue of gay marriage in the black community and how the right wing are using faith as a means of pursuing their agenda. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 Draws interesting parallels between the current fight for Gay Marriage and the Civil Rights movement; I may have to check this one out.
ROBOCOP (Columbia/MGM) Genre: Science Fiction. Critically injured in the line of duty, a cop is reborn as a cyborg law enforcement but he isn’t willing to give up his free will without a fight. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, IMAX). RATING: 1.7 A remake of a beloved 1987 Paul Verhoeven film that looks like it might actually hold up to the original…let’s hope.

FEBRUARY 14, 2014

ABOUT LAST NIGHT (Screen Gems) Genre: Romantic Comedy. Chronicles the relationships of two new couples from the first meeting into the bedroom and then into real life. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.6 A remake of a forgettable 80s rom-com with an African-American cast; I don’t think even Kevin Hart can save this one.
ADULT WORLD (IFC) Genre: Comedy. A would-be poet has to take a job in a sex shop to make ends meet. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 Could be pedestrian faux-sex comedy fare but looks to be elevated by the great John Cusack.
DATE AND SWITCH (Lionsgate) Genre: Comedy. A pair of high school seniors make a pact to help each other score before the prom – until one of them reveals that he’s gay. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.8 What starts out as a typical high school sex comedy turns into a funny movie about acceptance; I wish it luck but talk about an uphill battle.
DOWN AND DANGEROUS (Artis) Genre: Thriller. An expert drug smuggler must find a way to extricate himself and a beautiful woman from his past from a sticky situation. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 I’m not sure that this is as badass as it thinks it is.
EASY MONEY: HARD TO KILL (Cinedigm) Genre: Action. After doing time for drug smuggling, a paroled convict finds going straight is much harder than he thought. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 Indistinguishable from a dozen other films like it.
ENDLESS LOVE (Universal) Genre: Romance. Based on the 70s Brooke Shields film, a guy from the wrong side of the tracks woos a beautiful woman from a wealthy family, much to her father’s displeasure. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.0 Can’t say as it looks like it adds anything to the original film.
GIRL ON A BICYCLE (Monterey Media) Genre: Romantic Comedy. A bus driver in Paris falls for a beautiful woman on a bicycle until he accidentally hits her with his bus. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 Once again proof that there is nothing quite so French as a sex farce – even when the players are members of a variety of European Union countries.
GUNDAY (Yash Raj) Genre: Bollywood. Two boys rise from abject poverty to become Calcutta’s most beloved crime lords in the 70s. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.7 I still have trouble wrapping my head around what appears to be a gritty crime thriller interrupted by big musical numbers.
JIMMY P. (IFC) Genre: Drama. The story of the relationship between a French psychologist and a member of the Blackfoot tribe who suffered from psychological issues following World War II. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.8 This might be one of Benicio del Toro’s most electric performances.
THE RETURNED (levelFILM) Genre: Horror. A treatment for zombies that allows them to live relatively normally begins to run low, causing worldwide chaos. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 A Spanish take on the zombie flick with a very interesting premise.
WINTER’S TALE (Warner Brothers) Genre: Romantic Fantasy. Love blossoms during an epic battle between good and evil that spans a century. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.2 A fine cast that includes Colin Farrell, Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly has me intrigued.

FEBRUARY 19, 2014

CHILD’S POSE (Zeitgeist) Genre: Thriller. An upper class Romanian mother does whatever she can to keep her 30-year-old son out of jail after a car crash takes a life. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 1.9 Further testimony that Romanian cinema is some of the world’s best.

FEBRUARY 21, 2014

3 DAYS TO KILL (Relativity) Genre: Action. A dying CIA Agent agrees to take on one last mission in order to obtain a radical cure for his disease finds it to be making a deal with the devil. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.6 Kevin Costner is undergoing a bit of a career renaissance at the moment and I’m eager to see what he does with this.
BAREFOOT (Roadside Attractions) Genre: Romance. The black sheep of a wealthy family takes a free-spirited, charming girl as his guest to his brother’s wedding where she impresses everyone – especially him. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 Looks a lot better than I thought it might be; we’ll have to give this one a look.
ELAINE STRITCH: SHOOT ME (Sundance Selects) Genre: Documentary. One of Broadway’s greatest treasures and most treasured gadflies is still breathing fire at age 87. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 From the golden age of Broadway to now, Elaine Stritch has been a part of it all.
HIGHWAY (UTV) Genre: Drama. A beautiful young bride, abducted just before her wedding, is caught in the middle of a game of chicken between the gang that has her and her wealthy and powerful father. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.7 Stockholm Syndrome, Bollywood-style.
HOLY GHOST PEOPLE (XLRator) Genre: Thriller. Searching for her lost sister in the Appalachian mountains, a teenager runs into a snake-handling cult who knows about her sister’s fate. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 Looks absolutely creepy.
IN SECRET (Roadside Attractions) Genre: Comedy. A sexually repressed Parisian woman trapped in a loveless marriage embarks on a tragic affair. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 A stellar cast headlines this latest lushly-filmed version of the classic Therese Raquin.
OMAR (Adopt) Genre: Drama. Deeply in love with the alluring Nadia, a young Palestinian man risks everything that he stands for. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 There are a lot of movies coming out of this region detailing the difficulties of daily life; I’m not so sure this one distinguishes itself particularly.
POMPEII (Tri-Star) Genre: Swords and Sandals. A gladiator in Pompeii fights corrupt politicians to win the heart of his lover but an erupting volcano may put paid all his ambitions. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D). RATING: 1.5 Could be really good but Paul W.S. Anderson hasn’t put out a movie on this scale that has really moved me.
THE WIND RISES (Touchstone/Studio Ghibli) Genre: Anime. A nearsighted young man dreams of flight and becomes the designer of amazing aircraft. Release Strategy: Limited (expands February 28). RATING: 1.3 Set to be legendary director Hayao Miyazaki’s last feature.

FEBRUARY 25, 2014

SILENT BUT DEADLY (Indican) Genre: Horror. The residents of a retirement home are being stalked and murdered. Who is doing it…and why? Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.3 I will admit that the cast, including Dawn Wells and Lee Meriwether is intriguing but the trailer looks cheesy as hell.

FEBRUARY 28, 2014

THE BAG MAN (Cinedigm) Genre: Crime Thriller. Several lowlifes are summoned to a remote bayou motel by a crime boss for reasons unknown. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 You had me at “starring John Cusack and Robert De Niro.”
HAIRBRAINED (Vertical) Genre: Comedy. A Harvard reject strikes up an unlikely friendship at his second choice school. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.2 Along the lines of an Accepted only with an insufferable lead.
THE LUNCHBOX (Sony Classics) Genre: Drama. Through an inadvertent mis-delivery of a lunchbox, a young housewife is connected to an aging man who constructs a fantasy world through exchanged notes. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 1.6 Looks amazingly charming; the kind of movie that represents the best of Indian cinema.
NON-STOP (Universal) Genre: Thriller. A Federal Air Marshal, battling a fiendishly clever killer whose designs may be more than mere ransom, finds that he is the chief suspect in the crime. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.4 Liam Neeson in an action thriller? Slam dunk!
REPENTANCE (CODEBLACK) Genre: Psychological Thriller. A life coach with a controversial philosophy finds himself in the crosshairs of a deeply troubled client. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.6 Awesome cast and looks like edge-of-the-seat thrills.
SON OF GOD (20th Century Fox) Genre: Faith. The makers of the hit TV series The Bible turn to the big screen to capture the life of Jesus Christ. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.0 I have some reservations about this and not all of them are rational.
STALINGRAD (Sony Classics) Genre: War. Starving and desperate, Russian soldiers try to hold the city of Stalingrad from a determined and disciplined German foe. Release Strategy: IMAX 3D. RATING: 2.1 A true epic seen through Russian eyes.
WELCOME TO YESTERDAY (Paramount) Genre: Found Footage Sci-Fi. A group of teens manage to assemble a time machine one of their fathers had invented with catastrophic results. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.3 Could be really good…or could be REALLY bad.

SCHEDULED TO BE REVIEWED HERE AS NEW RELEASES
The LEGO Movie, The Monuments Men, RoboCop, Endless Love, Winter’s Tale, 3 Days to Kill, Pompeii, The Wind Rises, Non-Stop, Welcome to Yesterday