Tag Archives: The Criterion Collection

Best Movies of 2014

It has been quite a while since I posted anything on here. The last few months have been rather hectic. From school to work, I couldn’t find time to write reviews or continually post on this site. That doesn’t mean I didn’t see any movies since then. In fact I’ve seen most of the movies you could have seen, except the noticeably bad films released in the last few months.

A lot of movies that I really liked didn’t make my list and even with such a great summer with some impressive blockbuster, it was hard to keep some off my list.  The top three films where difficult because the could be interchangeable at any time.

There were some very welcome movies and also very disappointing movies that I was looking forward to. Making this list was rather difficult but I feel that it is a rather well constructed list.

10. Boyhood

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By the time I reached number 10, I realized that I didn’t include one of the best reviewed movies of the year. Everyone seems to be putting this at the top of their lists and I can’t deny that it is one of the best constructed movies of the year and a masterpiece, in my opinion. The story is timeless, the editing seamless, and the directing is top notch. The 12 years used to make this movie sets it apart from other movies of this caliber. Why is it at the bottom? When it comes to my list I put movies on it that I would rewatch in a heartbeat. After thinking about it, I haven’t really had the urge to watch Boyhood again. Now matter how impressive the movie may be, I never thought about watching it again.

9. The Grand Budapest Hotel

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Early on in the year, I believed that no movie could top this movie. To my surprise this year has been a fantastic year for film. This movie combines everything I love about Wes Anderson. The aesthetic of the film is amazing, while Monsieur Gustave H. is by far the most fascinating character in Anderson’s filmography. The changing aspect ratios was another amazing addition to the movie. This isn’t my favorite of his film but it is certainly one of his greatest achievements.

8. Gone Girl

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David Fincher is one of my favorite directors working today. He always brings something new to an aged formula. That is one of the reasons that make Gone Girl so unique. Instead of having the major twists saved for the end, the movie decides to reveal it at the end of the first act. It is an intriguing factor that I give both Gillian Flynn and David Fincher for pulling it off so well. What makes this movie even more fascinating is the commentary on both marriage and the media. Everything about this movie is nearly perfect. Rosamund Pick proves her acting chops and even Tyler Perry was able to surprise me, for the first time in his career. Even if I like other of Fincher’s films more, I do think this is a great addition to his impressive filmography.

7. Locke

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No other movie this has done more with less. So much goes on during the course of the runtime, that it is surprising that it was only 80 minutes long. Tom Hardy has impressed me lately. He is a powerhouse of an actor and he really shines as Ivan Locke. Throughout the movie more and more is revealed and it makes you question both his choices and reasons behind them. For a movie that takes place solely in one location, I couldn’t believe how much and how well they were able to pull it off.

6. Under the Skin

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I always thought that Scarlett Johansson was all looks and not really a good actor. I was proven wrong when I saw her in Under the Skin. The movies unique approach is impressive and the minimalistic style makes for a haunting and exhilarating experience. It asks questions that movies typically don’t ask. It asks what it is meant to be human but it doesn’t give you all the answers. The visuals are impressive and the score creates a chilling yet unique.

5. Filth

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I don’t know why I loved this movie so much, it was just so damn fun. James McAvoy is like you’ve never seen him before. He plays the vile and disgusting character so well. The movie isn’t so much about plot but more about how insane his characters become over time. Often times the movie is hilarious but also very sad and depressing. You never truly sympathize with him, you mostly fell bad for him. The ending is so damn perfect for the movie and completely ends the film in a satisfying manner.

4. Interstellar 

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Christopher Nolan is one of the best blockbuster directors working today. He is able to make the movies that he wants and is able to create some impressive films. His visual eye is incredible. He may have some problems with female characters but this is the first time that I feel he has created some worthwhile female characters. This movie isn’t about space travel as much as it is about love, loss, and fatherhood. There are so many perfect scenes of action but it is the little scenes that Nolan was able to impress me. This is by far his most emotional film to date. You feel the stakes at hand and really sympathize with each character, except for one. Interstellar impressed me both visually and emotionally.

3. Whiplash

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I wasn’t expecting much from this movie. I never really liked Miles Teller and a movie about a jazz drummer didn’t make me want to see it. Once I saw the trailer, that changed. The final product is so intense and awe inspiring that I loved it the minute I walked out. J.K. Simmons gives one of the best performances of the year, he is volatile and intense but somehow relatable. Even Miles Teller impressed me. The final ten minutes had me at the edge of my seat and is incredibly satisfying after all that happens in the movie.

2. Nightcrawler

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This was one movie that surprised the hell out of me. The movie created a character that is both psychotic and wise. He is a man who know what he wants and takes it, no matter what. Jake Gyllenhaal gives the performance of his life. The story is always surprising and you don’t know where it is going to go in the end. The commentary behind this movie is strong and very out there but it works so well. The directing is perfect and the cinematography is breathtaking. More than anything this is a character study and it showcases a character that is completely original and is also a work of genius.

1. Birman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

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The most surprising and delightful movie of the year goes to Birdman. Alejandro González Iñárritu created such a fascinating experience. He one of the best dramatic directors working today. He is able to get the best performances out of some of the most unexpected actors. Every actor in this movie are going the extra mile. Michael Keaton is revolutionary. He essentially playing a warped version of himself and he convinces everyone that he still does matter. What sets this movie apart from any other film this year is the fact that it is manipulated to look like one take. It is a technical revolution and is impressive in it’s cinematography. A lot had to go into this movie to achieve this feat and boy does it achieve it. There is also a lot of commentary involving the state of hollywood today, critics, and the will to matter. I loved this movie and think it is the best made movie this year.

Honorable Mentions

Edge of TomorrowAn original and fun blockbuster. Not your typical blockbuster but it breaks the model and makes something unique.

EnemyAn interesting and intelligent thriller that leaves you asking question long after it’s over.

Guardians of the GalaxyA very different Marvel movie and really shows that they can make an interesting movie out of unknown characters.

The RoverFueled by amazing performances and a simplistic story. This movie creates a landscape fully developed and tension that is equally fascinating and grim.

Blue RuinA movie that came out of nowhere and managed to create a fascinating and personal portrayal of revenge.

 

 

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Wes Anderson, A Whimsical and Unique Auteur

Wes-Anderson At first I wasn’t a fan of Wes Anderson’s filmography. I was young and I never understood the characters or the humor. Now that I have grown up, and I’ve evolved past the stage of like terrible movies. Anderson has cemented himself as a true auteur. In the beginning, with films such as Bottle Rocket and Rushmore, his films were muted and didn’t really contain all the tropes that a typical Wes Anderson film contains. The Royal Tennebaums is the film that I consider to be the beginning of the Wes Anderson that we know and love today.

Bottle Rocket/Rushmore Era

Independent comedies become a staple for the up and coming directors. With Bottle Rocket it gained the attention of critics but not so much with film goers. It was basically dead on arrive. It began  as a short film that gained a lot of traction at Sundance and it had everyone raving. He collaborated with his friend and writing partner Owen Wilson to pen a feature-length version of their popular short film. It contained his trademark sense of humor and had a unique story but it never really succeeds outside of the final act. To me it is his most problematic films. In the end Bottle Rocket can be considered a failure but it never stopped Anderson from moving along with his career.

Rushmore is really were his career took off. It is when his movies starting to become a kind of heightened reality. Owen Wilson and Wes Anderson used Roald Dahl’s kids book as inspiration for their tale of child angst within a prep school. Bill Murray ended up reading the script and liked it so much that he agreed to work on scale, which was estimated to around $9,000. The movie was able to capture what it is like to be a kid in a challenging environment. It is a smaller scale compared to his later films but his style started to pick up from here. The tracking shots that he is known for began here with a scene that involves the groundbreaking of an aquarium. The camera movement follows Max as he shows off his ideas for a new aquarium. It is the beginning of one Anderson’s most well-known trademark. Rushmore failed at the box office but managed to surprise critics and film goers alike.

The Royal Tennebaums through Darjeeling Limited

The Royal Tennebaums is when style becomes overloaded. Almost every frame in Tennebaums is symmetrical and well produced. This movie deals with a former famous family deals with their father, who is trying to enter back into their lives, and their fading popularity. To me this is the most cynical work that Wes Anderson has produced. Everyone is so hateful and every character has a problem with someone. Even though the movie is hateful the design and mise en scène of each scene is so well crafted and colorful that it kinda contradicts the storyline. This is also the movie in which is love for symmetry becomes apparent. All the time the characters are centered in the frame. So far this is considered his most popular film, gaining him an Academy Award Nomination and box office success.

Following The Royal Tennebaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and The Darjeeling Limited. Both were considered failures compared to his other films. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou follows similar tropes and had the same flare that is associated with his films but critics didn’t seem to like what they say. It failed at the box office and is currently Wes Anderson’s worst reviewed film. The Darjeeling Limited didn’t do any better. It is his most experimental film to date. He took his unique filming technique to India and used it to represent the style and life in a foreign country. Dealing with a similar storyline to The Royal Tennebaums, it still didn’t impress critics or audiences.

Fantastic Mr. Fox and Beyond

Fantastic Mr. Fox is the first animated film by Wes Anderson. It is a tale about a Fox that has to navigate life while a group of outraged farmers hunt him down. Given that Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson planned to do Rushmore as heightened reality based of a Roald Dahl book it’s quite ironic that Anderson eventually adapted one of his books. Given the failures of both The Darjeeling Limited and The Life Aquatic of Steve Zissou, a lot road on the success of Fantastic Mr. Fox. It ended up paying off. He used he trademark style and create an interesting take on animated films. It appears that Wes Anderson’s style is perfectly suited for animated feature films. Critics loved it and so did the audience and it eventually getting nominated for Best Animated Feature at the 2009 Academy Awards but lost to Up.

He followed up Fantastic Mr. Fox with his most critically acclaimed movie to date, Moonrise Kingdom. It brought him back to the time where he brought to life stores of children and there views on a world in which they are too young to know. His visual style is used to accomplish a child like tale of wonder and fascination. It debuted in the Cannes Film Festival in 2012 and went on to get him his third Oscar nomination and box office success.

His most recent release is now his biggest box office success and critically acclaimed movie. The Grand Budapest Hotel is his most stylized film. The production of each set is simply incredible and uses his love of hand drawn set pieces and miniatures as the set design. Ralph Fiennes simply chews the scenery as Gustave H. and is by far the most interesting character in his filmography. It spans multiple decades and is most interesting when he switches through time periods. To represents it he switches up aspect ratios for the respective decade. Wes Anderson achieves the best result with this movie and shows that no matter the story if directed by Wes Anderson you sure to have an interesting movie on your hands.

Though Wes Anderson has some movies that aren’t well received he has become a household name and a true to life auteur.

Scanners Review, A Brilliant yet Unrealized Classic

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Scanners

Directed by: David Cronenberg

Starring: Jennifer O’NeillStephen LackPatrick McGoohanLawrence Dane, and Michael Ironside

Scanners will go do in history as being that movie with the exploding head. People have said to me, “Why would I watch that I’ve already seen that guys head burst”. To me that seems a little ignorant. There is a lot more that this movie has to offer. Cronenberg’s earlier work had a lot of hidden political commentary that goes right past the mind of some of the viewers while some pick up on them right away. Videodrome and The Fly are movies that follow suit with Scanners, a lot more is going on underneath the surfaces that it appears. Scanners will always be infamous for one scene but it has become a classic due to vision of the director and the story that he elects to tell.

Scanners are a chosen few who are gifted with the powers of telepathy and the power to control peoples minds.  A madman by the name of Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside) has gathered a few other scanners and formed a group set on world domination and to wage war against Consec. Little does he know that Dr. Paul Ruth (Patrick McGoohan) has located a fellow scanner named Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack), who is unaware of his powers, to locate the group and destroy it. With the help of Kim Obrist (Jennifer O’Neil), Cameron must stop Revok at any cost.

Quite a few of Cronenberg’s movies are ahead of their time. This one isn’t any different. The special effects used throughout the movie are incredible. Two scenes in particular stand out, one is the aforementioned exploding head scene and the second is the finale where Cameron and Revok try to out “scan” one another. The head exploding scene is great because it is a scene that that wasn’t working at the beginning of shooting. The effects were just not working and by the end of it the decided that one guy would sit behind the latex head with a 12 gauge shotgun and shot the head with kosher rock salt. The scene worked so well that they went with it. The finale scene had various parts where the veins of Cameron and Revok increase in size as they are dueling. Thanks to Dick Smith these effect worked perfectly and is another reason I argue for the use of practical effects over CG everyday.

The movie does have a host of problem but they work within the frame work of the movie. My biggest problem was the main actor. His acting was very wooden and stiff. In a feature Stephen Lack even comments on the fact that his delivery of his line was off. His acting doesn’t really effect the movie that much for me I think it does work for the most part. I can say that Michael Ironside was as chilling an villainous as ever. Like Total Recall his performance makes the villain more intriguing than the movie itself.

On a technical level this movie succeeds in every aspects but for me the finale, though spectacular, is a little underwhelming. I don’t think that it is so much the movies fault rather the rushed production of the film. It is said that the movie began filming before the script was even finished and I feel the ending does reflect that. I think the central theme is perfect and is executed to perfection.

The message behind this movie is timeless. In a whole it is about the dangers of experimenting drugs on people. In the finale we learn that scanners are a product of a pill for pregnant woman back in the 40s. It shows there are dangers to experimenting with drugs that you don’t know the outcome. There is also a reference to Cain and Abel. In the end we learn that Cameron and Revok are brothers and that their father pitted them against each other just so he can stop the creation that he has made. Cronenburg likes to tease the idea that powerful creatures have a tendency to try to create new beings themselves. It is in The Fly, Scanners, and even Videodrome (in some complicity)

Criterion’s presentation is great and probably the best it has looked. The features present are amazing and shows just how much hard work went into making this film. There is one feature showing David Cronenberg in an interview right before the movie was released and it is very interesting to see him talk about the movie before it came out. I love what The Criterion Collection has to offer and this movie is no exception.

If you love horror or just movies in general than definitely check out Scanners and anything that Cronenberg puts out.

Grade: A-

David Cronenburg, A Director of Weird and Unusual Cinema

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What’s there to say about David Cronenberg that hasn’t been said already. I’m a huge fan of his older work, specifically Videodrome and The Fly, but lately he hasn’t impressed me. None of his movie are bad per say but just not what I’ve come to love about his body of work. Cosmopolis was boring and pretentious, even if Robert Pattinson gave a good performance. Same goes with A Dangerous Method, it was too ponderise and talky and by the end I lost interest in the movie as a whole. I think that he has gravitated towards movie that appeal to him but also the Academy voters. That’s not to say it’s a bad route to go down, especially at an older age, but I miss the movies he did at the start of his career. I just picked up Scanners on Criterion blu-ray and am extremely excited to watch it. I like the way he hides his messages within a deeply complex frame work. Videodrome is the prime example of this. It makes a resounding statement about the effects of television before the problem even existed. I’m willing to give some of his movies a second chance to see the greatness that lies beneath the surface.  He isn’t a director for everyone and his movies are certainly polarizing but if you give him  chance you can find great meaning within his films.