Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Worst movies 2013

Movies are magical things. They can take you to magical places, introduce incredible ideas, and make you feel strange and new things. Especially if you're going through puberty.

Unfortunately, some movies take you to places you rather you didn't go, introduce ideas you probably already knew, and make you feel things that precede foul language and the throwing of things at the screen.

Now as many of you know, I try to see as many good movies as I can, so my bottom list of the year is usually pretty small, and composed of movies that are not really bad, just not worth paying money to see. This year I was especially interested in making my top ten list the best I had, so I purposefully avoided movies that would have made this list more interesting; movies like Grown Ups 2 and After Earth, because, to put it mildly I did not have the balls for it. So basically any list I make involves the worst movies I was just unfortunate enough to wander into, expecting a good one. I once watched  The Lone Ranger to see if it would be bad enough to warrant a mention, but alas, it was only sort of offensive and stupid, but, for the most part, pretty entertaining. So, basically, I didn't even have enough movies to make a full "worst of 2013" list; even the one I have includes a few movies that aren't that bad, and at least one that I think came out last year.

But, the show must go on! For every black there is a white, for every good there is an evil, for Democrat there is a Republican, and for every top ten film list there must be a bottom film list! So let's see what awfulness I stumbled into this year.

The Wolverine
20th Century Fox/Marvel Studios

I'm sure putting this on my list is almost as controversial as putting Iron Man 3 on my best-of list, so please here me out. For one thing, The Wolverine is not exactly a bad movie. Hugh Jackman is great as usual as the gruff, grumpy, immortal warrior, and it's pretty cool to see a movie actually try and evaluate the man as a character. I was also happy with how most of the cast is a whose-who of talented Japanese actors, including an inspired performance from Rila Fukushima, and Lost's Hiroyuki Sanada. Then there's at least one pretty cool action scene, and it leads in nicely to this year's Days of Future Past so, what's my problem with this movie? Well, as you can already tell, I'm reaching with this list, and yes, this movie is Citizen Kane compared to the last Wolverine movie. Hell, it's bound to please X-Men fans more than Last Stand did too. However, a lot of that has to do with the fact that nothing of real consequence happens. It kind of feels like a long commercial for the new movie, as well as a way to cash in on the character. There's no real interesting twists, the villain, a slimy mutant named Viper, gives Malekith and Zod a run for their money as the most boring, vaguely motivated villain of the year, and the ending is very, very, silly. Not a bad movie, hell it might even be worth checking out for an X-Men fan. I did actually like it. However, if you're not really that interested in the characters, it might not be for you.

The Lone Ranger


Disney/Bruckheimer
Okay, let me get something off my chest. I love this movie. Okay, love is a strong word, but after hearing the enormous hate surrounding it, I was prepared to see one of the stupidest films of the year. And......that's what I saw! The Lone Ranger is full of offensive stereotypes, including a clearly white man wearing face paint to play a Native American; shockingly dark tropes, including a scene where hundreds of Native Americans are gunned down but our white hero is saved; and a ridiculous character arc, where the main character learns to not care about the law and just rob and kill like a vigilante. It's abominable, and it's aware of it. There is one fantastic scene, where our hero meets Tonto's tribe, and speaks to them in the broken-english tongue of his friend, only to get offended and confused looks from the articulate tribesmen. It all leads up to a bugshit ridiculous scene involving the hero riding a horse on top of, not one, but two trains. It's ridiculous and stupid and it deserves a watch.


The Purge
Platinum Dunes/Blumhouse Productions

The year's breakout horror movie, in a year that apparently had several far better ones, was this, admittedly creative film, about 12-hour period of time that occurs once a year, when everything short of starting a nuclear war is legal, just so everyone can get all the theft, murder, rape, and (let's be honest) illegal downloads out of their system. While this year's sequel, Anarchy, will show a broader sense of this night, this film focuses on a small, upscale neighborhood, where a man who has made a ton of money off of security systems for this very night (modern-day scream queen Ethan Hawke) has his house on lockdown, and plans to wait out the night in luxury. But when his son allows a homeless man into the house, they become the targets of a roving group of angry rich white people with guns (why yes, this takes place in California, how did you guess?) who are enraged that they couldn't kill the homeless man, so start trying to break into our hero family's house. I kind of liked The Purge, it had some interesting social allegories and I admire the film's attempt to use the horror medium to tell a story about class warfare. It's not wrong, it's just hopelessly cliche; the characters (as they always do in these movies) make infuriating choices, and a lot of the dialogue is cartoony. This easily could have been a horror comedy, but it wasn't. There's also a great introduction to Rhys Wakefield as the villain. Not as awful as its been made to seem, but not necessarily a must-watch.

Man of Tai Chi
Village Roadshow/Universal Pictures

Let me get something off my chest: I really like Keanu Reeves. I'm a fan. Not only is he supposedly one of the friendliest people in Hollywood, if not the entire city of Los Angeles, but I don't really mind him as an actor. He's learned to underplay himself so well that sometimes his screen presence and delivery give me chills. So when I learned that he was getting into directing, a martial arts movie no less; in which he would play the villain, I have to admit, I was pretty psyched. Man of Tai-Chi is a modern-day action parable that follows Tiger (played by newcomer, and friend of Reeves, Tiger-Chen); a young practitioner of Tai-Chi, who decides to use his skills in the traditionally meditative art for more combative applications, so he can put the money and fame towards building a better life for himself. However, while working security for a guy named Donaka Mark (Reeves), he winds up in a fight club; where his purpose, art, and soul face corruption. It's a very simple movie, with some good fight choreography courtesy of Yuen Wo Ping, but it gets bad when it tries to do too much. Reeves should work as the stoic, steely Donaka, and for the most part he does; it should be the kind of role he was born to play. However, unfortunately, he gets into some serious overacting territory, which is bad territory for him. The results are hilarious. This keeps the movie down; like Reeves himself, its good when it's just playing straight; the second it tries to hard, as it often does to avoid blandness, it gets silly.
In the end, Man of Tai Chi is a pretty inoffensive movie. It's a martial arts film directed by, and starring Reeves, and if thats what you're looking for, that's what you're going to get. Just don't expect anything more.

The Counselor
Scott-Free Productions

The director is Ridley Scott, the writer is Downs-family legend Cormac McCarthy, and the star is The Fass? Questionable reception or not, you bet your ass I was going to watch this movie! Too bad I did, too. This movie, about an unnamed legal Counselor who gets in over his head with a drug cartel he invests in, prompting them to try and kill him and his whole family, is wrought with the tropes of a good McCarthy novel; the good man getting involved with bad people, the villain who stands for something elemental about humanity, the hit man who means well and wears white, Javier Bardem. Unfortunately, it's rife with holes (how does the cartel trace him again? Something about a guy he bailed out of jail? Wait, why does he need the money anyway if he's that fucking rich? How does a legal counselor have that much money and not have at least some experience with illegal activities?), and, as I'm sure I'm not the first to point out, even more philosophical dialogue, at least a quarter of which is about sex. This would have made a great Kevin Smith movie, is what I'm saying. The rest of the dialogue is about moral philosophy, which is a bit straightforward for Cormac. The talented cast, including four of the best actors working, is game for the task (although Pitt and Fasbender are clearly struggling with some of the more awkward lines), but the pacing and story isn't.
It seems weird to admit after the director's recent slump, but the saving grace here isn't McCarthy, or even Fassbender, it's Ridley Scott. He makes some of the scenes appropriately murky and very suspenseful, and that's when it works best. Unfortunately, the suspense that made No Country and The Road so great just gives way to more pandering here. I would have liked to exit the movie saying that Cameron Diaz blew me away as a great, McCarthy villain, but she's probably the most awkward of all here. Did I mention she has sex with a car?

Ender's Game
Summit Entertainment/Lionsgate

Now, we're getting more into the territory of movies I really couldn't get into. I'm well aware that Ender's Game is based on a supposedly brilliant book by Orson Scott Card, and while I can see the movie working on paper, it didn't work for me on film. Apparently, I'm not the only one who felt that way; the film bombed on it's release, a factor attributed to Card's blatant homophobia, and not the fact that it's just a really boring movie. Let me start by getting the plot out of the way, and explaining how, far in the future, humanity is almost wiped out in an interplanetary war with a race of bug-monsters called the Formics, and now young children are picked from a young age for their intelligence and ferocity to attend space-school so that the future military can be properly prepared for another attack. Ender Wiggin is one specific boy who is picked by Harrison Ford (does his character name matter?) as a prodigy that will one day save the human race. Now, let me also start by saying that, contrary to what is taught in the nitpicking culture of today's film geeks, plot holes do not ruin a movie. However, they can really hurt the movie's internal logic if not properly dealt with, and they can be hard to ignore when everything else about the movie; from the characters, to the actors, to the action, to the special effects, is aggressively bland.
For example, why are children recruited as the primary tacticians in this warfare? We get some vague explanation about how they have the empathy to understand their enemies and how their minds work better. But, then the superiors like Ford and Ben Kingsley and Viola Davis constantly judge their choices (if they know so well, how come they aren't leading the war effort?). How do we know Ender is brilliant enough to fight the formics? Because he plays video games and solves puzzles in ways most people don't think of, but only because he fails multiple times and then just fucks around. It's sort of like Harry Potter, only without the magic and sense of wonder, and with ten times the amount of douchey entitlement in its main character. Furthermore the cast is completely on autopilot (you know, in a cast with this many Oscar nominees; if the lone bright spot is Moises Arias, something's wrong), the special effects are not that impressive, and the inevitable twist, while interesting, is kind of predictable. The last five minutes are brilliant enough to warrant reading the book, but everything up to that is not just bad, it's completely forgettable.

Man of Steel
Warner Bros./DC Entertainment

This, like Iron Man 3 and Thor 2 is another installment in the most love-it-or-hate-it year for comic books in a long time. Well, it's on this list, so you can imagine how I felt about it. Man of Steel is so much more than the worst superhero movie of the year, it's a pretty awful movie overall. This reboot/remake/reimagining/rewhogivesafuck of the greatest superhero story of all time, makes the ambitious, but unwise, decision to retell (there's another one) Superman as a gritty, realistic, hero. For one thing, when your idea of accomplishing this is by taking a guy who flies around with the underwear on the outside of his pants, and just removing the underwear altogether, then you're probably not approaching the premise appropriately. Now I'm not one of the many to make the assertion that Kale-El of Krypton is uninteresting, I always thought there was something very charming about him as a character, but that charm is missing here. In fact, any charm is missing here.
Now I suppose I don't hate the movie, I'll even sit down and watch it if its on at Fry's. I like the foreshadowing, that awesome score, and "Lorie-darlin'" herself, Diane Lane. Some of the shots are breathtaking beyond belief, the special effects are impressive, and I kind of like the central story, about a man trying to find out what huge role he's going to take in the world, and then just decides "fuck it I'll get into journalism". I can relate to that. There's also an extended scene where Michael Shannon and Russell Crowe yell at each other while wearing silly astronaut suits, which should be worth the price of admission. The problem is nearly all of the actors are playing this ridiculous material so straight, it makes them look stupid, rather than making the material look better. Half of them (primarily Adams and Shannon) look like they don't even want to be there half the time. I get that Snyder and Goyer want to describe the concept of how the world would react if something this powerful came into existence, but that's hardly a new angle for a superhero movie, and stripping the material of all it's joy and replacing it with post-9/11 cynicism and some of the worst dialogue I've ever heard, is not the way to do it. Did I mention the fact that this movie has more penis-shaped spaceships than Alien?

Oz: The Great and Powerful
Walt Disney Pictures
Oz is not the first prequel to The Wizard of Oz, nor is it the best, nor is it even the most famous. Most of those things describe Wicked. What this movie actually is is several hours of James Franco mugging for the camera. Like the Spider-Man movies, the film is directed by Sam Raimi (no stranger to actors who chew the scenery), and like those movies, Franco's character feels less like a character and more like James Franco sarcastically trying to imitate one. He seems like he was on drugs the whole time. We also get the great Michelle Williams who is too good to be playing the two-dimensional and mostly bland Glinda the good witch, and Rachel Weisz plays Evanora, the wicked witch, although whether she becomes the most famous sorceress of all time or the one one who gets flattened by a house is meant to be open to interpretation, except it obviously isn't. Finally, in the one convincing role in the entire film, Mila Kunis is Theodora, whose part to play is initially ambiguous. During this stage, she's pretty great, as usual, and nearly saves the film, but as the film goes on she gets extremely hammy and ridiculous, to the point that she actually becomes the worst thing about the film. The latest attempt in the "darker, more serious, reimagining of a fairy tale" isn't very dark or serious, which is probably a good thing. Raimi's direction at least knows to keep the fun. But it's just sort of kiddy and insipid and, ultimately, pretty boring.
Zach Braff is a monkey.

Not Fade Away
Paramount Vantage
Ok, so this came out last year, but I deliberately did not put it on last year's list because I thought it came out in January of 2013 for some reason. Also I need it to pad out this list a little so work with me. To be honest, there's a lot of reasons why this shouldn't be here, the foremost one being that I forget most of it. But I was trying super hard to pay attention, I swear. The problem is, this origin story of a young man trying to find his way in the musical world of the sixties is every bit as pretentious, boring, and uninteresting as that sounds. And don't watch it for the late, great, James Gandolfini, whatever you do; the guy's barely in it. Yeah, it sucks that the first film from Sopranos creator David Chase, and one of the last films from Sopranos star Gandolfini, is this dull and unlikeable, but it is.
Well, for what it's worth, I saw Enough Said too late to put it on the "Best of" list. It was really good.

Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa
MTV/Dickhouse Films
Bad Grandpa is a hidden camera movie where an old horny man played by Johnny Knoxville has to escort a little boy across the United States. Along the way, they pull hidden camera stunts to trick people for the amusement of the viewing audience. Some of it is funny, but most of it is tactless and kind of stupid. This would be fun to watch as individual segments on youtube but not as a movie.
Johnny Knoxville gets his penis stuck in a vending machine for some reason. That's about it.


Monday, June 2, 2014

Top Ten Movies 2013

Yes! Believe it or not I'm still updating this website!

Now I've been very busy this past year with being in another country, and then sobering up from being in another country. And trust me that story's coming, as will the rest of that overwrought James Bond thing I am now beginning to heavily regret. But even if I never update this damn thing, even if I'm behind on my articles for that news blog, and even if I completely skipped over my famed Christmas List so I could hang around London with my Latvian friend; you will always, unfailingly, get a pretentious, subjective, overly critical look back on the films of the past year.

Well, if there's one philosophy that has dominated my writing habits, it's "better late than never", so let's get going.

Now, I got mixed reactions from my last list, which is probably the reason I put more time and thought into this one. It's fair criticism, I gave the top spots to Argo and Les Miserables, and while I still love both those movies, I do think, in retrospect, those spots probably belonged to The Master and Dark Knight Rises.

So, I saw as many films as possible in preparation for this list, and while that does not necessarily include every one of the Best Picture nominees, you may see a few you never heard of. Unfortunately, this actually means a lot of truly great films didn't even make the cut. But let's see which ones will be graced with the status of "best of the year" by an overly opinionated, smartass blogger.

10. Gravity
Warner Bros. Entertainment

Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are astronauts in space who are viciously attacked by a cloud of evil space debris that tears through their equipment, sending them flying through space. Scientific inaccuracies and screaming occur as the two try to find a way back home that doesn't involve falling.
Let me begin by saying that never before has a 3D film blown me away as much as Gravity did in the theater. I found myself consistently, and genuinely breathless, with how gorgeous the visuals are in the theater. More so than that, I was consistently on the edge of my seat in the theater. In case I haven't gotten it across, this was one of the best theatergoing experiences I've ever had; but when I saw it on DVD for the first time, I have to admit I was a bit underwhelmed. This is probably because it's a suspense drama and I had seen it before by that point, and the film certainly flies on the shoulders of the always-fantastic Sandra Bullock, as well as it's full on nail-biting quality, and it's cinematography. However, it's not a masterpiece, and the simplicity of the story keeps it from being truly timeless. Definitely worth a watch though.

9. Iron Man 3
Disney/Marvel Entertainment

Oh boy, am I going to get hate for this one; especially when I tell you that this and Matthew McConaughey and Jeff Nichols' great collaboration Mud was neck-and-neck for this spot with this bib-budget Avengers sequel (one of three). What doesn't help, is that this has gone down in history among Spider-Man 3, X-Men 3, and even Superman 3 (noticing a theme here?) as one of the most hated superhero films ever, thanks to a brilliant  controversial twist involving the villain. Which is surprising, because the movie's fucking great, to the point that I'm tempted to call it the best film to feature the character. For one thing, Robert Downey Jr. is the only actor I can think of since Connery to be every bit as interesting the fourth time around as he was the first. That, and the fact that he's aided by a script by Shane Black and Drew Pearce that forces everyone's favorite (let's be honest) Marvel superhero to come to terms with the stress brought about by his self-appointed role as an American superhero, completing an arc that started with that now-legendary first film. This is not only one of the funniest films (in what was a very funny year), but easily features some of the best action I've yet seen from this franchise.

8. Blackfish
Magnolia Pictures

Living in San Diego, I'm hard-pressed to think of a film that caused quite as big of a stir as this one (although Escape from Tomorrow certainly tried) in the theme-park enthusiast community. Using heartbreaking testimonials and breathtaking footage, director and documentarian Gabriela Cowperthwaite weaves a fascinating narrative about the behind-the-scenes practices at SeaWorld that led to a young woman being killed by an orca whale. Along the way, we are introduced to one of the most fascinating cinematic villains of the year; a pissed-off mass of blubber and teeth named Tilikum, whose harsh treatment at various theme parks has fostered a form of psychosis that apparently led him to rack up a body count of around three people. However, it soon becomes apparent that the poor animal may not be the real villain. As a documentary about mistreatment at SeaWorld, it is an effective film, effective enough to cause a worldwide discussion about the blame SeaWorld takes in the treatment of its creatures. But, more importantly (in the cinematic sense), it builds a "Moby Dick"-esque  tale of man's inability to control nature (my favorite kind of story). Does it only tell one side of the story? Should SeaWorld, an organization that has given a significant contribution to marine philanthropy, be shut down? Those questions are important, but not as important as the main point, which is to ask whether an animal as emotional, intelligent, and deadly as the Orca whale should be held captive.

7. This is the End
Columbia Pictures

"This is the End", Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg's surprise success (the film has a remarkably low budget) asks one question: do celebrity comedians deserve to go to heaven? Do they even deserve to live? It then sets out to parody celebrity culture by telling the story of what happens when comedy superstars Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, and Danny McBride find themselves stuck in Franco's LA mansion during the end of the world. Did I mention they're all playing themselves? What follows is by far the funniest film of the year, and perhaps one of the funniest films I've ever seen. Add in the fact that most of the film is improvised, mostly takes place on one set, and features a cameo from Michael Cera that's probably the greatest thing he's ever done, and you can see why people went nuts over this movie.

6. Frozen
Walt Disney Studios

I know, I know, if you're like most Americans, you've probably heard more than enough about this movie, to the point that you may even be beginning to wonder if it's overrated. To be fair, if you're also like most Americans, you've probably had the same feelings about Tangled and The Princess and the Frog, and I actually wasn't that impressed by those two. This film, however, blew me away. Frozen introduces us not to one princess, but two; Anna and Elsa. Elsa has the power to freeze shit with her mind to an extent that would make Iceman from the X-Men blush. However, in a freak accident, she nearly kills Anna, forcing her parents to raise them separately for years, all the while forcing Elsa to hide her powers from the world, believing that the kingdom will try to hurt her if they find out, as opposed to welcoming her as a one-woman Avengers team. But when the king and queen die in whatever storm presumably killed Tarzan's parents (ok I'm done), Elsa is given the kingdom, only to lose control of her emotions and cause a neverending winter, forcing Anna to go out into the cold to save her sister and the kingdom.
 Now, obviously it's a fairytale, so an asshole could find plenty of holes. But the point of fairytales is to stand as stories for larger themes; in this case, one woman's journey to free herself from years of suppressed emotion, and her sister's journey to try and live with a loved one who is volatile, and a little dangerous. A lot has been made about the feminist themes at work here, but that's a topic for another time. The point is, it's been a long time since a Disney movie has made me care for it's characters this much (let alone hum it's songs), and that's pretty cool.


5. The Wolf of Wall Street
Paramount Pictures

If I told you that a film about one man's rise through the world of Wall Street stockbrokers, and his adventures upon finding success with his own firm was one of the most, if not the most, depraved films I've ever seen, you probably wouldn't believe me. If I told you it was directed by Martin Scorsese, you might understand a a little better. The premise, which is pushed out of the way in the first five minutes, involves real-life Wall-Street crook Jordan Belfort, along with his various low-time drug dealer friends, including another great performance from Hill, starting their own investment firm out of a warehouse, and rising to enormous success after convincing clients to invest in shit penny stock. The other two-hours and fifty-five minutes of run time follow Jordan and his buddy Donnie as they "struggle" through a decade of excessive wealth, sex, partying, and lots and lots of drugs. It's a frat boys wet dream, to the point that the characters would almost be incredibly unlikeable if not for the performances, which make us root for Belfort almost as much as his cultish followers, and the great Terence Winter's (Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire) script, which always places the humanity of it's characters at the forefront.
What follows is what can only be described as a comedy epic, enormous in scale and absolutely hilarious. While not perfect; it's runtime, however much of a commentary on the film's excess it provides, is still too long by at least half-an-hour, although god knows I wouldn't know which parts to cut. Does the film glorify the one percent? Is Belfort even a one-percenter? Or is he a Robin Hood, stealing from the rich and giving to his poor friends? These are all questions raised and, mercifully, not really answered.


4. Prisoners
Warner Bros./Alcon Entertainment

One of this years most overlooked films, Prisoners, in my mind at least, easily beats Gravity for the year's most nail-biting thriller, and it's not even set in space! It is set in a murky, dark, suburb in Pennsylvania, which is probably more dangerous, let's be honest. During a routine Thanksgiving visiting his friends, Kelly Dover (Hugh Jackman) and his friend Franklin Birch (Terrence Howard) find themselves in a situation far scarier to any parent than being stuck in space; their girls disappear while outside, and the only clue they have to their whereabouts is an RV that was seen in the area. At this point, Jake Gylenhaal joins the story as David Loki (the second coolest Loki to star in a movie this year), the detective assigned to the case, and finds that the RV belonged to Paul Dano. Now, Dano has the IQ of a fourth grader, and unfortunately for Loki, so does the character he's playing, so he's no help. This does not deter Kelly, who, instead of relishing his now quieter house, decides the only way to find his child is to get the information from Dano's character, by any means necessary.

The rest of the film is as intense, disturbing, and, occasionally, horrifying a thriller as any I've seen in a very long time. In many ways, the film asks the same questions about torture and police work that are currently being played out in the world-scale, only in the confines of it's own, morally shady world. Gylenhall gives his best performance in years, and he's aided by a supporting cast that includes Viola Davis, Maria Bello, Terrence Howard, Melissa Leo, and the always welcome Paul Dano. But it's the Wolverine himself who rules the film with a stunningly intense performance. He should be the guy we're rooting for, but it isn't long before we begin to wonder if he's the most monstrous thing in the whole neighborhood.


3. The Hunt
Magnolia Pictures

Ok, so every research I've done on this film has described it as a 2012 film; but it had a (limited) international release in the US (where it was impossible to find) in 2013, and was nominated for most awards in 2013. Also screw you, it's my blog. The point is, I was intrigued by Danish filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg's film ever since I first heard about it's premiere at Cannes, where Hannibal himself, the great Mads Mikkelsen, was honored with a much-deserved Best Actor award.

Much like Prisoners, The Hunt tells a morally confusing story about adults and children who live in a scary area, but comes off as far more human, and therefore, frightening. Lucas (Mikkelsen) is like the Danish version of my friend Marcos, the somewhat socially awkward, but always kind and helpful, member of a small, close-knit Danish community, where he works as an attendant at the local kindergarten. However, things take a horrific turn for the worst when Lucas is accused by Klara, a young student, and daughter of Lucas's best friend, of a pedophilic act. Now, as far as I know, the film is not ambiguous about this point; Lucas is innocent, which makes it that much more frustrating when the entire community of angry white danes turns violently on Lucas, turning him into an outcast. The film is intense, scary, and often absolutely maddening, precisely because Lucas himself is such a nice dude, he fights his injustice little; understanding the anger of his friends. But this starts to change when his family becomes a target as well. Obviously, there are subtitles, but you very quickly forget you're reading the film. Although the climax can leave a bit to be desired, the film is very tense and asks big questions, the kind that don't have easy answers, and is driven by a powerhouse performance by Mikkelsen.


2. American Hustle
Columbia Pictures

And, finally, we come to what is supposedly the most overrated movie of the year. It's weird, but I don't watch a lot of David O' Russel's movies, perhaps because he's apparently the biggest asshole in Hollywood, having gotten into fistfights with Clooney, Nolan, and many others. He's stopped that attitude, but only, apparently, because fighting Bale or Lawrence wouldn't end well for his image or face or both. But, the point I'm making, is that I should probably watch more of his movies (I did like The Fighter) if they're like this, because, fuck it, this movie's fantastic.

Christian Bale is fantastic as Irving Rosenfeld, a small-time scam artist who falls in love with Sydney Prosser, a small-time scam artist played fantastically by Amy Adams. They both get in deep shit when Richie DiMaso, a small time scam artist played, in a fantastic performance, by Bradley Cooper, catches up to them both, and threatens to throw them in jail unless they help him with some big time scams for the IRS. Sydney wants to run away, but Irving can't leave his wife, a small-time scam artist named Rosalyn (the fantastic Jennifer Lawrence), and kid, a small-time scam artist whose a baby. I know it sounds like I'm being facetious, but only because it's almost ludicrous how much talent is on display here. You see, Richie wants to catch a bunch of suspicious public officials taking bribes, and he needs Irving and Sydney's help to do it, but along the way, Irving begins to realize that their targets may include some innocent people, like Carmine Polito, the well-meaning mayor of Atlantic City, played by Jeremy Renner in a career-best performance. Add in the fact that he's caught in a vicious love triangle between Richie, Sydney, and Rosalyn, and Irving may very quickly be over his head. Throw in some great cameos from Robert DeNiro, Louis CK, Jack Huston, and Michael Pena, and you have easily the greatest cast this entire year.

This is a character-driven movie, which is great because the characters are easily some of the most fascinating I've seen in a long while, and O'Russel manages to get some of these actors best work to come out on screen. It's technically a drama, but it should say something about the film's writing that it's also one of the funniest movies in a year filled with them. Any time a film starts with the phrase "some of this actually happened" you know you're in for a treat.

1. Jurassic Park 3D
Universal Studios

Ok, ok, ok, more of an honorable mention really, the film that has sustained infamy among our viewership as my favorite film of all time actually came out in 1993, so it doesn't count here. However, if even there was a modicum of doubt that Spielberg's sci-fi masterpiece is, in fact, my favorite movie ever, it was wiped away a year ago when he it appeared in theaters for the first time in a two decades. Not coincidentally, it's rerelease was successful enough that a sequel, mercifully ignoring the last two, was announced not long after its run at the box office.

Now, obviously, the story of a group of hapless scientists invited to stay at a theme park where DNA technology has recreated Dinosaurs for the public, has seen more than it's fair share of showing in my household, ever since I was a kid. However, as I got older and memorized everything from the lines to the roars to the sounds Jeff Goldblum makes, I stopped, well, watching it while watching it. It was only in a theater, with the admittedly glorious 3D, that I was forced to notice all the deeper themes I never picked up on. Themes of age, evolution, and the often violent chaos that comes with change in the world. It's like No Country, only more fun, and probably better. Even in a film this big, Spielberg's subtleties are still on full display. It was like watching it for the very first time, and I can't remember a better moviegoing experience than that.

1. The Spectacular Now
A24 Films

But out of the films that actually released this year, the one that impressed me the most was arguably the least likely, that being James Ponsoldt's breakout, under-the-radar summer treasure, that stands among the best coming-of-age tales ever made. I did not think, upon first hearing of this film, that it would have the effect on me that it did.

Miles Teller, in what will be a breakout role if there is any justice in the world, stars as Sutter, a popular, fun-loving, borderline hedonistic high school senior. He's not incredibly interested in grades, or finding his passion in life, or finding a college that will accept him. You know, all those things they keep saying you're supposed to do in high school. He's mostly interested in drinking, working for Saul Goodman, trying to get back at his ex, and generally acting like a shithead. However, everything changes when he meets Aimee Finecky, a shy young girl played brilliantly by Secret Life's Shailene Woodley. Aimee does not have a lot of friends, and is stuck at home with her possessive family, so Sutter's flirtation with her is kind of narcissistic and curious at first, but blossoms into love when he realizes how happy she makes him. However, the effect goes both ways, and as Sutter begins to learn more about his life, and where it's headed, he realizes he may be a bad influence on the always-forgiving Aimee.

The Spectacular Now is a fascinating movie for a lot of reasons. Besides hitting all the funny, sweet, and occasionally heartbreaking notes every romance is supposed to hit, it also manages to have just enough clever twists to keep from being predictable. Not only that, but it's startlingly real and human. The characters feel and act like real teenagers at that age (and we would all know), to the point that by the end, we are just as unwilling as Sutter to say goodbye to them all. The fact that I haven't seen it on quite as many lists makes it feel that much more special. It's a genuine treasure, and more than worth checking out.

Friday, March 14, 2014

The 18 Film Characters who have been nominated more than once.

Hey guys.

Yeah, I'm back from FUCKING ENGLAND finally. Trust me you'll hear plenty about that. It's also post-awards season! Trust me, you'll hear plenty about that too.

Anyway it's been almost a full year since I started this blog, and in that time I started a weird James Bond thing that's not even halfway done, and I have forgotten about it for several months at a time. But the best way to get back into things is to do what I do best; talk about movies and shit!

So let's all pretend its still awards season and this article is still relevant. Basically, one thing I've noticed is how during the Academy Awards, we always remember the artists who are nominated multiple times, but I got to thinking; which characters have been nominated more than once? Are there better things I could be writing about? Yeah. Are there probably more important things I could be researching at this point in my life? Definitely.

Are you curious? Yeah. That's what I thought. These are the characters that have been interesting enough to be represented at the Academy Awards more than once. In chronological order.


Leslie Crosbie


The earliest contender on our list is Leslie from the two film adaptations of W. Somerset Maugham's play, The Letter, about the court proceedings that follow when Leslie, in the absence of her husband, shoots and kills a man who she alleges attempted to rape her. However, it becomes evident during the trial that she may have attempted to cheat on her husband and killed the poor sap who refused her. So right off the bat you can see how early 20th century Americans would be attracted to the story of a cruel woman using a false rape accusation. Still, she was an interesting enough character that both the 1929 film and its 1940 remake involved considerably impressive performances from its leads that both Jeanne Eagels and Bette Davis were nominated for Best Actress. Unfortunately, Eagels passed away before the ceremony, making hers the first ever posthumous nomination.


King Henry VIII of England



Here's where it gets interesting; the next earliest character, and the record holder for the male character nominated the most times is none other than Henry VIII, England's most head-obsessed king. And not in that way. It's not hard to see why; he's the guy you remember from history class as the king who became so obsessed with having a son he divorced and then murdered a bunch of his wives. He's also more or less guilty for such crimes as the virtual decimation (and impregnation) of most of the Boleyn family. He also loved divorce so much he created Protestantism. And now he can add "having three people being nominated for acting awards for his portrayal" to his resume. It started with Charles Laughton, who won the award for Best Actor for the his performance in The Private Life of Henry VIII in 1932. The trend continued with the great Robert Shaw, who was nominated for Best Supporting Actor in A Man for All Seasons in 1965, and then the equally great Richard Burton who was nominated for Actor in in Anne of the Thousand Days in 1969. You may remember Burton from all his films that involve Shakespeare, and Shaw from all his films that involve giant sharks. Namely that one. For more jokes about Robert Shaw you're free to visit my From Russia with Love review.

Professor Henry Higgins




Professor Henry Higgins is, of course, the main character in George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion. I don't know how to pronounce it either. The title of course, refers to the ancient greek character who fell in love with his own sculpture. This is thematically like the characterization of Higgins, who, as part of a bet, has to help a poor cockney girl named Eliza to sound like a debutante and then obviously falls in love with her because cliches are old. While Leslie Howard was nominated for Best Actor in the 1938, most people fondly remember the modern (for 1964) film adaptation of the Broadway musical My Fair Lady, for which Rex Harrison won Best Actor.

Mr. Chips




Goodbye, Mr. Chips, based on the book of the same name, tells the story of Mr. Chipping, a once strict and traditional schoolteacher who learns to grow and connect with his students as he gets older. Obviously, it's incredibly sentimental, but the character was loved well enough to give Robert Donat a Best Actor award, and Peter O'Toole a nomination for his role in the musical remake.


President Abraham Lincoln


 

What you're going to figure out in due time is how most of this list is British royalty and American Presidents.  And it wouldn't be a list of the most famous thematic film characters without one of the all time great American figures; our sixteenth president, patron of log cabins and silly hats, savior of the union, and liberator of black people across the country; Abraham Lincoln. You may not remember John Cromwell's Abe Lincoln in Illinois, for which Raymond Massey received a Best Actor nomination in 1940, and tells the story of Lincoln up to his inauguration. What you probably do remember is Daniel Day-Lewis's Best Actor win for Lincoln in 2012, which covers the story of Lincoln after his inauguration. Unfortunately, Abe Lincoln: Vampire Hunter did not make the cut.

Father Chuck O' Malley
 

 Father Chuck is the first character on this list to be nominated twice for a performance by the same actor; in this case Bing Crosby, who plays the Father Chuck as an unconventional Catholic priest who is introduced to various parishes to make them more fun, to the chagrin of Barry Fitzgerald and Ingrid Berman. Because movies that would end up on the lifetime channel today were extremely successful back in the day. Anyway, Crosby was so much fun he won for Best Actor in Going My Way in 1944, and was nominated again for The Bells of St. Mary's a year later.

King Henry V of England
 

The Academy loves historical dramas, and the Academy loves Shakespeare (or they used to, now we have superhero movies). Put them together, and you have the two film adaptations of Shakespeare's historical play about Henry V. First was Olivier, who was nominated for Henry V in 1946, as was Shakespearean expert Kenneth Branagh in 1989. Both were in movies they directed, not sure if that makes it easier or harder.

Cyrano de Bergerac
 

Finally, we come to my favorite example, and in fact my favorite theatrical character of all time. Cyrano's fucking awesome; he's a swashbuckling badass, a lover of the arts, a hopeless romantic, and a sarcastic asshole. Unfortunately, his biggest character flaw is that he's ugly and has a huge nose. Jose Ferrer won Best Actor for playing him in Cyrano de Bergerac in 1950, but my favorite will always be Gerard Depardieu, who was nominated in 1990.

Eddie Felson


In another of my favorite examples on the list, 1961's The Hustler became an instant classic and rocketed both the fantastic Paul Newman and the sport of pool to popularity. Unfortunately, pool is the only one of those two still around. However, almost 25 years after getting a Best Actor nod for playing the small-time pool hustler, Newman returned for the inexplicable sequel, Martin Scorcese's The Color of Money. While almost universally considered the weaker movie, it's still a fucking Scorcese/Newman movie (with Tom Cruise and an Eric Clapton song), which was more than good enough to earn Newman his first and only Oscar.

King Henry II of England
 

Oh look, it's Peter O' Toole again. Peter O' Toole, who sadly was one of the fifty-or-so great actors to die this past year, played the morally questionable king as a young man in Beckett in 1964, before playing him as an older man just four years later in The Lion in Winter. I know what you're going to ask though, and no; unlike the other examples on this list, these films aren't necessarily sequels, as they have a different tone, were made by different companies, and even had a mostly different cast. But they're based on a historical character, so maybe you should watch them in order for consistency. Or just watch Iron Man 3 again, I don't give a shit.

Joe Pendleton










It's kind of weird how much the Academy used to like movies that were actually funny, provided they be kind of saccharine at the same time. Both Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941) and Heaven Can Wait (1978) tell the story of Joe Pendleton, an athlete (first a boxer, then a football player) killed on accident before his time, because I guess God just fucks up like that sometimes. He is sent back to Earth in the body of crooked investment banker Bruce Farnsworth, and then has to figure out how to fix this man's life and help the people in his old one. Robert Montgomery and Warren Beatty were both nominated for the role.

Rooster Cogburn
 

Hi Whitney! I see you skipped to this part. And I know why. I think it's fair to say that The Dude is probably an all around better actor than The Duke, but even though Jeff Bridges was incredibly fun to watch in the Coen Brother's 2010 remake (or re-adaptation) of True Grit, Wayne's performance in the '69 original is nothing short of classic. It also won him an Oscar for Best Actor.

Vito Corleone
 

And here he is, the man of the hour. Arguably the most famous character on this list, for good reason. Vito Corleone's is the quintessential story of success in America, amidst horrific corruption. Curiously, it's told in reverse. In the first film, considered by many to be the greatest film of all time, Marlon Brando plays Vito as the sophisticated, brilliant, and, perhaps, guilty patriarch of the most powerful crime family in New York City, struggling to protect the lives and souls of the people he loves as his world falls apart. In the sequel, also considered by many to be the greatest film of all time, Robert De Niro plays the character in flashbacks as a Sicilan immigrant whose rise in the mafia and fall from grace mirror Michael's. Brando and De Niro were both awarded the Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor (switching places each time with Pacino, who took home squat). Not coincidentally, the third and worst film in the series is absent the character, who sadly does not travel back in time to meet his younger self and warn him about Sentinels.

Michael Corleone
 

The fact that Al Pacino won neither Best Supporting Actor in The Godfather, for his role as a good man being corrupted by the italian mafia; nor for Best Actor in The Godfather Part II for his starring role as a bad man being even more corrupted by the italian mafia, is almost as much of a crime as this run-on sentence. It would also go a long way to explaining how he eventually won for making toddler noises in Scent of a Woman, in the Academy's now-standard practice of giving people awards for things they should have already had awards for. In any case, Pacino's performance is only part of what makes these two movies so legendary among cinema.

Howard Hughes

Hughes, the man who is, by all accounts, the inspiration behind Iron Man, is the definition of Hollywood legend. A filmmaker, producer, inventor, aviator, billionaire, and severely developmentally disabled eccentric genius and all-around crazy person, Howard Hughes helped make Hollywood what it is today through ambition, brilliance, assholeishness, and general insanity. Also my dad totally hung out in his plane once. While he was basically a plot contrivance in 1980's Melvin and Howard, for which Jason Robards was nominated for Best Supporting Actor; his true character shines through in Martin Scorcese's The Aviator in 2004. For his emphasis on Hughes's obsessive compulsive lifestyle, Leonardo Dicaprio was nominated for Best Actor. He did not win though, and so an internet meme was born.

President Richard Nixon


 

The mastermind behind Watergate, the inventor of the double-peace sign, and the only guy on this list with a bigger nose than Cyrano's; our 37th President may not be the best, or even close, but he may be the most villainously Shakespearean. Or at least the most like a Bond baddie. And I would know by this fucking point, trust me. Perhaps thats why both Anthony Hopkins (for Nixon in 1995) and Frank Langella (for Frost/Nixon) saw nominations for Best Actor for giving us insight into what made this disgustingly power-hungry man tick.

Queen Elizabeth I of England
 


And we come to it at last, the record-holder for the female character most nominated at the Academy Awards is none other than the world's most famous queen, Elizabeth I. Somewhat fitting that the character tied with Henry VIII would be none other than his own daughter. Brilliant, classy, and badass to the end, Elizabeth showed the western world that a woman could lead and do it damn well. Hell, she was friends with Shakespeare, and apparently she ran into Doctor Who a few times. Anyway, the great Cate Blanchett did the character justice in the rather great Elizabeth (1998) and its rather not-so-great sequel Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007). Blanchett was good enough to become nominated for Best Actress both times, but did not win. Who did win was Judi Dench, for her fan-fucking-tastic supporting portrayal in Shakespeare in Love in 1998. That's right, she was even nominated at the same time as Blanchett, and had about a fraction of the screen time. That's talent.

Iris Murdoch

In what was a nice twist on the "interesting man and his doting wife" cliche, Iris told the story of the brilliant and famous female philosopher Iris Murdoch, and her life alongside her loving husband, before having to deal with all the bullshit that comes with alzheimer's disease. For playing the philosopher at two different times in her life, Judi Dench and Kate Winslet were both nominated for Actress and Supporting Actress in 2001.


Well I'm pretty sure that's all of them. Let me know if I'm wrong, because I'm not going to go down the full list of nominees and press "control F" on every name. Again. In case you couldn't tell, I really didn't feel like doing homework today.