Archive of ‘Screen Watching’ category

The Best of Television 2016

 

Long ago (not long ago, maybe fifteen years ago which is starting to feel like long ago) if someone would ask me what television shows do I like to watch, I would answer smugly “I don’t watch television, I only watch films”. Which was mostly true, yes I would watch reruns of Seinfeld or pop in a Freaks and Geeks DVD but rarely thought about watching a show on week-to-week basis, let alone daily. Then LOST happened and it become appointment TV for me, when asked again, what television do I watch I would say, “I only watch LOST, I’m more into films”. Than someone told me I should catch up with The Wire, then Mad Men premiered, a year later Breaking Bad premiered. Comedies begin to change from studio audience laugh tracks to single camera shows like 30 Rock and Community. Eventually I no longer gave the smug response of not watching television, instead I made sure to point out all the interesting shows I was watching that you probably weren’t. I became a Television Snob!!! Television has gotten better which has made it difficult to keep up with everything. From the scope of one-hour dramas like Westworld to the unpredictability of half hour “comedies” like Atlanta, television has been inching towards the same respect its big brother known as film seems to get.

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The Real MVP (Most Valuable Performance)

Anthony Hopkins in Westworld

For all the flaws and times the show left us scratching our heads, Hopkins managed to convince us to buy into what the shows creators were trying to sell. A truly difficult feat when considering the rabbit holes the creators of the show where trying to make us follow. Every time I thought to myself what the hell is going on here, Hopkins menacing eyes and ways with absurd dialogue pulled me back in. He may never overshadow is performance in Silence of the Lambs but in Westworld he showed all the skills he has in artillery in way we haven’t seen from him before.

 

Best Moment from Atlanta Because Any Other Moment from Any Other Show Would Just Be A Lie

Umm…I mean, can I just say the whole show? From the glow of those Lemon Pepper Sauce Wings to Black Justin Bieber and everything between. This show gave us Moments on top of MOMENTS! But if I had to choose one, it would have to be The Invisible Car scene. Early in the episode titled “The Club”, it’s suggested by one of the lead characters that a star football player supposedly owns an actual invisible car. No one believes this, but instead regard it as a lavish joke to display how rich this guy could be to own an invincible car. It’s so early in the episode in which this story is told and so much stuff happens through out the episode that you forget this ridiculous story that is until….

 

 

And some how you buy into this moment, in show grounded not in some alternate universe but in your reality and some how it totally makes sense like every other crazy thing in Atlanta.

Best Use Of An 80’s Song On A Show.

You’d be surprised by (or maybe not) by how many shows I could choose from in this category. The love of 80’s music seems to know no boundaries as most shows and films are made by children of the 80’s now.   The likely sources for usage of 80’s music would obviously be in shows that take place in the 1980’s. From Halt & Catch Fire using Elvis Costello’s song “Beyond Belief” blare out of a speaker box to the nostalgia crazy episode of Black Mirror, “San Junipero” featuring a foreshadowing with 5 seconds of The Smiths song “Girlfriend In A Coma” or the dance floor ready “Need You Tonight” by INXS.   And of course how could we forget the numerous music cues from Stranger Things, especially the perfectly eerie closing credits song “Nocturnal Me” by Echo and The Bunnymen. With all that said a show not taking place in the 80’s managed to out do them all. In the opening scene of episode of 2 of season 2 of Mr. Robot, Phil Collins (yes, I said Phil Collins) song “Take Me Home” is lightly heard from a distance but as the scene unfolds the song builds momentum gradually becoming louder as scene becomes ever so more dramatic and surreal. Phil Collins song writing has become an easy punching bag for most and doesn’t seem to have the admiration of other 80’s music but I tell you this, you’ll be obsessed with this song after seeing it used so will in this scene. In an utterly disappointing season this was a highlight for Mr. Robot and maybe the A.L.F. inspired episode.

Best (Favorite) Shows of 2016

Disclaimer: I don’t know why but for some reason I never catch up to Transparent until after I do these lists. So just know that if I did, the show would probably be on this list…it would probably be in the top 5 because it’s a great show.

 

Honorable MentionsBetter Call Saul, Broad City, Fleabag, Luke Cage, Preacher, The Night Of, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

 

 

  1. Westworld – HBO and Mr. Robot – USA

Although both of these programs showed the endless scope that can be had with television, they were both kind of full of themselves too. Here’s to hoping both shows got their worst qualities out of their systems. For Westworld, the endless setting the table with plot on top of plot on top of plot has hopefully ended with the first season/Prologue. Mystery and online speculation is fun but a lot was asked of its audience to buy into that was all wrapped up with a tremendous last thirty minutes of the season finale. Which can lead for a more entertaining and character driven season two (we hope). While Mr. Robot suffered a sophomore slump of high expectations, with a terrible stretch of episodes that left its audience wondering, “where the hell is this going”? I love to be challenged by a show but it seemed as though the shows creator Sam Esmail was trying to test his audience, which sure is fine but to do it for most of the season was too much. But that is also been the pleasure of the show, the boundaries and forth walls broken down by a show that uses conventional troupes in unconventional ways. Here’s to hoping the ship finds its course in Season 3.

 

  1. The Wine Show – Hulu

I’ve been fortunate this year to do a lot of traveling, eating great food and drinking some great wine. With that I’ve had the chance to learn a lot about food and wine from documentaries like Chef’s Table, Chef’s Table: France, Uncorked and Cooked. For me The Wine Show gave me the most pleasure to watch, which also educated me about this alcoholic beverage I enjoy so much. With the added bonus of the charming host Matthew Goode and Matthew Rhys, enjoying the winery’s of Italy only made the show more delightful.

 

  1. Black Mirror – Netflix

I wouldn’t say any episode of Black Mirror was perfect this season, but almost all of them where fascinating and terrifying even the up beat “San Junipero”. It’s no secret that we has a society are succumbing to our new overlords known as technology. This year more than ever we’ve seen the power for better and for Worse that technology can have on our daily lives. Black Mirror touches upon the many avenues this can go horribly wrong, often in a Orwellian level that even George Orwell could have never foresee.

Best Episode – San Junipero

 

  1. Girls – HBO

It can be easy to forget about Girls after two lackluster seasons, but it would seem that the show figured itself out this past year. Yes these are the same narcissistic flawed characters we’ve grown to love or loathe but the mistakes and relationships they’ve chosen finally make sense. Adam and Hannah never made sense, they only seemed to be a construct for the sake of interesting television. For better or worse Adam and Jessa make sense even though that relationship could cause WWIII any day now.

Best Episode – The Panic in Central Park

 

 

  1. High Maintenance – HBO

High Maintenance has two things going for it that I very much like, New York City as it’s back drop and vignette story telling. Our guide into each story is The Guy, a marijuana delivery guy who interacts with the individuals who we follow in their own episode. The show has an amazing ability to mock and love it’s fictional archetype New York characters that we as non-New Yorkers have are own ideas of.

Best Episode – Grandpa

 

  1. Halt and Catch Fire – AMC

It’s a shame that more people don’t watch this show, but it’s hard to convince people to watch a drama without sex (there’s a lot of sexual tension) and violence (someone did kill themselves this season though). What makes this show stand out from other shows that might provide those needs you have is the unbelievably complex, intelligent, individualistic female leads. Cameron and Donna are the best of friends, the worst of enemies, without a man having to do anything with their relationship. The show is far cry from it’s first season, which came off as a Mad Men for the 80’s but it’s taking a few notes from the show in particular creating strong women in the workplace.

Best Episode – NeXT

 

  1. The Americans – FX

The Americans continues to be my favorite show about family, in the most extreme circumstances of a family unit no less. The long con of being Russian spies in America is taking it’s toll on Elizabeth and Phillip, who are trying to explain this life style to ever more curious, sometimes terrified daughter. On the grand scale we know how this story ends but that doesn’t make it any less thrilling to watch on the smaller scale for our leads in this story. The Americans manages to show that there isn’t anything sexy about spy work, it’s grunt job full of self-doubt and paranoia.

Best Episode – The Magic of David Copperfield V: The Statute of Liberty Disappears

 

  1. Game of Thrones – HBO

Maybe this is what the GoT creators and fans always needed, or better yet didn’t need, a guide to explain to them where this story was headed. The results of the first season of the Game of Thrones without a book as a road map surprisingly gave us good results (for the most part). Given us some of the most memorable moments in a show already filled with classic moments. The final two episodes showed the amazing scope that could be had on the small screen.

Best Episode – The Winds of Winter

 

  1. Stranger Things – Netflix

Sometimes comfort and familiarity is needed, especially when the real world feels like it’s going to shit. Stranger Things came in a time when we needed some visual comfort food and it did so for us. A perfect construct of everything we love about the 80’s Spielbergian kids with Stephen King like scares, without the danger of the Cold War seeping in. The child like wander to keep us young and knowing that the danger wouldn’t ever come with a cost. Oh…that’s right, but what about Barb?!

 

  1. The People vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story – FX

What made this show were the great performances by Sarah Paulsen, Sterling K. Brown and Courtney B. Vance. Bringing to life three people only vaguely remembered as caricatures and villains. The nuances of their performances elevated them over some hefty competition, of an Oscar winner, a Friends star and John Travolta doing some sort of Marlon Brando impression. This plus the added factor of the amazing mingling of tabloid like story telling while confronting Americas continues problems of race relations made for entertaining, while most times important television even twenty years after the events.

 

  1. Atlanta – FX

Twin Peaks for a Hip-Hop generation is a cute pitch but Atlanta is more than that. Yes it takes the unpredictability of what we like out of the more weird hour long dramas and stuffs it in an half hour comedy but it handles so much more under it’s belt. Confronting race, homophobia, celebrity and being flat out broke in ways television has never encounter. Donald Glover builds his own a unique world that reminds you of other comedy geniuses like Louie C.K. and Larry David, who see life in their own bizarre, funny and sometimes fucked up kind of way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Best ( Chris’s Favorite) Films of 2015

Although this wasn’t quite a great year in films, the good and great one’s proved the value of the big screen experience that film allow us.  Nothing beats seeing the grand scope of an amazing car chase scene or great actors with emotional highs with close ups that won’t let you look away.  There are still visionaries out there trying to show the power of film or more accurately digital film, something that the best television can’t accomplish, the atmosphere and mood that film captures.  The feeling of vertigo watching someone high wire from one building to the next, the feel of a punch being landed and the capabilities of our emotions showing being on display.  This is the power the movies can have over us even in the weakest of years. (more…)

 

Best Scene In A Film (That’s Not In Mad Max)

Creed Running With Motorcycle Crew in Creed

Every Rocky film has the montage scene of the boxer getting in top-notch shape for the big fight, so you naturally expect that in Creed as well. And yes they usually end with Rocky running up those now famous stairs in Philadelphia. Director Ryan Coogler decided to go for something quite different on his take in Creed. Clearly influenced by the documentary 12 O’Clock Boys, Coogler makes it clear this isn’t your fathers Rocky film with rapper Meek Mill’s take on the classic Rocky theme providing the tempo for this conclusion for the montage with his song Lord Knows. With a young black motorcycle crew riding with Adonis Creed while he runs his last sprint the scene provides a boost of energy never seen in a Rocky film, making Coogler take on the series uniquely its own.

Best Sequel

Magic Mike XXL (That’s Not Mad Max or Creed)

The first Magic Mike, although surprisingly good, may have left you cold and seeking a little be more than what was delivered. As the sequel’s title suggest, this installment is going much bigger than the prior film while leaving all worries behind of the first film. Magic Mike XXL finds Channing Tatum and the rest of the boys embarking on a “one last ride” style road trip, to Myrtle Beach for a strippers convention. Yes, I said a stripper convention. On the way the find themselves involved in some light hearted misadventures. The film as no bones about what you came here to see but while they give you what you want, they also subversively bring up social topics without ever actually bringing them up. Masculinity, femininity, homosexuality, and race provide an avenue for the characters to show their views without ever making a heavy-handed statement about “togetherness”. It just simply does it in organically. If that’s not enough for you, less not forget the scene stealing performance by Joe Manganiello that provides one of best one of the best scenes of the year with his use of Nine Inch Nails and a sex swing.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Star Wars: The Force Awakens

I feel obligated to mention The Force Awakens, somewhere on this post despite the fact that I’m not much of a Star Wars fan. That said even I found myself sucked up in the excitement of culture phenomenon of the most recent installment. Yes, you could say it was rehash of the original Star Wars film and yes R2-D2 all of sudden waking up seemed just a little perfect but that’s ok. Let’s face it, J.J. Abrams was given the impossible job of living up to the expectations that were once faltered by a previous trilogy. Whatever you may feel for the film it’s self and Abrams table setting, you can’t deny his wonderful casting of the three leads of the film. Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Adam Driver were not only asked to take a beloved series on their shoulders but to be the new faces of it. There performances in one film, for me as already surpassed many of the actors in the original trilogy. John Boyega seems to be ready made leading man, capable to move between reluctant hero and the sidekick in one scene. Adam Driver is doing something very interesting her as the villain Kylo Ren, with the most iconic bad guy in film history Darth Vader it can be hard to compete with that shadow. Driver knows that, and over plays it in earlier parts of the film with almost “chip on his shoulder” attitude, eventually making and unfortunately making his case for true villainy. Daisy Ridley is the cherry on top of a great year for women in films, in particular action films. For what is asked of her in the closing fight scene (and a lot is asked of her in a break neck speed) we have to buy into her ask character. Ridley makes Rey instantly likeable, in her opening scenes. In the early parts of the film, we don’t exactly know where we are heading with Rey but Ridley manages to convey a comfortably with her performances as if we have been following this character for years. Ridley truly holds her own amongst actors more familiar to this world while placing herself firmly as the hero of this tale.

Top 10 Films of 2015

Full disclosure, I haven’t actually seen every film this year including Carol, Youth, The Look Of Silence, The Assassin, Son Of Saul, Chi-Raq and a few others.

  1. Spotlight

Sometimes great filmmaking is not having a grandiose vision but knowing what the script ask of you, letting the story tell itself. Tom McCarthy does so, allowing his actors showcase their abilities to perform, with small details of their characters. Nothing sexy here, just a will crafted, precise film in which everyone delivers.

  1. The Revenant

I haven’t much cared for any of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu previous films, but even I knew that this most recent effort would be one to seek out. Mostly due to his leading man Leonardo DiCaprio, with if not his best performance (it’s not), perhaps the most demanding of his career. Not just in the physical sense but because for the majority of the film he doesn’t speak, asking DiCaprio to carry his performance in actions, not words. And yes, that bear attack scene, is probably the most terrifying scene you’ll see all year or next year.

  1. The Hateful Eight

Tarantino’s newest film is problematic at times. No filmmaker loves the sound of people speaking his dialogue more, especially when he is reading it himself as the narrator. What flaws there are don’t ruin the intriguing discussion of race, in particular the subtle racism in classic westerns of the “golden age”, such as the John Ford films. In the character Major Marquis Warren (played by Samuel L. Jackson in his best performance since Pulp Fiction), Tarantino has the capacity to talk about race relations in a modern context. The way in which black and white people need to see each other is a fascinating point of the film, especially in relationship with masculinity amongst men of any color.

  1. Clouds of Sils Maria

Of the films on my list that demands a second viewing for me, Clouds of Sils Maria is on the top of the list. Not just because it’s a great film but also because of the open questions that it leaves you with by the end of the film. Juliette Binoche, time in and time out demands your attention with her screen presents. While Kristen Stewart shows that there is real talent behind those other wise annoying mannerism that we grown use to in other films. Can’t wait to catch up on this film again.

  1. Creed

For all the complaints of sequels/remakes, Creed makes a strong case for what stories can be furthered with doing so. This film didn’t have to be as good as it ended up being. Ryan Coogler didn’t want to make just boxing film with classic Rocky montages. He sought to make expansion of the franchise while giving us character driven film of young man chasing his past and future. Michael B. Jordan makes clear that he has all the makings of a movie star, while Stallone is great in his lease all out Rocky performance (It seems Coogler kept him from doing that thick Rocky accent this time around).

  1. Tangerine

For those who know about this film, much has been made about the fact that it was filmed all on an iPhone. If that gets you to see this film, that’s great, but that isn’t what makes the film worth your time. It does what few LGBT films have done, it just tells a story about people that so happen to be transgender. Tangerine is not interested in making statements, but only say these are people, people who deal with life just as you or I do. This is what makes the film great, ordinary people dealing with their day the best they can. Not to mention the eye for detail director Sean S. Baker as for little corners of Los Angeles that may have never been filmed until Tangerine. Showing a side of L.A. that most residents are more familiar with and outsiders have never seen.

  1. Ex Machina

Feeling like a film length episode of The Twilight Zone, Ex Machina is a prime example of the power of cinema. Capturing atmosphere and tone, in such psychological level that puts you on edge admittedly when you reach the man location the film takes place in. And like great episodes of The Twilight Zone, this film subtext is the allegory of men’s need to be loved and the need for power. Alicia Vikander’s performance of Ava is of delicate nature of wonder, even in the closing moments when things begin to turn. She is freighting yes but not with malice or hurtful contempt but just wonder, that is due to Vikander’s great performance.

  1. Inside Out

Much is demanded of Pixar every year to deliver not just a terrific kids movie, but a great picture. This isn’t an easy feat to accomplish year in and year out (clearly they take a year off trying to do so when ever they release a Cars movie), but the bar is set high. Inside Out continues the (for the most part) efforts to set a standard in creative animation and storytelling. Making something as complex as our human emotions, quite easy to comprehend while asking existential questions has though Ingmar Bergman went into animation makes it far ahead than any other traditional big budget film this year. And as always Pixar does a wonderful job with casting whether the voices are familiar to us or not, they always seem to fit the character.

  1. Anomalisa

Speaking of existentialism and the human mind, Charlie Kaufman has a new film out folks. In his second endeavor as director, with the help of co-director Duke Johnson he makes his first animated feature. There’s a subtle hint in all his work of a mental horror film underlying the themes that Kaufman deals with. Whether focusing on our ego, holding on to love, fear of dying, or depression, Kaufman does it in his own unique way. His fascination with these expects of being human are all on display in this most recent film Anomalisa. As with all Kaufman films, he sends you down a rabbit hole of thought and emotion. He doesn’t do this to for us to solve the puzzle but to show the complexity of narcissism and neurosis, seeking pleasures or self worth.

  1. Mad Max: Fury Road

This apocalyptic film came out six months ago and it still stands as the best time I’ve had in theatre this year (yes, I’ve seen The Force Awakens…chill). No film had a better understanding of what it was trying to accomplish than George Miller’s visceral rock opera of chaos and terror. For Miller who hadn’t made a Mad Max film in 30 years, he accomplishes what few action films do as of late, placing the stacks of the situation in relatable way in unreal world. Along with high octane editing, this movie puts you in the driver seat in away that seven Fast & Furious movies having figured out to do yet. With Imperator Furiosa (played by underrated Charlize Theron), we are given a great female action hero, in this allegory of destructive nature of men who seek absolute power. The film speaks to willingness of the ones with power to send young men (War Boys) to fight their wars and die for their personal gain. The fourth installment in any action movie franchise has no business being this good but Miller not only made a great action movie, he made a great film. Period.

Best (Favorite) Television of 2015

With taking a heavier load of classes in the summer and fall semester, this was perhaps the first year in which I watched more television than films. It was easier to step away from writing a paper to watch an episode of Mr. Robot than it was to go to the multiplex for a few hours and get disappointed by the next summer blockbuster. There’s comfort in television, knowing that you won’t be disappointed by familiar faces that you’ve come to know in front and behind the camera. And if you find yourself wanting to cut ties with a show (talking to you House Of Cards) because it’s become a total mess, you can simply walk away from it, no questions asked. We saw some of our favorites go away this year, we found ourselves surprised by the turn around of other shows and we saw True Detective turn into a turd of a show. Here’s a look back at my favorites of 2015. (more…)

Best 30 Minutes of Television


Inside Amy Schumer – 12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer
An homage to the classic Sidney Lumet film, 12 Angry Men, which focused on the jury of 12 men deciding the fate of a boy convicted of murder. In Schumer’s version, the focal is not on a murder trial but on whether Amy Schumer is hot enough to be on television. Just as the Lumet film, this episode showcases a cast of great character actors, including Paul Giamatti in a classic blow hard Giamatti performance. You don’t have to be a fan of 12 Angry Men to appreciate this hilarious episode that tackles how men talk about the value of women, especially one such as Schumer. Schumer’s willingness to have these men argue about her sex appeal and beauty, gives insight into the sometimes ruthless discussions men have behind closed doors about women in a heartbreaking, yet funny way.

Best Post Mad Men Performance


Jon Hamm in Wet Hot American Summer: First Day Of Camp
If you were a Mad Men lover such as I, there was a void after those final moments, of Don Draper envisioning the perfect Coca Cola commercial, that may never be filled. Yet those familiar faces were found all over television from Another Period, The Last Man On Earth, and Documentary Now. None were better than Jon Hamm as The Falcon in Wet Hot, a CIA agent who lacks any true concern or apathy for his mission. Hamm showcases his ease in comedy that was rarely shown in his reserved Don Draper performance. Hamm makes himself at home in this already established and beloved cult show, seeming to be at more ease than some of the actors who were in the film 15 years ago.

Best Moment

The “Come At Me Bro” Moment in Game Of Thrones
Due to some bad ad-libbing by the show runners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, this most recent season of Game Of Thrones was filled with missteps. Despite the flaws and questionable decisions (Sansa rape scene and the misadventures of Jamie & Bronn) going off book, literally, the show produced one of the most talked about scenes in pop culture this year. The battle at Hardhome came to be a surprise for non-book readers and book readers alike. With a battle that was only talked about in the books, the beloved character of Jon Snow rose to a new level of being not just the “emo” kid but also, now, a bad ass. Yet for all Jon Snow did, there is no way he could beat a guy who can raise the dead with a snap of the finger. The Knight’s King, the leader of the Others, makes a short appearance but a lasting impression with his awakening of all the dead wildlings, for the use of his own army. Showing his power to Jon Snow brings an echoing fear to him and us as the audience. You got some real problems now Westeros. Good luck.

Honorable Mention Shows

Daredevil, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Veep, Getting On, Halt and Catch Fire, and….

Transparent
I’ve only had the chance to watch two episodes of the new season of Transparent but it terrifically picks up where the last season left off. This show goes beyond just being the “transgender show”, and speaks to the everyday troubles of being part of a family, even when we don’t want to be part of that family. The Pfefferman family may be filled with narcissistic, destructive, unlikable people but no one said you had to like every television character you watch. Even despite their flaws, Transparent shows the importance of family without trying to be a hallmark card from the set of Parenthood.

Top Ten Shows

10. Master of None – Netflix
Aziz Ansari’s take on the lifestyle, of a young up and coming New Yorker, may not be an original thought. Yet the perspective and insight he gives with the help of co-creator, Alan Yang, is something of its time in a profound way in a half hour “comedy”. Some may be disappointed with lack of laughs provided but the humor is there, in the relationships and situations of realism.
Best Episode – Mornings

9. Show Me A Hero – HBO
This six part mini-series, from David Simon (The Wire), shows the real life story of Yonkers building of public housing in the late 1980’s and the protest by it’s white middle class citizens who wanted nothing to do with it. This may sound like a bore to you, but Show Me A Hero was far from that, showing ways that racism can be carried out beyond Civil Rights and racial slurs. Oscar Isaac gets an opportunity to show his range as a leading man, playing the mayor of Yonkers, Nick Wasicsko, who reluctantly must see the public housing through to the end. Isaac showcases his ability to be the movie star in Wasicsko’s highest moments and the complicated character actor in Wasicsko’s lowest lows. Isaac’s higher profile turns this year in Ex Machina and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, giving him more of the spotlight but his turn in Show Me A Hero is the true peak for his great year.
Best Episode – Episode 2

8. Chef’s Table – Netflix
Yes, there were better shows this year but none as more pleasurable to watch than this documentary series. Chef’s Table gives insight to the best of the best of the culinary world; chefs with unique views on life and cooking. It would be easy to show shot after shot of mouth watering meals (don’t get me wrong they do that) but Chef’s Table displays the beauty, hardships, and artistry that goes into making the best food in the world. You’ll want to make a trip to each of these Chef’s restaurant after watching this, believe me.
Best Episode – Francis Mallmann

7. Better Call Saul – AMC
The pressure was on, for the spin-off of one of the best shows ever (Breaking Bad). Though it seemed after the first two episodes it was going to be a lesser rip off of it’s predecessor, Better Call Saul found it’s footing and it’s own unique perspective to the already established Breaking Bad universe. By mid-season, the show stood as its own in the Mike Ehrmantraut centered episode Five-O, that focused on his days as a cop prior to moving to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Bob Ordenkirk and Michael McKean show that some of the best actors are comedians as feuding brothers.
Best Episode – Five-O

6. Review – Comedy Central
Although Better Call Saul is the spin off to Breaking Bad, no character is more spiritually connected to Walter White than Review’s Forrest MacNeil. As a critic of life experiences, MacNeil has put upon himself to go all in on any potential review he must do. Whether it is experiencing a pillow fight, public speaking, or divorce, MacNeil follows through to self-damaging effect. By the end of season two, his life spirals down to a darkly comedic downfall only because of his own undoing.
Best Episode – Cult, Perfect Body

5. Fargo – FX
While most were hate watching True Detective season 2, Fargo was making its case for why we should be watching it over any other crime show for two years running. An all star cast, that feels as though they’ve been these people their whole lives, including Kirsten Dunst, who has never been better and Bokeem Woodbine, who has never gotten such an opportunity to play such a rich character. The show gives respect and admiration for the established Coen Brothers universe of the film Fargo while expanding that world, connecting it to their other films such as Millers Crossing, The Man Who Wasn’t There and The Big Lebowski.
Best Episode – Loplop

4. The Americans – FX
While previous seasons, of this spy drama, focused on the difficulty of keeping a healthy marriage going in the spy game, this most recent season focused on the difficulty of raising children in this dangerous world. This became especially apparent when one of the children finds out their parents are spies for Russia. This 80’s Cold War show, continues to show the brutal (sometimes too brutal) espionage world, which is quite the opposite of James Bond. Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys don’t get accolades they deserve for playing the several characters that is asked of them, many times in just one episode.
Best Episode – March 8, 1983

3. Mad Men – AMC
My love affair with this show is will be documented so no reason to pontificate on it’s greatness. But in it’s closing chapters, Mad Men played wonderfully with old themes of the show of the ever-growing circles we find ourselves in. No other show wonderfully displayed the meta sadness of saying goodbye for its characters and creators while sending off in a classic satisfactory fashion.
Best Episode – Time & Life

2. Mr. Robot – USA
Rarely do you find yourself surprised by television. It’s designed to make you comfortable, characters you come to find dear to you on a weekly basis with storylines resolved by the final moments of the episode. Fortunately, there are shows that like to keep us on our toes. Mr. Robot was such a show that played with grandiose ideas that built on top each episode while breaking the foundation of what to expect from the previous episode. Yes, it had some similarities to a certain late 90’s anarchist tale but we knew that, they knew that but it expanded on a false narrator with layers and layers of denial by its lead character. No show made more excited for what was coming for it’s next season than Mr. Robot.
Best Episode – eps1.5_br4ve-trave1er.asf

1. The Leftovers – HBO
The best show of the year was the biggest surprise of the year, too. Although the first season had its moments with stand alone episodes and the mystery of the departure, I found myself debating if I even needed to watch the second season. Thankfully, the show left the dreariness of its previous season behind along with Guilty Remnant (to a degree) in Upstate New York. This season opened up more doors of questions, while answering others in a satisfying manner. As was the case with Mr. Robot, each episode left you with a compelling ending or threat, wanting you to watch the next episode.
Best Episode – International Assassin

The Girls of Summer

 

 

 

A couple of months ago, I (Chris) mentioned my hopefulness of what can come out of the success of Furious 7, with its potential impact on the increase of multicultural characters in films. These past few months, a more consistent trend has appeared in the blockbuster engulfed Summer: the dominant appearance of interesting female characters in what is usually considered a testosterone-run season.

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In the first act of the overly optimistic Tommorowland,  we are introduced to a young girl by the name of Athena (her name pretty much explains her character). When asked by a male counterpart who she was, she simply says, “I’m the future”; her answer is working on two levels for us, the audience. We later find out that this young, charismatic, and strong-willed girl is actually artificial intelligence. Along with that, Brad Bird (director of Tomorrowland) sees her as the future because she is female. With a look at the run of summer movies in 2015, you could easily see several female characters repeating this same line of dialogue in a metaphorical sense.

In past Summers, women were given a week or two of movies specifically designed for them (The Devil Wears Prada and Eat Pray Love). Even a few times, they were thrown a bone with a masculine driven action movie with a female sidekick (Edge of Tomorrow and The Bourne Legacy). Yet occasionally, one if these “chick flicks” makes a major breakthrough, not just with female audiences but with male as well (Bridesmaids). Even the success of Bridesmaids can surprise studio heads, and have them debate whether it’s worth the effort to make more female-driven films that aren’t easily defined as chick flicks in the middle of summer.

This year, we’ve seen an expanse of leading female roles, in the variety of summer films. Most notably in the action/adventure genre, which despite the fact of the summer starting out rough with the problematic depiction of Black Widow in The Avengers: Age of Ultron, we’ve had our share of complex action heroines. Such is the case of the aforementioned Tomorrowland, which relied on two very different female leads. George Clooney is the name that brought people into the theater (very few people actually, the film has only grossed 84 million after being theaters for over a month). Yet the female leads played by Britt Robertson and Raffey Cassidy are the driving force of the story, while Clooney is there to be a helping hand along the way. Despite not being a fan of the film, Britt Robertson’s performance, as Casey, is something to appreciate from a studio (Disney) that often depicts its female leads as delicate princesses. Casey is a self reliant, tech-geek with no bearings of the clichés of femininity.

While Mad Max: Fury Road takes a darker look into our future than Tomorrowland, it also shares a notable appreciation for a strong female characters.The strong female presence has been well documented when talking about the best movie of the summer, Mad Max: Fury Road. The complaint, by certain groups of men(click here for ridiculous article), and how the movie focuses too much attention on Charlize Theron, who plays Imperator Furiosa, is uninformed. This series has shown, in each installment, how Max is the vessel for the action to continue. He’s the launching pad but the world around him has always been the character that keeps us interested; Furiosa is that world and the story. A timely story, as an allegory for the destruction, that men take such pride in our world today. George Miller displays the many ways we have wronged and used women, not as our equals but our “property” in the most extreme terrifying ways.

Both MM: Fury Road and Tomorrowland put the hopes and power of the future in the hands of its female protagonists; giving them the chance to fix what MEN have ruined. This perspective is not only revolutionary but also perhaps evolutionary. We’ve had our chance to fix the future, maybe it’s time for the women to save us (or destroy us).

This Summer, we’ve seen even greater success for females in the comedy world. Pitch Perfect 2, which features an almost all-female cast and was also directed by a woman (Elizabeth Banks, who also has a small part in PP2), became a must-see not with just ladies but with also guys who find this group of misfits endearing. With success of Spy, Melissa McCarthy has show she is capable to sell tickets in a manner similar to that of her male counterparts, such as Will Ferrell and Seth Rogen.

And the summer still has plenty to offer for leading ladies. This weekend, we will see the release of Pixar’s Inside Out, which takes us inside the head of a pre-teen girl, who is going through a difficult time. Rarely do we see “coming of age” films from the perspective of a young girl. With Pixar, you know you’ll always get something interesting and thought-provoking, even in animated films. Amy Schumer’s acting and writing vehicle, Trainwreck gives Schumer the chance to do what all her male counterparts have been doing. To be the crude, vulgar, and “in a state of arrested development” that they’ve been for a long time now.

Hopefully, this is not merely “one good Summer” for this enrichment of vast female characters, a passing trend until we are overloaded with 20 superheroes next summer. This shouldn’t be considered a trend but the embodiment of our culture that women are more than just helpless bystanders, waiting for to be rescued or romanced.

 

 

 

The Multicultural Action Hero: The Social Relevance of the Fast & Furious Franchise

 

In the past year we’ve seen major changes in the diversity of actors in television. This is not simply in the minor roles but often the lead protagonist of many shows. Yes, there have been minor waves of this in recent years with the beloved but barely watched The Wire. Yes, Lost was known for having a large cast of people of color but lets not forget that Jake, Locke, Kate and Sawyer were the leads of the show. Yet in this past year, television as had a rise of big and small parts for minorities.  Columnist of the website DeadlineNellie Andreeva speaks about the sea change, in her controversial piece that examines the “backlash” of too much diversity (or as she incorrectly says ethnicity) in Hollywood. This supposed backlash is coming from executives and agents having a hard time getting work for their white actors. In this supposed overtaking by minorities, we’ve seen shows that were specially designed for non-white actors (Empire and Fresh Off The Boat) and others that were initially designed for a white lead (as is the case of Viola Davis in How To Get Away With Murder). With the growth of minorities in dramas and comedies, television is not only surpassing films in this “Golden Age” of quality programming but with the realization of the many cultures that inhabit many different worlds. (more…)

The Fast & Furious series seems to be the only major film franchise that recognizes the logic of diversity amongst its cast of characters. This multicultural element has been a part of the franchise since it’s inception in 2001 with The Fast and the Furious. Paul Walker, as the FBI agent Brian O’Conner, gets sucked into the subculture of street racing by not only falling for Jordana Brewster but also finding a bond with Vin Diesel’s character Dom, who is the leader of this diverse crew. Yes, there are a few white guys in the crew but Dom as its leader is far from the look of the average leading man. As the series as gone on, we’ve seen an increase of the diversity in the cast. This increase in diversity was especially true once Justin Lin took over the helm, directing F&F 3-6; we saw a range of faces joining the crew. Leaving us to this most recent picture, Furious 7, which showcases our “heroes” as united again for another high-octane adventure. Other than Paul Walker (in sadly his last film do to his death) and Kurt Russell, who has nothing to do here other than to look at monitors while giving us exposition, the cast of good guys is a melting pot of various races. To see such diversity in a popular film, let alone a series of films so popular, is truly unprecedented.

Other than the powerhouse star ability of Denzel Washington and Will Smith, action films are rarely staring non-white men. With an exception of those two juggernauts, no major film is led by anything else than white males or a slew of white males. In various films franchises (The Avengers for example), we’ve come accustomed to seeing our heroes saving the lives of people of various corners of the world but only the F&F series allows those faces, who usually play the victims, to become the leading cast of protectors. Furious 7 earned $392 million worldwide on its opening weekend, showing its continuous growth in popularity. The amount of money isn’t only showing the popularity but also who is going out to see the movie: 75% of ticket sales of Furious 7 were contributed to non-white audiences. This is nothing new with this particular series, yet why hasn’t Hollywood seen the value of diverse cast in other films?

There are a few factors to contribute to the lack of diversity in blockbuster films. Risk being the clearest advocate against this change. Despite what you may think, film studios much rather stick to formulas that have worked for thirty years now. Yes, the danger in the films may change year by year, depending on social relevance (killer shark, killer asteroid, killer Loki), but leading men stay the same. The hidden little secret of the studio system is they don’t want to be the first to do something different (for fear of failure) but instead to be the second to do something different; it’s a copycat industry for lack of a better term. Secondly, many of the characters we see in blockbusters are based on prior material that has already established them as beloved characters. It’s hard to convince producers and fan boys that Donald Glover would be a great choice for Spider-Man when he looks nothing like the Spider-Man we’ve seen the past 40 years (and yes I know recently Marvel Comics made a black/Hispanic Spidey but that doesn’t mean people will forget white Spidey). What little we have seen of established white comic book characters, changing their race for the big screen, has only been of supporting characters, like Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury. No one has the guts (yet) to have one of the leading superheroes be black, instead you’ll have to wait for the Black Panther film starring Chadwick Boseman, who has a pinching for playing black historical figures (James Brown and Jackie Robinson). These two points lead us to the final reason the sea change hasn’t happened yet, perhaps Hollywood sees that blacks and other minority actors have their own genre of characters to themselves. Whether it’s slaves, gangsters, or historical figures, certain roles have to be designated to minority actors. We’ve past the point in which white actors play historically non-white characters (oh wait I forgot, Christian Bale played Moses and Joel Edgerton played the EGYPTIAN King Ramses. Never mind). These non-white actors have roles reserved for them, such as being slaves, maids, gangsters, Cesar Chavez, MLK Jr. but nearly impossible to be the leading man of the killer asteroid film. Hopefully, the continued success of F&F will eventually open the floodgates for Idris Elba to play James Bond (wishful thinking on that one).

Written by: Chris Jones

 

The Legacy of Mad Men

As many of you (us) are preparing grocery lists for Easter Sunday (I’m incredibly indecisive when it comes to Holiday cooking), Chris and I are readying ourselves for the last season of Mad Men. Take it or leave it but MM will always carry a special place in my heart, thanks to the artistic brilliance of Matthew Weiner. For me, it’s hard to pick out certain characters or scenes to analyze but I guess that’s why my husband is so awesome. Are you also saddened by this departure of an amazing TV show? Either way, I hope Chris is able to have you in tears, if you watch it, or intrigued if you don’t. Happy Easter, ya’ll! (more…)

What started as a naval-gazing fascination of how are parents and grandparents lived and behaved in the 60’s, developed into something conceptually connected to present day. These weren’t the “good old days” as we’ve been foolishly told. The show brought a nuance to our thoughts on the lives of women in the work place and at home. Sexism wasn’t just simply your boss grabbing your ass but instead men’s inability to see that a woman, like Peggy Olson, would want to do anything besides raising children. Even the subtle hints of racism from a beloved character, such as Bert Cooper who thought given blacks equal rights would spoil them, showed the flaws in even the most enlightened individuals. Imperfections were the reality of these people, of this time, which helped the show grow into something more than the question of who is Don Draper and what are his dark secrets. Don was the centerpiece, yet Matthew Weiner (creator of Mad Men) built something so much more vast, with various characters that had different points of view from its anti-hero.

What started as a show about who is Don Draper, became a show filled with symbolism and mythology of its world. Is Bob Benson a variation on the Don/Dick character? Was there something to the Megan Draper/Sharon Tate murder theories? Is Michael Ginsberg an alien? Along with the playful theories, hidden meanings, and symbolism came the lesson of change or the inability to do so. We’ve seen this in our lives, as people we are required, sometimes demanded to change for the betterment. At the root of the show, Weiner was most concern with how we adapt to things changing around us. Yet the painful truth that people repeat themselves, personally and publicly, was a theme of the series. The endless cycle or carousel, as Don pitched to Kodak in the season 1 finale, is what Don put himself in several times over. Of course, Don would get divorced again with Megan, yet this time in different circumstances. Yes the agency would eventually be sold to a larger agency again, for the betterment and wealth of its agency partners; that’s what these companies do. Don couldn’t adapt in his personal life but he sure as hell knew how to do it as an ad man.

So with only seven more episodes of Mad Men to look forward to, here’s a look back at what we love about perhaps the best television show ever.

Don & Peggy
No leading man in television as been adored quite like Jon Hamm has been playing Don Draper, yet no leading man has so much respect without the hardware to prove it. After all, how hard is it for Hamm to play Don Draper? He’s sexy, charming, and just says the amazing dialogue provided for him by the writers. Yet we know Hamm’s performance goes beyond simply good looks and written words. His capacity to sell us on not just the product (from the iconic Carousel scene in the finale of season one to the Jaguar ad in episode “The Other Woman”), but for us buying him in all of his deepest, darkest lows of the character. Rarely does Draper allow us to see the man behind those eyes but when we do, we feel true sympathy for him because Hamm has made us believe in him. There was always someone else in Hamm’s way to win the awards (most times deservingly so to Bryan Cranston) but what Hamm did shouldn’t be overlooked. Perhaps in the final year of the show he’ll finally get his just award.

The pleasure in watching people surprise you in a performance is something that keeps us watching films and television. No one, including Matthew Weiner, could have expected that Elizabeth Moss as Peggy Olson would turn out to be the true driving force of Mad Men. From the very first episode, we saw the 1960’s and the world of advertising through her eyes. Although she appeared to only be the tender hearted girl looking to get by, Moss quickly showed Peggy to be capable and when needed be, a ruthless character. As fans of the show, Betty Draper or Megan Draper never wowed us because they never were Don’s true equals. Maybe that was by design for us to see Peggy Olson as his real counter part. Don’s admiration for her comes from the connection of her started from nothing as he did. Elizabeth Moss has shown she is just as valuable (perhaps of more value because Peggy is the future of advertising) to the show’s forward movement into 1970’s and beyond.

5 Memorable “What The Hell” Moments In Mad Men
Sure, Mad Men never had a “red wedding” moment but no show has honed in on the surreal moments of shock and surprise in the ordinary day to day life quite like this show. From Roger Sterling vomiting fifty clams in front future clients, to Peggy accidentally stabbing her boyfriend only to be broken up with him moments later in the ambulance, the show has had its share of water cooler moments that kept us on our toes in what would appear to be a mundane show about advertising.

1. The Lonesome Death of Miss Blankenship
Draper went through secretaries like Spinal Tap went through drummers; maybe because he made them copywriters, one nightstands, or spouses. No secretary had a more memorable resignation than Miss Blankenship, whose death wasn’t such a shock (seeing that she was a very old woman) but the location in which it took place was. Dying in the place in which you work is never how anyone wants to go. As Roger Sterling put it, “She died like she lived, surrounded by the people she answered phones for.” Despite the haunting idea of dying at work, the moment isn’t void of humor, including Harry Crane whining about the use of a quilt, made by his mother, to cover the corpse of Blankenship to avoid clients seeing the disturbing scene.

2. Don’s Sudden Proposal To Megan
Who saw this coming? Megan (played by Jessica Pare) first appeared to be just a background actress filling up empty spaces. Yet slowly she would pop up, having one line here or there, eventually becoming Draper’s secretary. After having sex in “after work hours” at the office, Megan brushed off her encounter with Don as a one-time thing and seemed to return to the background of scenes again; except that Matthew Weiner had something up his sleeve for Megan. Don is a complicated man yes, but he wants his family life simple. A wife who can bring stability is all he wants when he comes home, and Megan seemed to be the perfect candidate for that. Notice the interesting choice of music in the closing scene of the episode, in which he purposes to Megan, “I Got You Babe” by Sonny and Cher, a couple who both where in their second marriages to each other and would eventually divorce.

3.When Lawnmower Meets Foot
Expectations and curiosity was high at Sterling-Cooper with the coming of the newly minted bosses’ arrival from London. Those hopes and curiosities were dashed with the introduction of youthful, charming Guy MacKendrick, an accountant poised to take over operations from Lane Pryce. That, of course, is until the unfortunate (or fortunate for Lane) mishap with the John Deere riding mower. Everyone at the agency has a joy ride with this most recent client merchandise, including Lois, who can barely operate the phone let alone heavy machinery. Her inability to control this “foot slicer on wheels” alters golden boy MacKendrick’s life of an accountant to a dud…Thankfully for Lane at least.

4.Bert’s Send Off
What great symmetry for Bert Cooper to say of his former secretary Miss Blankenship, “She died on the 37th floor of a skyscraper. She was an astronaut,” when he himself would die moments after Neil Armstrong stepped foot on the moon in 1969. Yet all, including Don, felt the void he left in the office in the closing moments of last the season finale. After getting back into partnership with the company and pushing his rival Jim Cutler out of it, Don has a moment to himself, only to experience what only can be described as a hallucination with the appearance of the deceased Bert Cooper. Yes, Mad Men has played with flashbacks from Don’s past in modern settings with him, yes while drunk or high Don has spoken to his dead father, but never has the show broken the forth wall like this. What could have easily been a jumping the shark moment, some how worked well and collaborated with everything going on in Draper’s life (or maybe it was a tumor). Bravo.

5.Pete Campbell vs. Lane Pryce
Everyone has that boss or co-worker that you would like to go 10 rounds with (if not, consider yourself blessed). For a moment, we all vicariously took pleasure in Pryce punching out Pete Campbell. It shouldn’t be surprising that Pete would find himself in a physical altercation with Don or Roger but for it to be Lane was the shocking part of the scene. In earlier seasons, Pryce took Campbell under his wing like a father figure, grooming him to be head of accounts someday. Yet Pete’s continued “assholeness,” due to his growing in power within the company, had reached a head for Lane and gave the “grimy little pimp” the beating he deserved.

The 10 Best Mad Men Characters That Aren’t Don or Peggy

Honorable Mention: Bobby Draper 4.0 simply for the lines: “I like the case, it looks like a coffin,” and “Everybody goes to the movies when their sad.”

10. Harry Crane-Everyone thinks of Campbell as the biggest creeper of MM, but don’t underestimate Crane’s creepy level. He’s sneaky creepy and Rich Sommer is sneaky funny as Crane.
9. Glen Bishop-In the latter seasons of the show, Glen started to develop himself beyond being the weird kid with an old soul into a terrific Holden Caulfield homage.
8. Joan Holloway-The yin to Peggy’s yang is a simplified reading of Joan. Her reach goes beyond her sex appeal as she navigates a man’s world seeking power, just as Peggy desires too.
7. Bert Cooper-When you’re as rich as Cooper, you’re allowed to be a weird, crabby old man but he was much more of a father figure for Sterling and Draper.
6. Bob Benson-Don’s doppelganger of sorts became the bane of Pete’s existence (which was always fun to watch) and gave another angle of the troublesome life of a closeted homosexual that we hadn’t seen on the show.
5. Stan Rizzo-Truthfully, I didn’t like Stan the first couple seasons he was on the show but he eventually became the standard of the new cool of the late 60’s and became one of Peggy’s biggest allies.
4. Michael Ginsberg-The boy who fell to earth, claims to have been born on Mars. Part of me always hoped it was true but sadly it appears he had a form of mental illness. Get well soon Ginsberg.
3. Pete Campbell-Early on he was billed as Don’s nemesis but soon became a surprisingly sympathetic character despite how much of an asshole he is. Vincent Kartheiser’s (who plays Campbell) willingness to play the fool gave us some of the more darkly funny moments. Here’s a link to one of my favorite Pete moments: Pete Falling.
2. Sally Draper-Apparently AMC wanted a spin off based around an adult Sally Draper but Weiner said no way. Unfortunately, we won’t get the chance to see the child of Betty and Don navigate the dangerous streets of 80’s NYC with Madonna, The Smiths, and Wham as the soundtrack.
1. Roger Sterling-All you need to know about the greatness of Roger Sterling is in these unforgettable one-liners:
“Is just me or is the lobby full of Negros?”
“Let me put it in account terms: Are you aware of the number of hand jobs I’m going to have to give?”
“Have a drink. It’ll make me look younger.”
“As a wise man once said: the only thing worse than not getting what you want is someone else getting it.”
“How Jewish are they? You know Fiddler on the Roof, audience or cast?”

The Best (Favorite) Episode of Mad Men

This is an impossible feat to pull, Mad Men has given us some of the best episodes in television history. Yet, there can only be one and for me it’s Season four’s episode titled, “The Suitcase”. It is the night of Ali vs. Liston II (this iconic fight is best known for the great image of Ali standing over Liston after knocking him out), which happens to be Peggy’s birthday as well. Unfortunately for her, instead of celebrating another year of life, she has to spend her night coming up with ad ideas with a drunk Don. Throughout this season, we see Draper spiraling downward but with him pushing away the pending bad news from the west coast, he hits rock bottom on this episode. His decision to not contact Ann Draper, his closest friend (and technically first wife) while she is on her deathbed, haunts Don through out the episode. When he eventually decides to call, he finds out Ann has died. This moment allows us to see Don at his most vulnerable, breaking down to tears in front of Peggy, actually bringing them closer than ever before.

Being a fan of Muhammad Ali, I appreciate the parallels between the young boxer and Don Draper. Despite Don not being a fan of Ali, as he says about him “he’s got a big mouth. I’m the greatest. Not if you have to say it,” there are similarities between the two. Don reinvented himself by obviously changing his name such as the boxer did, doing away with his birth name Cassius Clay, then renaming himself Muhammad Ali. Both have a way with words, which could captivate any room with their own brands of charm. Yet, the deviant Ali, was an unappealing new face in popular culture for Don’s generation (for reason such as being outspoken black man and his chosen religion didn’t help either). Even still, defiance is part of Draper too, who we’ve seen over and over again doing what is best for himself, while upsetting others around him in the agency. What’s great about the historical moments in the show, whether it be the Kennedy Assassination, the Moon landing, or in this case of Ali vs. Liston, Weiner always manages to find parallels between his fictional characters and the historical figures of the time.

Coming Attractions in 2015


With Oscars airing this past Sunday, it marks the end of focusing and awarding the films of 2014. Now, it’s time to look ahead at the films of 2015. There are many questions we have to ask ourselves with the various pictures coming out. Does Cameron Crowe have one more good movie in him with his new release Aloha (arguably he really hasn’t made a good film since Almost Famous)? Can Mad Max: Fury Road make a movie star out of Tom Hardy? Is the new Star Wars film going to be help us forget the prequels? And how is Furious 7 going to deal with the real life death of one of its stars, Paul Walker? To celebrate the films that we are excited for in 2015, I’ve made my own awards simply based on the trailers for these upcoming films. (more…)

The Film You Might Be Surprised I’m Excited To See Award

Magic Mike XXL
Oh yes. I was convinced by my wife to see the first Magic Mike on opening weekend and walked out of theatre pleasantly surprised. The direction of Steven Soderbergh raised the level of the material in an unironic film that seemed more to be ode to a French new wave Flashdance. It also gave us perhaps the best Channing Tatum performance we’ve seen (maybe cause of his personal connection to the material). This leads us to the sequel, Magic Mike XXL, a movie that let’s you know from the title that we are here to have a good time. The stacks are low here, no villains looking to take over the world or destroy New York City for the 100th time. No, not here, just the simple pleasure of seeing this rag tag team of male strippers enjoying what they do. With that said, the noticeable draw back of the sequel, is two key components that made the first film so good…Soderbergh and Matthew McConaughey.

The Film That You Might Be Surprised I’m Not Excited To See Award

The Avengers: Age of Ultron
I should be excited for a sequel that involves several of my favorite comic book characters, yet I don’t feel anything when I see Hulk running toward the Iron Man Hulkbuster in a rage of fury. Usually, the second installment of comic book films are considered the best, they are void of origin stories that slow down the film. Yet with all the separate Marvel films that connect to this new The Avengers film, the world building (or in this case universe building) to get to this point has gotten tiresome. Nothing seems to matter in any of these films because all they are doing is setting up for the next Captain America/Iron Man/The Avengers film. With all that said, I can’t imagine not seeing this movie on opening day cause I love comic movies, so disregard everything I just said.

The Film That Twelve Year Old Version of Myself Is In Front of The Line For Award

Jurassic World
This one can be easily explained: I LOVE DINOSAURS! They are my film kryptonite, to the point that I saw Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs. The original film in this series, Jurassic Park, was released in the summer I turned twelve. Its importance in how I see and appreciate film (oh I know Taxi Driver or Citizen Kane should be the answer for what film had the biggest impact on me but I would be lying if I said that) is never forgotten by me. I saw the possibilities in filmmaking with Jurassic Park, so naturally when they made the second Jurassic Park, I was going to be there (I gave it a pass up until we got the gymnastics scene from Jeff Goldblum’s daughter) and the dreadful Jurassic Park 3. So of course I’m there for what’s in store for this forth installment. Finally, we see what the park is like once it’s opened to the public, Chris Pratt now doing his Indiana Jones impression with that leather vest, and Raptors are the good guys (maybe). How can I not be excited about this?

And yes, if you were wondering I do cry every time I watch The Land Before Time and when Littlefoot’s mom dies.

The Chris Pratt Award

Oscar Isaac
This award is given to an actor or actress that breaks out to the point in which my mom knows his or her name. With Guardians of The Galaxy being a massive hit and Pratt’s terrific performance has Peter Quill, he had a breakout year, making him the next potential movie star guy. This year it looks like the next big thing could be Oscar Isaac, who in the past few years has gained popularity amongst critics and bloggers as someone with the appeal of a young Al Pacino. Seeing that there is no marketability in being considered a great actor but instead a movie star, Isaac will be seen in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Since I have lukewarm feelings on Star Wars altogether, I haven’t kept up on the secret details of the film so I have no clue if he is a good guy or bad guy in the film. He could be the Luke Skywalker or the Han Solo for all I know. What I do know is no matter what he plays in the film, you’ll take notice of him (cause he is a good looking guy) and you’ll remember his name.

The I Don’t Need a Trailer To Know This Film Is Going To Be Good (Hopefully) Award

Midnight Special
This is awarded to the film that has yet to have a trailer released, usually do to the fact that it won’t be out in theaters for another 7-9 months from now; so there is a lot risk involved with this award. But given that Jeff Nicholas, the director of Midnight Special, has directed one of my favorite films in the past 10 years (Take Shelter), I feel safe in knowing this will at least be worth seeing. Even with little that is known about the film, the cast should spark some interest for anybody, which includes, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver and Nichols’ most reliable actor Michael Shannon.

The Film That Will Most Likely Inspire My 2015 Halloween Costume

Charlize Theorn as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
This one is a no brainier. I mean just look at how much of a bad ass Theorn is with her shaved head and black make up covering her face. Every five years or so, we are privileged to see a woman playing with the ideas of female masculinity in an action film with the shaved head look. If Mad Max: Fury Road is has good as I hope it to be, I would love the chance to make her look part of my Halloween costume, I’ll just have to figure out what to do about her amputated/robot arm, but I look forward to the challenge.

And Lastly, The Ten Films I’m Looking Forward To See The Most in 2015:

In The Heart of The Sea
The Knight of Cups
The Revenant
Furious 7
Jurassic World
Midnight Special
Sisters
That’s What I’m Talking About
The Hateful Eight
Mad Max Fury Road

100 Films in a Year

Chris here. I wanted to clue you in on a New Years resolution of mine. As so many blog “think” pieces have stated in the past few years, this is the “golden age” of television and has pushed films (to a degree) into the background of the discussion of popular culture. The past year I’ve found myself having more conversations with friends on theories of The Yellow King or what was with the dance sequence at the end of Mad Men than about any film that may have warranted plenty of conversation (Obviously American Sniper has been an exception to this in the past few weeks but not for the merit of the ‘quality’ of the film but the politics behind it). Ash and I in the past few years have found it easier to commit to watching entire season of shows than commit to a two-hour movie. I’m not sure why that’s the case for us and many people these days, but I’ve missed the certain amount of commitment of taking a risk on films, whether they are old or new films. Inspired by that thought process, I wanted to catch up on some films from the past I’ve yet to see. (more…)

My initial plan was to only catch up on the Akira Kurosawa films I haven’t seen but than I realized there are some Ingmar Bergman films that I need to watch and oh, I need to finally see the original Solaris. Then I kept thinking of all these films that I’m shocked that I haven’t seen yet. Yes, it’s perfectly understandable to go your whole life without seeing the 1927 silent film Sunrise but how have I, a child of the 80’s not seen Sixteen Candles or Red Dawn? Then there’s Top Gun, a movie I’ve managed to avoid for my whole life that has dumbfounded the collection of my male friends who grew up wanting to be Maverick, while I wanted to be Prince from Purple Rain. When it was all said, I rounded the number of movies I needed to see to 100 (as if you didn’t know from the title of this piece). With a stipulation being that it had to be films that were released prior to 1994 (94’ was when my obsession with films really started, so it seemed to be the right point to look back at films that I’ve might missed out on). So with all that said, here’s my list of 100 films that I hope to watch before the end of 2015 and for your viewing pleasure, just in case you would like to follow along. Good luck.

100 Films in a year to watch:

Sixteen Candles

The General

Nashville

Brute Force

Ace in the Hole

Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

Becket

Lust For Life

Point Blank

Scanners

Django

Coming Home

Rocky II

The Panic in Needle Park

National Lampoon’s Loaded Weapon 1

Repulsion

Amarcord

The Long, Hot Summer

Straw Dogs

A Man Escaped

Xanadu

The 39 Steps

Suspicion

Lifeboat

All That Jazz

The Secret of NIMH

Hoosiers

Dead Poets Society

Gandhi

Newsies

The Magnificent Ambersons

F for Fake

Valley Girl

Burden of Dreams

Red Dawn,

The Hunt for Red October

Metropolis

Bull Durham

Shampoo

Sophie’s Choice,

Sullivan’s Travels

Grey Gardens (1975)

The Friends of Eddie Coyle

A Fistful of Dollars

Superfly

The Last Picture Show

Murder on the Orient Express

Baby Doll, Blow Up

Thelma & Louise

Gentleman’s Agreement

Once Upon a Time in America

Sex, Lies and Videotape

My Dinner with Andre

Defending Your Life

Being There

Top Gun

Das Boot

Solaris (1972)

New York, New York

Brief Encounter

Pickpocket

The Great Dictator

Roman Holiday

Sunrise

His Girl Friday

West Side Story

The Gold Rush

Wings of Desire

Battleship Potemkin

The Passion of Joan Arc

Stranger than Paradise

Stagecoach

High and Low

Persona

The Virgin Spring

Monty Python and The Holy Grail

Zelig

A Woman Under the Influence

The Sugarland Express

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me

Jules and Jim

Gates of Heaven

A Woman is a Woman

Breathless

Le Doulos

I Vitelloni

Eraserhead

Aguirre: The Wrath of God

Fitcarraldo

La Strada

McCabe & Mrs. Miller

The Passenger

Le Samourai

Stray Dog

Yojimbo

Sanjuro

Ikiru

Husbands and Wives

Rashomon

 

Best of 2014 in Films: Part Two

And here are my (Chris) top film picks of 2014. Enjoy my friends! (more…)

Honorable Mentions: Only Lovers Left Alive, Ida, Blue Ruin, Frank, Neighbors, Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, Dear White People, The Lego Movie, Life Itself and The Trip to Italy.

10. Under The Skin

The best homage this year to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey wasn’t an actual space film (sorry Interstellar) but instead it was a picture centered on gaining and learning about humanity back here on earth. Jonathan Glazer’s eerie (occasionally beautiful) film on what it means to be human is uniquely displayed in the point of view of a foreigner, played by Scarlett Johansson. Sexuality is a major part of this film, in questioning how we see each other as sometimes nothing more than an object of desire.

9. Nightcrawler

We aren’t naïve to the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles anymore, yet Dan Gilroy (director of Nightcrawler) manages to show something new here. Mostly through his sociopath character, Lou Bloom (played wonderfully by Jake Gyllenhaal), an opportunist who’s willingness to be the best crime journalism videographer goes past observer to willing participant. Bloom is a great salesman (Can you imagine the hell Bloom and Jordan Belfort would raise?), who truly doesn’t take no for an answer. The great cinematography by Robert Elswit (who also shot another very L.A. film the same year, Inherent Vice) gives the feel of constant dread around every corner as most of the film takes place at night.

8. Guardians of the Galaxy

Let’s just enjoy this. Let us remember the collective pleasure in knowing that for a of couple weeks in early August we had fun watching Chris Pratt do his best Han Solo impression. The chance to see a female lead in a comic book movie not run from the battle but instead get right in the thick of it. The joy brought to us by the dynamic duo of a foul mouth Brooklyn accented raccoon and the lovable childlike somewhat talking tree. The surprise comedy timing (or perfect lack of) by Drax the “muscle” of the movie. Revel in the fact that the galaxy was saved not by a fight scene but instead by Pratt’s dance moves. Just enjoy this moment, because we’ll grow tired and cynical of this band of misfits after 10 sequels.

7. The Babadook

In the simplest of terms, what The Shining was for alcoholic fathers is what The Babadook is for widowed single mothers. That is not to say this film isn’t unique, but fair warning this horror film is doing much more in its storytelling than most of the recent that share its genre. The real horror of the film isn’t the creature/ghost/demon but that of the difficulties of raising a young boy alone. At times the mother (played by Essie Davis) seems sleep deprived, stressed and downright terrified by her son’s constant need for attention, as most young imaginative boys are required. Jennifer Kent camera picks up those shadows and sounds that terrified us when we were young children in our bed alone using are own imagination to insight our fears.

6. The Grand Budapest Hotel

I feel like I’m on an island alone on this one but this is Wes Anderson best live action film since The Royal Tenenbaums. This is mostly due to Ralph Fiennes performance but also do to the madcap energy of the film that we rarely see from Anderson pictures. Anderson films have often been criticized for the inhibited nostalgia displayed by him, but in Budapest Hotel, he shows the beauty in what has been forgotten or thrown away by the changing times.

5. Inherent Vice

Having just walked out of theater no more than 12 hours ago, I’m still trying to wrap my head around this detective story that’s…not…really…a detective story? Yes, in this familiar rendition of a counter-culture The Big Sleep, the “whodunit” aspect isn’t so much important to the film but what as become of the world around the many cases. Our hero, the pot smoking “hippie” Doc Spotello (played by Joaquin Phoenix) doesn’t know what to make of his jigsaw puzzle of a case nor the post Manson Family murders (Vice takes place six months after the Sharon Tate murder) world he now lives in, where paranoia and conspiracies run rapid. After making arguably two masterpieces, There Will Be Blood and The Master, back-to-back P.T. Anderson can appear to be treading lightly here, yet don’t mistake the comedic fair for a recess time. Anderson’s direction is fully equipped as the director who is still at the top of his game and not at a decline at all. Give me six months and this could be in my top 3 films of 2014.

4. Snowpiercer

Director Bong Jong-Ho apocalyptic look at the future was easily the most imaginative high concept film of the year. Jong-Ho continues to bring his originality and humor in familiar genre pictures such as Mother (the Hitchokian who dun it), The Host (monster movie) and now Snowpiercer (post-apocalyptic). It could’ve been easy for this foreign filmmaker to scum to the clichés of action films in his first English speaking film but Jong-Ho takes what is expected and flips it on its head (as explain in my Best Film Scene)

3. Gone Girl

We’ve been told the “adult centered film” is dead and perhaps it is but as with most things David Fincher directs (The Social Network and Fight Club), the material is risen beyond what would be in lesser hands. The strength of the film is hinged on our buying into the tonal shift the film takes half way through. Fincher manages to gracefully take a right turn where we thought we were going left and never slows down for us to catch up with him. He goes and if we can’t keep up with what he is doing, to bad for us. Despite the dark subject matter few films have been as fun to watch as this throwback to late 80’s/early 90’s sexual suspense thrillers.

2. Boyhood

Richard Linklater’s wonderful film is not a love letter to childhood (as much as people would hope) but a series of captured forgotten moments. With spanning over 12 years of a life, Linklater doesn’t have time to go down vast plot rabbit holes but instead give snippets of a life that we don’t realize matter to us until after the fact. What makes Boyhood great is the little details, those details that we hadn’t even realized had an effect but unknowingly or unspokely matter to us until years later. It would’ve been easy for Linklater to sum up the growth of human being to one speech or highly substantial moment yet he was smart enough to realize that life is way more complicated than that. Boyhood may not look like much but it’s subtly saying a hell of a lot more about life than most pictures that try to be more obvious with there statements.

1. Whiplash

In the last fifteen minutes of Whiplash, something amazing happens while we our in a daze watching the last sequence unfold. Director Damien Chazelle is in sink with his actors Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons for maybe the most sexual non-sex scene captured on film. The battle between the two principals comes to a head in amazing drum solo that ends the film. Simmons and Teller “unite” as teacher/student to give each other what they always wanted in life. But unlike other movies where are “hero” seems to have a triumphant moment, we don’t feel as if everything is happier ever after for Andrew (Miles Teller). No instead we feel something dark, something sad is on the horizon for Andrew. Pain gets him to this great point and perhaps pain is the only thing that will sustain the art. Pain is part of the game here, maybe the same pain that Charlie “Bird” Parker was touched by.

Best of 2014 in Films: Part One


Ashley here! As I have stated in the past, my husband, Chris, is a movie buff and really enjoys reviewing films. This list is his favorite films from the past year. Although our tastes can differ, I fully agree with this list and even encourage you to check some of these out if you haven’t already! Take it away, honey!

Before getting to my Best of’s, a disclaimer for several films I unfortunately missed of 2014 that you won’t see me talk about here. Selma, Land Ho!, Nymphomaniac, Love Is Strange, Top Five, Mr. Turner, The Raid 2, Force Majeure, A Most Violent Year, Two Days One Night, Listen Up Phillip and probably many, many others. (more…)

 

Best Sequel

Dawn of The Planet of The Apes

After the surprise hit of Rise of The Planet of The Apes the assumption only would be going down from there with the sequel. Yet Dawn not only succeeds from avoiding the sophomore jinx but surpasses it’s predecessor. This summer blockbuster is smarter than it has to be, with doing the wonderful job of fleshing out of its CGI and living characters. With a script that draws from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and Richard III the film masterfully builds a case for none of it’s characters being the good or bad guy but instead sympathies with the reason they do things they do.

 

Best Doppelganger Film of 2014

Coherence

(Spoiler alert, some films mentioned below, you may not realize they deal with doppelgangers until you see them)

Yes what a weird category, but how many films dealt with doppelganger scenarios this year would surprise you. Enemy starring Jake Gyllenhaal in duel roles, The Double, which explains it’s self with in its title, and the relationship dark comedy The One I Love as well. Yet the best doppelganger film was perhaps the lease known of the year. Coherence is a little film that takes place during the night of a dinner party of eight friends. While they chat and drink wine, strange goings on begin to happen causing miss trust between the group of friends, who begin to divulge they’re “real selves” as possible other versions of themselves begin to enter or exit the dinner party. It’s a fun watch in which I have to catch up again with to figure out what who was who.

 

Best Film Scene, That’s Not In Whiplash

Snowpiercer- A Short Pause At Yekaterina Bridge

It can be hard to find yourself surprised by much in actions films lately. The thematic beats are usually going to similar rhythm that we have come accustom to. In director Bong Joon-Ho film Snowpiercer, you never know what to expect in the next train car coming up. This is what makes it terrifying and the most alive action film of the year. There is no better moment in Snowpiercer than that of the Yekaterina Bridge fight/celebration scene. Things play out in familiar manner as most fight scenes involving several people would, until both sides of the battle take a 1 minute pause to acknowledge the New Year which is celebrated every time they cross the dangerous Yekaternina Bridge. The brake in the battle scene just shows Joon-Ho ability for humorous moments in the darkest of times. Pointing out how ridiculous this whole situation is for his characters and us the audience.

 

The Most Overrated Film That Will Get 10 Oscar Nominations

Foxcatcher and Birdman

A friend recently mention to me how much he enjoyed reading my reviews but was waiting for me to write a negative review on a movie. It was a fair point, everything I’ve written about either loved it or at lease thought was worth recommending you checking out. As I’ve said before I don’t get paid, especially to watch movies that are most likely not good. With that said I do still see occasionally bad or too highly praised movies that I wouldn’t mind talking about but with work and school work, I’d rather write about the movies that are worth your time. With that said I have to give a few words regarding Foxcatcher and Birdman, two movies that surely are going to be discussed in length on their “excellence”.
Bennett Miller (director of Foxcatcher) has no interest in the reason or possibilities in his characters motivations but just the end results of their decisions. Which just leaves you empty walking out of theatre. I’m not asking for Dr. Fred Richman to come at the end of the movie to explain to me why du Pont did what he did but I believe as audience we deserve some room for interpretation or speculation of events. Miller doesn’t allow for that, instead we are giving the “facts” of the situation and follow along in uninterested manner. With that said Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo successfully push passed Miller’s need to void the film of emotion by giving two terrific performances. While the performance (surely everyone will be in high praise of) by Steve Carell as John du Pont is perhaps the most over praised part of the film. Miller and Carell would have you believe that du Pont is a terrifying and creepy character, instead Carell’s performance is silly, in a way that makes the performance distracting not in a good way. I think most of the praise given to his performance should be given to the make up people. This is just another case of people giving to much credit to the “transformation” of the actor.
While Birdman is one of the more visually alive films of the year, the script couldn’t be more unimaginative. The heavy handiness of the story and finger wagging of the story never felt series enough nor satirical but instead shaming of everyone who doesn’t have the intelligence for art like co-writer and director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Babel, 21 Grams) makes. His need to constantly be telling and not showing, in speeches that point out everything that is wrong in popular art just drags the movie down from something that could’ve been beautiful to a tiresome soapbox film. Inarritu as been a director whose never interested me, with his no holds bar dramas where he seems to seek to emotionally torture his characters than by torturing us. Birdman seems to be his way of telling us, the audience “hey my art house movies matter and you dummies out there who only want to see comic book movies should take notice cause I’m actually say something.” But at the end of this film (and all of Inarritu films), nothing seems emptier than something with wonderful body but no real soul to make it really matter.
The Film I’m Most Surprised I Enjoyed

Edge of Tomorrow

It’s fair to say I’ve grown a little tired of the Tom Cruise action star career the past few years. At a certain point it’s just starts to get sad to see fifty-year old man trying to pretend he’s a twenty-something bad ass. But with so few potential “movie star” male leads to pass the torch to who else is more right to save the world over and over again than TC? With Edge of Tomorrow there’s a certain pleasure in seeing Cruise playing someone who doesn’t exactly have the stomach (for the first half of the movie at lease) to be an action hero. Cruise hasn’t been this fun to watch in years because no film as let him play less than TOM CRUISE. And yes there is a sick joy that comes from seeing the many ways the “hero” dies in this Groundhog Day from hell.

 

Best Performances

Honorable Mentions: Channing Tatum (Foxcatcher), Agata Kulesza (Ida), Tessa Thompson (Dear White People), Kang-ho Song (Snowpiercer), Scarlett Johansson (Under The Skin), Josh Brolin (Inherent Vice), Hong Chau (Inherent Vice) and David Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy)

10. Mark Ruffalo – Foxcatcher

Ruffalo is often overshadowed by is counterparts in most of the films he’s in. He’s given underestimated performances with heavier hitters who are competing for screen times with him, Annette Bening (The Kids Are All Alright) Robert Downey Jr. and Hulk (The Avengers). Foxcatcher is no different, Ruffalo manages to hold is own and out shine the more showy (and not good) performance of Steve Carrel by doing what is asked of him in the part, simply being the character not a caricature.

9. Tilda Swinton – Snowpiercer

You kind of get the since that Swinton lives for weird roles like Mason in Snowpiercer. Rarely does a female get a chance to be the villain in such a playful way as she does in this post-apocalyptic picture. Swinton takes every opportunity in the Snowpiercer to have fun with her rendition of Martha Thatcher.

8. Miles Teller – Whiplash

Understandably Teller’s performance as young jazz drummer Andrew as been overshadowed by his co-star J.K. Simmons showcase but Teller holds his own in every scene. Although he may seem like drab or uninteresting character (intentionally done by Teller) while outside of music school, he fully comes alive behind his drum set. His passion is real and the desire to be the best is shown every time he starts drumming. I have no idea how talented of a drummer Teller is (outside of the film) but he had me convinced he was the real deal. With out Teller’s terrific performance Simmons great performance would mean very little.

7. Joaquin Phoenix – Inherent Vice

Phoenix is having one the great runs these past few years that most actors have to wait a lifetime for. Post I’m Still Here he has knocked it out of the park with three completely different performances The Master, Her and now Inherent Vice. Here as the pot smoking detective Doc Sportello he gets the chance to play with an interesting tone of comedy. As his character is constantly high it lends itself for comedic moments when it is necessary for Doc to play “straight” in the presents of the LAPD and clients who depend on answers from him. Many times he is asked to be a listener and observer of other characters, which allows Phoenix to perform with his eyes, something in which he has grown so well at doing this past few years. Even with an abundant of scene stealing characters (played by Benicio Del Toro, Martin Short and several others) Phoenix always stays at the center of our attention, we want to never leave his character.

6. Jake Gyllenhaal – Nightcrawler

I can honestly say I’ve never enjoyed a Gyllenhaal performance because he seems to never fit the part to me. He is unable at times to convince me that he cares about what he’s saying or the part he plays. That’s what makes his terrific turn as Louis Bloom in Nightcrawler so surprising to me. In the film he is constantly convincing other people to believe in what he is doing. He pretty much is playing a ruthless sales man whose product is himself. Gyllenhaal understands his character, not playing him as a villain at all, but the hero in his own story. It’s a freighting and funny performance of a sociopath that makes me excited to see what Gyllenhaal does next.

5. Eddie Redmayne – The Theory of Everything

It would be easy to call Redmayne role as Stephen Hawking an Oscar baiting performance in the physicality of acting, of course it naturally is going to be a nominated one. Yet Redmayne refuses or perhaps is incapable (due mostly because of Hawking who was incapable in real life) of giving the Oscar Clip Moment that you would expect from such dramatic situation. Instead with really only the use of his eyes he expresses the joy, sadness and love that this genius man feels locked in his failing body

4. Rosemund Pike – Gone Girl

(Excerpt from review of Gone Girl) I really don’t want to give much away on what her character does but just imagined Catherine Tramell and Keyser Soze had a kid, it would probably turn out be just like Amy Dunne. Pike’s performance as Amy is a sprawling one that asks her to be convincible victim terrified, darkly funny and a horrifying psychopath, at any given time. Not sure it’s the kind of performance that would get her an Oscar nomination but one that she should be getting praise for executing such a joggling act.

3. Ralph Fiennes – The Grand Budapest Hotel

For some actors, Wes Anderson’s dialogue comes naturally for them (Bill Murray and Edward Norton) and for others not so much (Bruce Willis and Danny Glover). It can be a freighting thing to jump in his unusual characters and idiosyncratic filmmaking in Anderson universe. With Fiennes first collaboration with Anderson it would almost appear as if the duo had been working together for several films. Comedy wasn’t foreign to this “series actor” prior to this film, although he is known for is villainous roles (Schindler’s List and Harry Potter series) Fiennes has held is own in small comedic parts (In Bruges). This role of M. Gustave redefines this already great actor, whose willingness to use the “serious British thespian” attributes for a wild and void of ego comedic performance.

2. Patricia Arquette – Boyhood

(Excerpt from my review of Boyhood in which I talk about Arquette’s performance of the often-single mother in the film) Never being the wet blanket, no nonsense tough mother, or free spirit guardian angel that often these types of films give us. Instead, she displays the flaws that come with having to run the parenthood gauntlet on your own sometimes. She makes her fair share of mistakes, with the unfortunate bad luck with men setting her back along the way. With Arquette’s heart breaking speech at the end of the film, she steals the movie for me (it made me want to call my mother immediately after getting out of theater just to tell her I love her).

1. J.K. Simmons – Whiplash

Simmons has been one of those actors I’ve always rooted for to get an opportunity like this (I have a soft spot for character actors). At an early age (perhaps too early) I encountered Simmons on the HBO television show Oz in which he played the despicable neo-Nazi and rapist Vernon Schillinger. Every since then I’ve been subconsciously afraid of him in every role his played in, even as the dad in Juno he was scary to me. So at last he gets the chance to use his ability to be terrifying in what is easily his best performance as the music instructor Fletcher who pushes his students often times to the limit. Simmons portrayal of Fletcher is not at all a romantic look at the teacher/student relationship but instead gives insight on the tightrope that great artist must play in order for the sack of great art. Fletcher believes he must push his students to the edge for them to reach there full potential, how fitting for an actor such as Simmons to finally reach is own full potential in such a great performance.

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