2016 Best Films of the Year List

Posted: January 1, 2017 in Film

In any given year, we are lucky to get two or three movies that profoundly affect us, change the way we look at the world, or make our hearts swell with happiness or ache with sadness. 2016 can be accused of many things, but it was a year brimming with so many of these sorts of films that I couldn’t even count them on my own two hands.

We were gifted with groundbreaking achievements in cinema from immersive stories, to electrifying performances, to superb direction. Following is a list of my favorites of these films. 2016 will always be remembered by me as an extraordinary time to be a film fanatic.

Top 10 Best Films of 2016

  1. MANCHESTER BY THE SEA

Kenneth Longeran has created a modern masterpiece, which weaves the past and present of one broken man’s story so seamlessly that you can actually feel your heart breaking when a past unspeakable tragedy is revealed. Casey Affleck delivers the performance of a generation, supported by a cast that is just as astonishing, funny and moving. This film is exquisitely written and so stunning in its subtlety that it takes your breath away. In one particular scene, two brothers are walking to a car and one of them asks the other to call him when he gets home. This is such a simple scene but in the context of the film, it’s monumental and I felt like my entire chest was going to cave in from sadness. It is cinematic moments like this which reaffirm your faith in the medium and remind us why going to the movies is an experience unlike any other.

  1. ZOOTOPIA

A small town bunny named Judy sets off to the big city in pursuit of her dream to become a police officer. She is bursting with ambition, determination and optimism, yet when she is relegated to being a meter maid despite graduating at the top of her class, Judy quickly learns that life doesn’t always work out exactly how you plan. But she is committed to proving to the world that she is capable of so much more than the stereotypes thrust upon her by her size, appearance, gender and species. In doing so, she confronts her own prejudices and becomes the best version of herself. Zootopia is one of those rare movies that is so wonderful and clever that you think it could actually change the world if everyone got a chance to see it.

  1. PATERSON

Jim Jarmusch takes us into a week in the life of a bus driver named Paterson, who also happens to live in the city of Paterson, New Jersey. He has no relation to the city name but he is just as quiet and introspective as the city seems to be.  Adam Driver delivers a magnetic performance as a man who writes beautiful poetry in the mornings before he takes his bus on his route, and at lunch while looking out on the waterfalls of the Passaic River. While his simple life may seem routine or mundane it is, however, incredibly rich and meaningful. His girlfriend, who thrives creating black and white art at home from curtains to cupcakes, inspires him, while his observations of bus passengers, the strangers he meets on his nightly walks, and the friends he engages with at his local bar, all influence his poetry and make his life fulfilling. When a stranger hands Paterson a notebook and tells him that the blank pages present limitless possibilities, you are overcome with the realization that so too is life.

  1. MOONLIGHT

A powerful and haunting coming of age tale about a lonely boy who is forced to grow up faster than he should, and suppress his true self from a world that has little vested interest in him. His story is told in three parts, from a small boy, to a teenager, to a young man. And although he meets a few people throughout his life that show him compassion, we understand that what he really needs is what we all need: unconditional love. I didn’t quite realize the impact Moonlight had on me until I found it difficult to get out of bed the morning after I saw it. This film seeped into my bones and shook me to my core. Although it ended on a hopeful note for the main character, I still couldn’t shake the journey that got him there.

  1. ARRIVAL

A thought provoking story wrapped up in an alien invasion plot, this film challenges our perceptions of time, how we communicate, and how the little choices we make can alter our future and ultimately our chance at happiness. It’s everything you want from science fiction: suspense, intelligence, and thoughtful questions about humanity and our place in the world.

  1. NOCTURNAL ANIMALS

Tom Ford fashions a hypnotic thriller which explores three different and equally riveting stories: the past and the present life of a Los Angeles art gallery owner named Susan, and the novel her ex-husband has written and sent to her for feedback. The novel manuscript tells a devastating story, and as Susan reads it throughout the course of the movie, the awareness of who she has become and the weight of the suffering she has caused her ex in the past become painfully clear. Nocturnal Animals is a gorgeous film with sizzling dialogue, fascinating characters and Hitchcockian twists and turns.

  1. LA LA LAND

When I was growing up, I watched and recorded every episode of the 1990s version of The Mickey Mouse Club show, and I just loved seeing a very talented 12-year-old Ryan Gosling sing and dance, among the other Mouseketeers. What an absolute pleasure to see this side of him again, but this time on the big screen. La La Land is a soaring romantic film about following your dreams and your heart. It’s filled with classic movie nods, vibrant colors, rousing musical numbers, a dreamy score, and it also celebrates one of the greatest loves I have ever known: Los Angeles. Its bittersweet ending elevates it beyond its genre and leaves us with a film that will no doubt be regarded as a classic in its own right one day.

  1. TONI ERDMANN

A workaholic is so consumed by her career and blinded by her ambition, that she no longer has any want or need for her family or the simple joys in life. When her father hilariously ambushes her in another country where she is consulting for a big company, he proceeds to slowly chip away at the façade she has built around herself by placing her in awkward positions with colleagues, friends and strangers. This German film is playful, sweet, inventive, witty, ridiculous, and poignant. It’s also totally unpredictable, and its surprises are so warm, touching and funny that it’s a gem well worth seeking out.

  1. STAR TREK BEYOND

You don’t need to know a thing about Star Trek to get swept up in this wildly entertaining adventure, which reminds us why the characters from the original series are so enduring. In the 2009 JJ Abrams film, the Enterprise’s crew was assembling for the very first time. But this movie places them three years into their five year mission, so the loyalties and friendships between them feel much more significant, and it’s magnificent to watch. Star Trek Beyond is all the very best the franchise has to offer;  a political and social allegory full of wry humor, space exploration, new and fascinating aliens, and a constant reminder that there is strength in unity. It also gives each of the main characters a hero moment, just like the amazing film, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. This film easily cracks the list of my top five Star Trek films of all time.

  1. HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE

Equal parts charming, big hearted, and brilliant, this small New Zealand film follows a juvenile delinquent orphan who is sent to live with yet another foster family, this time on a remote farm. Despite his best efforts, he is completely won over by his irreverent foster aunt and grumpy uncle. When it seems inevitable that he will be sent to another foster family, he fakes his own death and takes off into the New Zealand bush with his lovable dog, Tupac, completely ill equipped to survive. Luckily, his uncle is close behind to save him from himself and the elements. A national manhunt ensues due to a series of misunderstandings and the story evolves into a delightful, comedic and endearing buddy movie.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: HELL OR HIGH WATER, 13th, MIDNIGHT SPECIAL, THE NICE GUYS, HAIL CAESAR, OJ SIMPSON: MADE IN AMERICA, LITTLE MEN, I DANIEL BLAKE, LOVING, KNIGHT OF CUPS, FOR THE LOVE OF SPOCK, 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE, WEINER, THE JUNGLE BOOK, DHEEPAN

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Happy New Year! 2015 was an excellent year for cinema and fortunately, the end of the year wasn’t backloaded with the best movies. We got them all year long. In fact, the best film I saw this year was in the Spring which speaks to the wealth of fantastic projects that all studios, small and large, are outputting. The films that resonated with me the most were ones that explored the human condition and gave us characters that were tested emotionally, physically and spiritually. They grappled with moral issues, their pasts, their futures, growing up, the darkness of man, and the beauty of their own existence. Some characters emerged as stronger versions of themselves and some faced a path with no redemption. I was happy to take each and every journey with them. I hope if you haven’t seen one or two of these movies that have made my top 10 favorite movies of the year list, that you will seek them out and have a similarly gratifying time getting to know them.

Top 10 Best Films of 2015

1. EX MACHINA
Alex Garland’s directorial debut provided me with a cinematic experience that I don’t think will be recreated in my lifetime. My senses and emotions went into a tailspin moving from fascination, to sheer dread, to utter awe. The story follows Caleb Smith, a young programmer who wins a once in a lifetime chance to spend a week with his company’s CEO, the reclusive genius, Nathan Bateman. But, as the week unfolds, what was supposed to be a promising opportunity for career advancement instead becomes an unnerving examination of everything Caleb thinks he knows about himself and reality, all the while pushing us as an audience too. What makes us think our memories are real? What if everything and everyone you know isn’t real and you were just programmed to think they were? My God, this film is why I love science fiction. If you haven’t seen this movie or perhaps have only seen it once, you owe it to yourself to see it again. If only for the completely unexpected transcendent dance sequence that Oscar Isaac breaks into halfway through the movie, which proves even more rewarding when you learn the truth about his dance partner.

2. ROOM
To say this movie was both incredibly harrowing and completely life-affirming at the same time is probably an understatement. It destroyed me, but also made my heart leap so high, I thought it might come out of my chest. When the film opens we meet a young woman and her son as they are baking a cake for his 5th birthday. They are quietly, but happily cooking in a modest kitchenette next to an adjoining living space. It is only when you are met with the realization that the room they’re in is in fact their entire world, because they are being held captive, that you get a sense of what you are in for as a viewer. Brie Larson is extraordinary as a young mom who needs to continually find the inner strength to give her son, who has lived his entire life to this point as a prisoner inside this single room, any semblance of a normal childhood, while also trying to make sense of what her life has become. Room explores the power of loss, hope, courage, family and what great lengths we will go for those that we love.

3. INSIDE OUT
Let me start out by saying that I cried through about 75% of this beautiful film. I felt profoundly connected to this little girl, her parents and to all the emotions that live inside her 11-year-old head. Inside Out is a celebration of what makes each and every one of us unique- our memories, our dreams, and our imaginations. Watching the emotions represented by Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger and Disgust navigate the mind of Riley, as she adjusts to a move to a new city, is immensely moving and thought-provoking. Pete Docter crafts an inventive, warm story that taps into the spirit of childhood and delivers us two of the most heartbreaking scenes of 2015- the collapse of Goofball Island (one of Riley’s “personality islands”), and the moment when Riley’s imaginary friend, Bing Bong, makes the ultimate sacrifice so that Riley might again find joy in her life. Both scenes are vivid reminders of the passage of time and that growing up can be complicated, poignant and wonderful.

4. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD
An intense, thrilling and twisted film which hooks you from the very first frame and doesn’t let go until the very last. Mad Max: Fury Road is visual storytelling at its best- weaving together action choreography using practical effects set to an electrifying soundtrack that is absolutely mesmerizing. George Miller immerses us directly into this manic, post-apocalyptic environment where biker gangs led by an evil baddie name Immortan Joe are hoarding all the food, water and gasoline from the masses. When Joe’s finest warrior, Imperator Furiosa, ferociously played by Charlize Theron, veers off course from a planned gas run to free his enslaved wives, all hell breaks loose. Most of the film is in fact one long, intricate chase sequence, with explosive and exhilarating results. Only a genius like George Miller could have thought up acrobatic warriors called “pole cats” who fight by flying across the screen on poles; or a blind, masked electric guitarist who rides with the war party while strapped to a giant assemblage of amplifiers, wildly playing thrasher metal as Joe’s army battles around him. Every frame of this film is composed as if it’s its own, standalone work of art. When Immortan Joe holds up his deceased wife in despair, I immediately recalled Delacroix’s “Liberty Leading the People.” Like that painting, Mad Max: Fury Road will likely be revered as a masterpiece of its medium.

5.IT FOLLOWS
The opening scene of It Follows is flat out brilliant. A door on a quiet residential street bursts open and a teenage girl flees out and down the porch steps. A neighbor asks if she is okay as the young woman stumbles down the sidewalk in her heels, and into the middle of the street. She is out of breath and then crosses the street, all the while looking over her shoulder. She circles back to her house to go back inside, only to run out again a moment later with her purse. It’s riveting and terrifying, and what becomes of her is shocking. It Follows is a straight up throwback to classic horror films of the 70s and 80s, right down to its sinister synth score. I loved every second of it. The teenaged protagonists at the heart of the story need to work together to figure out how to escape the relentless force that is pursuing them. It moves with the dogged yet determined pace of Michael Myers, yet can only be seen by its current victim, or any past victims who were lucky enough to shake it. The concept of the movie is so original, intelligent, and frightening that it leaves the viewer contemplating how they would be able to escape their fate if “it” came after them, and all the moral questions that come with doing just that.

6.THE HATEFUL EIGHT
A snow covered cross set to a haunting score composed by Ennio Morricone is our first glimpse of Quentin Tarantino’s 8th feature film, and it is magnificent. As a horse drawn carriage then appears in the distance and slowly approaches, and we are slowly and carefully eased into the cold reality of the film, I found myself gleefully settling into my seat with anticipation of what was surely going to be a bumpy ride. Tarantino’s filmmaking is always something to be savored, and I feel so lucky that I live in a time where I can experience a first run film of his the way he wanted it to be seen. Shot on 65mm and projected on 70mm (for those fortunate enough to see the Roadshow version of his 3 hour plus epic film complete with a musical overture, intermission and program) this is a genre bending western/horror/mystery film about eight despicable people holed up in a haberdashery during a treacherous blizzard. It’s filled with searing, clever, biting dialogue, over the top violence, unspeakably graphic gore and mayhem, and is basically everything you could hope for in a Tarantino movie. Every character is looking out only for themselves; all are rotten to the core; and it doesn’t matter their background, race or gender, because not a single one is immune to the possibility of being blown apart by bullets, or sprayed in the face by someone else’s brains or unseemly substance. This film is clearly not for everyone, but for Tarantino fans and those not easily offended or queasy, this is a definite must see.

7. 45 YEARS
A quiet, thoughtful and introspective look into a married couple’s life as they plan for their 45th wedding anniversary party. The big event is a week away and a letter arrives that forces both husband and wife to reexamine their marriage, their love for one another, and to discover certain truths they would rather have never known. This small gem of a movie is the perfect companion piece to Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage. The marriages in both films couldn’t be farther apart but that is the truth and wonder of marriage- no one union is similar. Director, Andrew Haigh does a remarkable job at giving us a window into this delicate one, and Charlotte Rampling’s subtle and stunning performance will no doubt land her with a well-deserved Oscar nomination.

8. MOMMY
This is one of the first films I saw in 2015 and what a knockout it was. 25 year old Canadian director, Xavier Dolan shoots Mommy in an unflinching, perfectly square 1:1 aspect ratio, so you cannot avert your eyes from the struggles of the two main characters: a widowed single mother, Diane and her troubled teenage son, Kyle. Dolan wants the viewer to feel suffocated at times by their behavior, but also to commit you to feel for these two. There is a moment in this devastating story where things are turning around for Kyle and he is finally feeling alive, so he reaches out with his two hands and expands the aspect ratio from 1:1 to widescreen, and it’s breathtaking. Everyone knows that feeling when all of a sudden your life is so overwhelming and gorgeous, that it completely opens up and you are reminded why it’s worth living. Unfortunately, life doesn’t stay that way for young Kyle, and the screen reverts back to the stifled boxed in look to reflect that. Mommy perfectly encapsulates what unconditional love truly signifies and the unwavering hope that comes with it, as demonstrated in the sublime montage of a possible future, which Diane envisions for her son. This might be the most challenging, heart stopping film of 2015, but it’s a vital reminder that not all of us get a happy ending.

9.STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS
Leave it to J.J. Abrams to finally make this Trekker a Star Wars fan. He is the master at giving us complex, intelligent, endearing heroines, and he has outdone himself with the creation of Rey, played vibrantly by Daisy Ridley. Rey is from humble beginnings and is thrust into a quest to find the whereabouts of the last Jedi, Luke Skywalker. She is tough, self-assured, and simply steals the movie from one of the most likable characters to ever grace the Stars Wars universe with his crooked smile, Han Solo. I could gush and gush about Rey, but I am sure most of you have seen her charisma for yourselves. I’ll just put my money where my mouth is and go out and buy my first Star Wars shirt this week from Her Universe, a Rey baseball tee. I’ll also be first in line for Rian Johnson’s follow up to see where he takes all my new favorite characters next- Rey, Finn, Kylo Ren, Poe Dameron and Captain Phasma.

10. SPOTLIGHT
A powerful drama about The Boston Globe’s true story investigation into the shocking child abuse scandal of the Roman Catholic Church in Boston. Although we already know the outcome of the Spotlight team’s findings, it doesn’t make it any less appalling or compelling to watch it unfold on the big screen. In fact, it’s one of the most suspenseful films of the year, giving us a first-hand look into what went into uncovering all the facts of the tragic story, and feeling the same emotional impact these reporters did as they realized this scandal was so much bigger than they had imagined. The cast is truly outstanding. One scene that particularly stood out for me came when Mark Ruffalo’s character, completely overcome with frustration and helplessness, erupts in an astonishing emotional outburst in the reporting room. Director Tom McCarthy makes sifting through legal documents and highlighting names in a directory some of the most captivating cinema of the year.

Honorable Mentions: PADDINGTON, SICARIO, BEASTS OF NO NATION, TERMINATOR: GENISYS, THE BIG SHORT, THE REVENANT, BROOKLYN, CREED, THE VISIT, CINDERELLA, WHILE WE’RE YOUNG, GOOSEBUMPS, THE GIFT, SOUTHPAW, THE MARTIAN

Top 5 Worst Films of the Year

1. CHAPPIE
Oh man, I was really looking forward to this movie. I bought my ticket to see it in the historic Cinerama Dome, sat down with friends, and had my popcorn ready. Midway through the film I tried to reconcile for myself what exactly writer/director Neil Blomkamp was going for with this story of a sweet robot that is kidnapped and corrupted by third rate gangsters, played by the South African musicians, Ninja and Yolandi, but that proved an impossible feat. As every minute slowly passed in this dysfunctional disaster of a movie, it devolved into more and more of an inexplicable, preachy mess. Ninja and Yolandi completely hijack the third act, and in so doing may have cemented their place among the most annoying characters to ever grace the big screen, second only to perhaps Jar Jar Binks.

2. BLACKHAT
Ugh, this movie’s 133 running time felt like 4 hours. Chris Hemsworth plays a computer genius hacker sprung from jail to help uncover some global cyber terrorism threat. I mean I think that is the premise, it’s too boring to even remember, and just about everyone from the actors to the sound mixer seemed to phone it in. The pacing is glacial, we get “exciting” shots of characters tapping furiously on keyboards and some sort of CGI look at what information traveling throughout the superhighway might look like if we could actually see it. Chris Hemsworth has a longing look with his friend’s sister and all of a sudden, this woman is the love of his life. No element of this movie should have made it to the green light stage much less an actual theatrical release, but somehow it did and somehow I showed up to see it. Don’t make the same mistake.

3.INSURGENT
This is another tedious movie and Shailene Woodley’s character couldn’t possibly be more screechy and self-important. Miles Teller’s talent is wasted playing a wooden, mustache twirling douchebag. This has 1/100th of the life of the first film in this series and that guarantees that I won’t be back for the next one.

4.MISTRESS AMERICA
I hated this movie for no reason more than because it made me question my complete adoration for Director Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig. Screw you, MISTRESS AMERICA, screw you.

5.ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL
I’m a total sucker for coming of age movies. This film felt like a poor man’s version of every good one that has come out in the past few years. Hey, let’s take the most banal plot conventions of the genre and make them even more banal. Skip this movie and see the far superior, THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER instead.

2014 Best and Worst Films of the Year List

Posted: December 31, 2014 in Film

It’s New Year’s Eve and time for my annual best and worst films of the year lists. People love to tell cinema lovers like me that they won’t get to consume as many movies as they like once they embark on parenthood. Perhaps this is true, but one thing 2014 helped me realize as I became a first time mother, was my passion for film could only grow with a new perspective on life. This year was a great one for fully realized, character led stories about people who are forced to confront their inner demons, who are torn between what they should do and what they want to do, or who just need to thrive in a world they feel may be too small for them. Some of these characters populate my following 2014 Top Ten Best Films of the Year list, which also contains some gems that are vibrant and alive, and remind me why I love the movies.

On a side note, for the third year in a row, the #1 Cinema chain in the UK, Cineworld, published my best films of the year list! This year, they posted a two parter—my picks for 10-6 and a second post of my top 5 favorite films of the year. To see both Cineworld posts, go here: http://www.cineworld.co.uk/blog?tag=becky+d%27anna

Top Ten Best Films of the Year List

  1. NIGHTCRAWLER

The streets of Los Angeles, beautifully photographed by cinematographer, Robert Elswit, provide the nocturnal backdrop to this stunning pyschological thriller about the rise of freelance cameraman, Louis Bloom, who recklessly races around LA to be the first at a crime scene so he can record the mayhem and sell the footage to local news stations. Jake Gyllenhaal is absolutely mesmerizing as he fully immerses himself in Bloom’s intelligent, creepy, and unsettling persona. Bloom is a morally bankrupt soul, yet we root for him and revel in observing him masterfully manipulate his business associates with his litany of methodical speeches, and his blink free stare. The climactic scene of Nightcrawler was so nerve wracking that my hands were literally shaking in disbelief. There was no more thrilling cinematic experience or more riveting character on screen for me in 2014. Thank you, Dan Gilroy for crafting this modern masterpiece.

  1. THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL

Once again, another film in Wes Anderson’s filmography will go down as an instant classic. He’s one of the rare contemporary filmmakers who has such a distinct voice and creative eye, that you can identify one of his films from just a few frames. As always, some of the most refreshing and imaginative touches to his films are the little things going on in the background. This latest fable takes place in an European hotel run by Monsieur Gustave, and follows his budding friendship with new bellhop, Zero. These two characters are wonderful together, and their adventure hiding a priceless painting is sweet, hilarious and unbelievably charming. Ralph Fiennes shines as Monsieur Gustave, especially in the third act when he on a few occasions breaks his usual calm, polite demeanor and shouts out obscenities in frustration. Every single supporting role in The Grand Budapest Hotel, from the inmates at a local prison, to Gustave’s fellow concierges at sister hotels, to the adorable girl who spends her days making pastries, helps elevate this already enchanting film to new heights of brilliance.

  1. SELMA

A fascinating chronicle of a three month span in which Dr. Martin Luther King led an equal voting rights movement in the streets of Selma, Alabama, which ultimately led to the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Sound like an American history lesson? Director, Ava DuVerney delivers so much more than that. Not one true life figure in this movie feels like a caricature, they are all vital, three dimensional characters from George Wallace to President Lyndon B. Johnson to Dr. King himself. As the moviegoer, you feel as if you are eavesdropping on closed doors meetings and private discussions, getting to know these character’s motivations, their flaws and their inner turmoil. DuVerney takes us straight into the heart of south, showing the beauty of the landscapes and its people, but also doesn’t shy away from the horrors. Selma is an engrossing and significant film, which I didn’t realize had such an impact on me until the closing credits when there were tears spilling down my face.

  1. FORCE MAJEURE

This clever, introspective Swedish film starts off following a family of four as they begin their week long ski vacation in the French Alps. They appear to be the perfect, loving clan, brushing their teeth together in their cozy hotel bathroom and holding mundane conversations about what looks delicious to eat at the hotel restaurant. But then a defining event which puts them all in peril occurs, and quickly we watch this family unravel at the seams. I would recommend not watching the trailer for this film before seeing it as it spoils some of the most delicious plot points and character arguments. Not knowing the incident they are faced with and the truths they are forced to confront about one other make it all the more rewarding. Force Majeure challenges you to think what you or your loved ones would do in a similar situation. It’s a bleak yet humorous film at the same time, and that alone makes it essential viewing.

  1. THE BABADOOK

In this wildly original Australian tale, a troubled young boy, Samuel, pleads to his widowed mom that he is being haunted by a creature. It’s easy for his mother to shrug off his fears to his imagination, especially since he is so eccentric, and she is still grappling with the loss of her husband. When Samuel asks her one night to read a hand-made pop up storybook called “Mister Babadook” that he found on his bookshelf, she is horrified by the content of it. And what comes next is the stuff of nightmares. The most terrifying element of this film is the way first-time director, Jennifer Kent uses images, lighting and motion to conjure up feelings of dread and paranoia. In one particular sequence, when Babadook pops up in a George Méliès film playing on the TV, I had such a visceral reaction that I physically wanted to hide (I did so for a moment under a blanket!). What’s most astonishing about The Babadook is that it feels timeless. It could take place in any era which means it will always be relevant and will no doubt frighten moviegoers for many years to come.

  1. OUT OF PRINT

I too picked my first apartment based on its close proximity to The New Beverly Cinema, like the Director of Looper, Rian Johnson says he did in this insightful, educational, witty and compelling documentary about the revival cinema house in Los Angeles. It’s also the place I retreated to see a James Cagney film on 9/11 when nowhere else in the world felt safe. In her first directorial effort, Julia Marchese lovingly takes us through the history of the theater, interviewing longtime patrons and filmmakers who were influenced and shaped by its programming. This documentary is a must see for film junkies as it celebrates why we go to the movies, and the importance of why we should treasure and help preserve 35mm film. Out of Print is simply magic, and a movie I know I will revisit time and again for the laughs and just to make me feel close to my favorite movie theater in the world.

  1. WHIPLASH

One of the things I love most about cinema is how a singular film can affect someone in its own unique way. I have heard many vastly different reactions to Whiplash, a story which follows a talented drummer, played expertly by Miles Teller, who endures intense physical and emotional abuse at the hands of his teacher in a pursuit to be the best jazz drummer in the world. Some are in awe of the drummer’s commitment to his craft; others are horrified by J.K. Simmond’s character’s teaching methods; while others think both men are both unstable. My reaction to this movie was of total heartbreak. This story stayed with me for days, and what I found that resonated with me the most was how the path to greatness often times leads one to sacrifice everything- family, friends, or even that which humanity desires the most: happiness.

  1. BOYHOOD

Richard Linklater’s moving portrait of a boy as he moves from adolescence to adulthood is truly remarkable. To dream up the bold idea to film a cast over the course of 12 years, in an ongoing and believable narrative, and then to execute it as flawlessy as Linklater does, entitles him to all the accolades and rewards he will no doubt receive. You can’t help but feel nostalgia for all the small moments in your own life as you watch this boy grow into young adulthood, because you know that no matter how unassuming those moments may be, they are what make you who you are. Boyhood is an emotional, subtle and sometimes quiet ride, and one that I believe becomes even more powerful as a parent.

  1. EDGE OF TOMORROW

A smart, entertaining science fiction movie in which Tom Cruise is flat out great. He’s funny, charismatic, and relatable, and we can’t keep our eyes off him as his character, Major William Cage, dies repeatedly and is forced to live the same moment over and over in an attempt to gain intel to fight an alien race set on destroying Earth’s inhabitants. Emily Blunt (and her badass arms) portray a revered soldier who helps Cage harness his gift of immortality, and her chemistry with Cruise is electrifying. Doug Liman infuses the film with quick doses of adrenaline and eye-popping special effects and keeps it at just the right pace from every feeling boring or clichéd. Edge of Tomorrow helped renew my faith in throughly entertaining summer fare.

  1. JODOROWSKY’S DUNE

An engaging documentary about director, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s failed attempt to adapt the science fiction novel, Dune in the 1970s. Jodorowsky’s vision is epic in every sense of the word. He persuades the best actors, musicians, artists and special effect wizards in the world to join his project. It’s glaringly obvious that a film that was projected to have a running time of 14 hours and bear the cost of a small country’s GDP would not end up being made, but the ambition and talent behind it cannot be dismissed. Our greatest genre films, like Alien, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Star Wars, may have never come to be were it not for the visual effects teams repurposing some of their best designs from or being influenced by Jodorowky’s vision for Dune.

Honorable Mention: THE IMITATION GAME, NEIGHBORS, LIFE ITSELF, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE MARKED ONES, WILD, X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST, GONE GIRL, LIKE FATHER LIKE SON, FOXCATCHER, OBVIOUS CHILD, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, LOVE IS STRANGE, LOCKE, DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, THE DROP, SKELETON TWINS, STILL ALICE

Top 5 Worst Films of the Year

  1. WINTER’S TALE

This film was batshit crazy. And so literal. There was a ridiculous amount of exposition to explain character motivations and the movie still didn’t make any sense. Unicorns, demon Russell Crowe, weeping Jennifer Connelly, and Will Smith’s WTF cameo as the devil all helped crown The Winter’s Tale as the biggest schlockfest of the year.

  1. TRANCENDENCE

Well, hello there, Johnny Depp. Not sure my worst films of the year list would be complete without a film starring you. I wanted to like this movie. It had an interesting premise and I’m a sucker for sci-fi films. But I stopped caring when it felt like the screenwriters were making it up as they went along. Throw in some cheesy special effects, an earnest Johnny Depp, some pseudo-science, and it’s all a recipe for one of the crappiest films of the year.

  1. COLD IN JULY

You know you don’t like a movie when the littlest of things start to bother you. Like why does the character playing Michael C. Hall’s son wear the same pajamas every night? Couldn’t the costume designer wrangle up another pair? Why am I noticing stuff like this? Because I hated this movie. Everything so neatly gets tied together from one scene to the next. There are coincidences and then there is unoriginal screenwriting. And the latter is the biggest culprit in this waste of time “thriller.”

  1. OCULUS

I think I saw a different movie than all the horror fans who hailed Oculus. I just couldn’t get past Karen Gillan’s whiny, annoying character. When an ax finally hit her in the face in a climactic scene, I couldn’t help but get a little bit of glee out of it. And my adoration for Katee Sackhoff only made me want to save her from this film and put her in something far more deserving of her talents. Bottom line, if you are looking for a scary, intelligent horror film that came out in 2014, see #5 on my top ten list or rent PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE MARKED ONES instead. You’re welcome.

  1. UNDER THE SKIN

I know, I know. So many people thought this film was brooding, mysterious, atmospheric and a masterpiece. Spoiler alert, I wasn’t one of them.

2013 Best and Worst Films of the Year List

Posted: December 31, 2013 in Film

For the second year in a row, the #1 Cinema chain in the UK, Cineworld, has asked me to contribute my Top Ten Best Films of the Year list for the January Issue of their award-winning iPad magazine. The issue was released on December 21st and includes a special mention in the editor’s notes, an 11 page spread, and a link to my blog! As I had to submit the Best Of list by their publication deadline, I hadn’t yet seen some of the end of the year releases like THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, which ended up landing on my definitive list, kicking off THE HUNT from the #10 spot. If you have an iPad and want to check out the piece, and read my review of THE HUNT, you can download the magazine for free at the following link from any country: http://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/cineworld-magazine/id508350271?mt=8

2013 was an eclectic year for cinema, but a common theme I saw surface time and again was one of hope- stories that explored the survival of the human spirit, the formation of unlikely friendships, self discovery, the power of family, transitioning from adolescence to adulthood, and the innocence of young love. This cinematic year was something special, and a life-affirming one for movie fans. In 2013, I saw 114 films in the theater and 18 on DVD or on-demand, but the ones that resonated the most with me seemed to be these simple, smaller stories of hope. Following is my definitive Top Ten Best Films of the Year and Top 5 Worst Films of the year lists to debate and discuss in 2014.

TOP TEN FILMS of 2013

1.      FRANCES HA

Shot in gorgeous black and white, this film feels like a contemporary look at a heroine straight out of the French New Wave minds of Godard, Rohmer or Truffaut. This story lovingly allows you to follow Frances as she stumbles through a period of her life in which she is searching for who she wants to be, and ultimately, discovers who she wants to become. Frances sees the world in her own clumsy, unfettered way, blinded by an optimism that sometimes leads to crushing disappointment when faced with the realities of life. I can’t recall seeing a film in the last few decades that so genuinely captures the strength of female friendship, or the struggles that come with navigating your 20s. In a perfectly nuanced performance, Greta Gerwig plays Frances with humor, subtlety and hope. Watching her spontaneously dance in the New York City streets against the backdrop of David Bowie’s, “Modern Love” was nothing short of transcendent, and what Frances herself might call “magic.”

2.      GRAVITY

The 13-minute tracking shot that comprises the opening scene of Gravity is completely revolutionary, setting the stage for a visual cinematic landscape unlike anything I have seen before. The experience of the film is stunning in every way. It immerses you in the sensation of actually being in space and provides countless indelible images, such as Sandra Bullock’s character drifting peacefully into the fetal position after escaping a near certain death, thus symbolizing her own rebirth, while also offering us a breathtaking journey exploring the beauty of life and our capacity to survive when all hope is lost. Gravity is a landmark achievement for cinema and for the visionary director, Alfonso Cuarón.

3.      ABOUT TIME

This film is about so much more than its marketing campaign makes it out to be, and it’s by far the biggest surprise I had this year at the movies. This is a beautiful and heartfelt story about life, loss, and the power of family. The underlying time travel conceit is brilliantly woven throughout the film, allowing us to examine what it means to have a child, how it changes you, and how profoundly your own parents and siblings define who you are and the lengths you will go for one another. Its most moving message though is to embrace all the little things in life that you may not appreciate at first glance, because these are the things that make life worth living, and a film like About Time, something to be celebrated.

4.      THE SPECTACULAR NOW

Every once in a while a film comes along that reminds you why you love movies. It can be a jaw-dropping spectacle or a film like this one, which quietly sneaks up and floors you. The screenwriting team of Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, who previously brought us the magnificent 500 Days of Summer, craft a tranquil coming of age narrative about two high school kids who form an unlikely friendship, which soon blossoms into radiant love. It’s astonishing watching Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley interact with one another, because their performances are so authentic and expressive. You get drawn into their lives, and entirely wrapped up in the essence of youth. These kids needed to find each other to help them take a different direction in their lives; and we needed to find this film to renew our faith in effortless storytelling.

5.      THE WOLF OF WALL STREET

Martin Scorsese doesn’t pull any punches with this searing look at decadence and excess, spun around the true story of Jordan Belfort’s rise to wealth as a stockbroker in the ‘90s. It’s an absolutely captivating thrill ride that picks you up and doesn’t let go for its entire three hour running time, and I loved every second of it. Watching Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, and the entire supporting cast embody their roles with such life, absurdity, and gusto was outrageously entertaining. Scorsese has taken great care in making each character fully-formed with depth, charisma and heart.

There has been a lot written about the controversy this film has created, and how some view it as glorifying a lifestyle that should be publicly scorned. To that, I point to one of my favorite essays by the late Roger Ebert on La Dolce Vita. He writes about how a film can have a different effect on you based on your life experience. Ebert explains how when he saw Fellini’s film as a young man, he admired the hero’s lifestyle; on a viewing later in life he saw him as a victim; and then later, pitied him. But he always loved the character, and that is what true works of art do for us. They challenge, shake us to our core, and delight us. And, ultimately, we can only view a film through the prism of our own experiences. Martin Scorsese is at the top of his game with his latest effort, and I have no doubt this movie will be debated and discussed for years to come, as all true masterpieces are.

6.      BLUE JASMINE

This tragicomedy follows the very complicated Jasmine, who flies from Manhattan to San Francisco to live with her sister in an attempt to rebuild a life that has so quickly unraveled around her. Jasmine is played by Cate Blanchett, in an Oscar worthy performance that is the most superb and layered of the year. It’s flat out exciting to watch Blanchett switch from a know-it-all chatterbox, to a charming, well-educated socialite, to a lost soul whose eyes drift off into catatonic despair. Blue Jasmine is one of Woody Allen’s most intriguing films not only because it’s smart and unbelievably charming, but also because it’s filled with a cast of incredibly likable, yet flawed supporting characters, remarkably portrayed by Sally Hawkins, Bobby Cannavale, Louis C.K, and Alec Baldwin.

7.      CAPTAIN PHILLIPS

A riveting, true account of Captain Richard Phillips’ harrowing kidnapping and rescue from the band of Somali pirates, who take over his vessel and attempt to return to Somalia with their hostage in tow. Director Paul Greengrass puts us in the middle of the action, creating a gripping, edge of your seat film where we connect emotionally with both Captain Phillips and his captors, breathlessly waiting to see what each of them will do next. Tom Hanks delivers a powerful performance, culminating in the heart wrenching final scene where he achieves the best work of his award-winning career.

8.      AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY

Adapted from the play to the screen, this mesmerizing family drama is a tour de force of acting, writing and storytelling. After the family patriarch suddenly dies, his loved ones congregate at his house for his funeral and are forced to confront their own inner demons, unlock dark, hidden family secrets, and attempt to find a way to move on with or without each other. The story allows this talented ensemble of actors to showcase and tap into the intricate dynamics of their characters in their own way, and it’s simply a marvel to watch. Examining the human condition is a delicate undertaking for any filmmaker, but John Wells pulls it off beautifully with this fantastic film.

9.      HER

Set in the not too distant future, Her is a unique and imaginative sci-fi fable about a lonely man who finds a deep and profound love with a self-aware operating system. Director Spike Jonze delves deep into some complex themes, like what form our relationships with others take, how we evolve and learn from those bonds, and how palpable an affect they can have on our emotions and lives. It’s a thought provoking and heartbreakingly honest take on how we often times look to technology to fill the void in ourselves.

10.   MUD

Set in Arkansas, this slow-burning and hypnotic character drama follows two young boys who discover a small motor boat stuck in a tree along the Mississippi River. They soon learn that a fugitive who calls himself Mud, played with a reserved Southern charm by Matthew McConaughey, has taken up residence in the boat, as he evades authorities. Mud promises to let the boys have the boat in exchange for food and despite their initial hesitation, they soon form a strong and unbreakable friendship and trust which leads to each of them putting their lives on the line for the other. This wonderful film washes over you and feels very reminiscent of a Mark Twain yarn, and it proves to be one of the true American gems of 2013.

Honorable Mentions: THE HUNT, NEBRASKA, STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS, DARK SKIES, 12 YEARS A SLAVE, THE CONJURING, AMERICAN HUSTLE, THE WAY WAY BACK, FRUITVALE STATION, BEFORE MIDNIGHT, OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL, WORLD WAR Z, PRINCE AVALANCHE, 20 FEET TO STARDOM, YOU’RE NEXT, WADJA, THE GREAT BEAUTY, ELYSIUM

TOP FIVE WORST FILMS of 2013

1.      SPRING BREAKERS

Was this film a satire? Exploitation? Both? I hated every heinous second of it, so I don’t even have the will to debate the point. The filmmaking technique Harmony Korine utilized to show different angles of the same scene over and over, overlaid with the actor’s repetitive, grating dialogue, was absolutely unbearable. I felt like I was being suffocated by these pneumatic characters and the weak narrative, all of it set to a pulsating soundtrack with frenetic camerawork. But what I find most sickening is when I read any sort of commentary on this dreck that attempts to draw some parallel between today’s youth and the two lead female psychopaths in the film. The only cautionary tale we have here is to avoid pretentious, bloated fare like this, which hides itself behind the guise of high-minded art.

2.      THE LAST EXORCISM PART II

 I quite like the original film and found the ending to be clever and unique. So I was eager to see how the cliffhanger ending would translate into a sequel with more story to tell. But not only has the shaky cam and first person POV been dropped from this installment, so has any bit of scares, common sense, or life. It’s a dull, useless sequel that takes you nowhere and explains or adds nothing to the sweet, central character from the first movie. It’s a wasted opportunity and makes for an incredibly boring time at the cineplex.

3.      A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD

I literally had no idea what was going on for the first 15 minutes of the latest installment of this action franchise. It was as if an intern had dropped the script pages all over the floor, and then proceeded to haphazardly put it all back together again, in no particular order, and the director decided to make that jumbled mess his shooting script. This movie is shockingly incoherent and the motivations of the characters are sloppy and unclear. I gave up trying to understand how or why John McClane and his son got from point A to point B and who or why they were trying to fight. In the end, my only conclusion was that this franchise needs to die a slow, painful death.

4.      THE BLING RING

Sofia Coppola allows this ripped from the headlines story to unfold without any sort of judgment, commentary, context, or viewpoint, which I guess can be seen by some as bold and experimental. This detachment has worked in some of her previous films, but this time around it made for a pointless cinematic experience. I hated each of the characters, and I wanted to punch the ring leader, Rebecca, in the face. I would have liked some sort of a back story to explain how exactly these vapid kids came to be, or why they seemed to be lacking both in brain cells and a moral center. But, alas, Coppola does what she does, and gives us cardboard cutouts set to a fun soundtrack and expects us to swoon.

5.      THE PURGE

The premise of this horror movie – that there is one night a year where you can commit any crime you desire, without any consequences – is so inherently flawed that it comes as no surprise that the film collapses under the weight of its own absurdity. It’s not fun, scary or subversive, and paints the entirety of the human race as nothing more than a marauding gang of sociopaths. The film completely forgets what makes a horror and/or slasher film genuinely good; the story needs to be set in some basis of reality, have a touch of humanity, and contain at least one character in whom you have some stake in rooting for, mmmkay? Instead we get this craptastic nonsense, leaving you no choice but to pray that everyone on screen might get wiped out in some sort of inexplicable planetary attack.

2012 Best and Worst Films of the Year List

Posted: December 28, 2013 in Film

Originally posted on December 31, 2012

The darkened movie theater has always been a second home for me, and never more so than this year have I felt like it was a place where I belong. Due to social media, it’s become easier than ever to share with my friends my thoughts on the movies I see, even if I am limited by Twitter to 140 character reviews. Sometimes I get feedback, sometimes I don’t. But what is incredibly freeing is knowing that it doesn’t matter. Just being able to watch movies and have a dialogue about them once in a while is a gift. And then something truly extraordinary happened. Cineworld, the #1 Cinema chain in the UK asked me if they could publish my top ten best films of the year list in their award-winning iPad magazine this year. It was a huge opportunity and a dream come true, but it meant putting together a list without seeing the end of the year releases, in order to make their print deadline. I decided I was up to the challenge!

The magazine was released online on December 29th and not only was I mentioned in the editor’s note and the table of contents, but they gave me a jaw dropping 12 page spread in their publication! For those that have an iPad, you can download the magazine for free at the following link from any country here: http://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/cineworld-magazine/id508350271?mt=8

What’s unique about the feature is that it includes my thoughts on CHRONICLE and ROBOT AND FRANK as I hadn’t yet seen two of the films before press time that I would eventually put on the list; SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN and ZERO DARK THIRTY. Now that I have seen every film I possibly could before the end of the year, I humbly submit to you all the definitive list of my top 10 favorite films of the year. Out of the 94 films I saw in the theater this year and the 10 I saw on DVD or on demand, these were the ones that made the biggest impression on me, and helped keep my passion for cinema burning for another year.

TOP TEN FILMS of 2012

1. LOOPER

A straight up, classic old school sci-film with stunning visuals, an extraordinary cast and a riveting story. Rian Johnson transports us into a mind-bending tale about a dystopian future where time travel has been outlawed and commandeered by the mob, in order to send victims back in time to be killed by assassins called Loopers. One of these Loopers, Joe (masterfully played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) lives each day knowing sometime in the future he will effectively have to “close his loop,” by being charged to kill his future self.  When this day finally arrives, it comes with questions of destiny, fate and the uncertain future of mankind- all themes I adore from the Terminator mythology and beautifully explored here; and with a strong female named Sarah too! The screenplay is a work of art and completely rich with so many layers that keep you guessing until the breathtaking, jaw-dropping revelation at the end. LOOPER has earned a spot as one of the best films of not only the year, but ever to be a part of the revered cinematic sci-fi genre.

2. END OF WATCH

You know you are in for something special during the opening moments of this film, as the camera twists and turns throughout the streets of Los Angeles, providing us with a first person view of a police car chase, set against Jake Gyllenhaal’s haunting voiceover. This film chronicles two LAPD partners as they set out each day into one of the most dangerous corners of the City of Angels to face criminals, unexpected situations, and to navigate the ins and outs of their own endearing personal lives. This may be the most powerful, humanistic take on genuine friendship committed to film in years. The use of multiple cameras makes for a more palpable, thrilling and authentic experience, allowing you to connect deeply with the partners superbly played by Michael Peña and Jake Gyllenhaal. This film stayed with me for a long time. It’s quietly affecting, gritty, moving, and helps shape your appreciation for a profession that may not always get the respect it deserves.

3. THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER

A beautiful and poignant coming of age story, following a lonely teenager struggling to adapt to high school life after a bout with mental illness. Logan Lerman is truly remarkable as the kind hearted and sensitive teen who befriends two incredibly vibrant classmates, who in turn help him find hope and a love for life that he never imagined he could have. Everything about this movie, from the nostalgic tone, to the hip soundtrack, to the tremendous compassion it shows for its fully developed characters, is so wonderful that I didn’t realize how completely invested I was in their lives until I found myself openly weeping during the end credits of the film. To capture so perfectly the confusion, crushing disappointment, introspection, heartache and pure magic of adolescence is a rare achievement, and one this film accomplishes so effortlessly well.

4. DJANGO UNCHAINED

Quentin Tarantino proves yet again that he is a true visionary with this western masterpiece centered around a freed slave who teams up with a bounty hunter to save his wife. I loved every single second of this pulp spectacle- the punchy, smart dialogue that falls on your ears like poetry, the gorgeous cinematography and lighting, the visually striking way Tarantino frames the actors, the distinctive camera angles he chooses, and the performances that will leave you shocked, stirred and astounded all at the same time. I actually thought while watching the film, how very lucky we are as cinemagoers to have the opportunity to watch the latest creation of one of the most exciting directors working today- someone whose deep passion for the history of cinema and 35mm film can be expressed so viscerally through his exceptional body of work. Beyond the man at the helm, I also want to commend the funny, engaging yet chilling performance of Leonardo DiCaprio in his role as Mississippi slave owner, Calvin Candie. It is nothing short of mesmerizing.

5. ZERO DARK THIRTY

A spectacular account of the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, so fraught with tension that at times I thought I might go into cardiac arrest. Jessica Chastain is spellbinding as the cold, intelligent and fiercely dedicated CIA operative whose life is consumed following a lead she believes will ultimately capture the most wanted man in the world. As she navigates the geopolitical landscape that has become her life, we breathlessly follow her every move, hoping she breaks through somehow and can convince those around her of her findings. But what happens to her when the mission is over? Chastain should make room on her mantle for an Oscar for this very realization as the closing shot of the film is one of the most impactful I’ve ever seen.

6. SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN

An incredible true story about a man with a soulful Don McLean like voice, who made transcendent folk music in the early 70s, recorded two amazing albums, and somehow ended up with virtually nonexistent record sales to show for it. The producers and recording execs that helped make Rodriguez’s two albums, Cold Fact and Coming From Reality, claim he was one of the most gifted artists they had ever worked with, and were saddened the world didn’t take notice of who they still believe to be one of the great American musicians of our time. What no one realized, including Rodriguez, was that his music had made much more than an influence on the other side of the world, as it helped fuel a generation of South Africans in their fight against Apartheid. Rodriguez gave them hope. He was a mystery and a music legend, and two men who grew up with his music as the soundtrack of their lives, vowed to find out what happened to him. This documentary is exhilarating on so many levels. We get to discover the man behind the myth, witness his intoxicating and poetic music, embrace the feeling of what it would be like to realize your greatest passion was actually appreciated, valued and adored by people you never met and, most of all, reconnect us with what draws and moves us to our own personal heroes. SEARCHING FOR SUGARMAN will make you believe in the potent message that it’s never too late for us dreamers.

7. ARGO

A taut thriller revolving around a declassified mission to save six Americans during the Iran contra hostage crisis. Ben Affleck takes us straight into the middle of these dramatic, real life events, delivering legitimately heart racing moments with humor, grace and endlessly fascinating sequences. Although we ultimately know the outcome, we’re constantly waiting for the Hollywood style rescue to unravel under the weight of its sheer absurdity; and that makes it all the more compelling and nail biting.

8. MOONRISE KINGDOM

Wes Anderson continues his flawless record by yet again producing another gem to behold. This time he takes us into the lives of two young kids who are so smitten with each other, they abandon their colorful lives to run away together. MOONRISE KINGDOM oozes with sharp intellect, sweet moments of candor, delightful characters and imaginative settings that charm your socks off. I was especially in awe of a scene where several characters are shown in silhouette, clinging for dear life from a lighthouse, as it was reminiscent of Bergman’s astonishing dance of death scene in THE SEVENTH SEAL. This film is a must see for anyone who yearns for enchantment in their life. Young love never looked this luminous.

9. CABIN IN THE WOODS

Absolute brilliance wrapped within the guise of a typical horror film where teenagers face certain death on a weekend trip to the woods. To give away or even hint at the secrets of the film for those that haven’t seen it would be a travesty of epic proportions. The beauty of this slasher flick is in its mysteries and how it elevates the horror genre to surprising new heights. It’s a perfect concoction of gore, wit, intrigue and genius. And its mind-blowing ending will leave horror buffs and cinema fans alike gleefully giddy and immensely satisfied.

10. SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK

Although, THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER was the better portrayal of mental illness in 2012, this film’s bold, kinetic, and wildly romantic story is enough to make it one of the best films of the year. Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence sizzle with undeniable chemistry, and the screenplay’s Rohmer-like talky dialogue is downright captivating. The ensemble cast including, among others, Robert DeNiro and Jackie Weaver, deserves all the acting kudos that will most certainly be bestowed upon them in awards season.

Honorable Mentions: CHRONICLE, ROBOT AND FRANK, THE BOURNE LEGACY, TAKE THIS WALTZ, HOLY MOTORS, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, RUBY SPARKS, THE IMPOSSIBLE, SKYFALL, THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES, SINISTER, BULLY

TOP FIVE WORST FILMS of 2012

1. TAKEN 2

Hey TAKEN 2, your ridiculous and mind numbing story doesn’t even put you in the same universe as DRIVE. So stop stealing its music. This is a sloppy, cash grab of a sequel that felt like it was haphazardly cobbled together from pages thrown out from the first film’s script. After a traumatic abduction of a retired CIA agent’s daughter in Paris in the first film, it makes perfect sense that the Mills family would want to venture back to Europe again for some relaxation. Except this time it’s the father and his wife that get snatched, and by some vengeful Albanians to boot! And it’s up to their daughter to help save them. Blah, blah, blah and a bunch of completely inane plot points begin to unfold like maybe no one will notice if I throw a hand grenade in the middle of Istanbul a few times so my Dad can use it as some sort of frakked up explosive version of GPS. Never mind if I destroy parts of the city or hurt a civilian. The villains here are paper thin and nothing really makes any logical sense, including a scene where Liam Neeson’s character wakens his wife from being tortured in the exact same way in back to back scenes. Um, did the editor forget to pick the best take or was the director so in love with Famke’s botoxed damsel in distress type performance that he just HAD to include his two best takes? Either way, none of them worked, just like this made for TV movie that achingly desires to be a worthy action follow up to the much more fun and somewhat plausible original.

2. SAVAGES

As Blake Lively’s irritating voice draped itself over the opening scene of this feature, my flight or fight instinct literally kicked in and I scanned all available exits to the theater. Unlucky for me, my option to fight it out led to a restless night at the cineplex. Every character in this plodding film seemed to be written to the most heightened annoying, mysterious, hyper faux cool stereotype imaginable version ever. There’s the dark, brooding former Navy Seal, the laid back beach bum gypsy and worst of all, the rich girl that loves them both and is burdened with the name of the biggest crackpot Shakespeare has ever written. It’s all too much to bear! On top of the film feeling like it was four hours long, it’s laced with an excruciating soundtrack and two ludicrous endings. I’m not kidding. I wish I was because there’s nothing like sitting through an outlandish ending to see the film literally rewind itself to make it even longer and show you a more preposterous one.

3. CIRQUE DU SOLEIL: WORLDS AWAY

This should have been called THE WORST OF CIRQUE DU SOLEIL: BREAK OUT THE NO DOZ.  I went in thinking this movie would be magical and left feeling like I just escaped a trippy nightmare I thought would never end. It’s an unintelligible mess following two androgynous leads as they desperately try to find each other in what seems like the backstage hell of every CIRQUE show to ever haunt Vegas. I kept attempting to piece together some coherent narrative but when an Elvis song is followed by inexplicable Beatles songs, to characters that disappear into the ether, to random acrobatics,  I just gave up and looked in my purse to see if I had more red vines to chomp on to pass the time.

4. ON THE ROAD

Let me first say that I haven’t read this novel, so perhaps these characters are likable or even interesting in the written word than on the big screen. But damn was this movie tedious and exhausting. The characters were pretentious, selfish, blowhards who were drowning in their own self importance. This film just got more depressing and bizarre as it went on and I wanted to jump out a window. Fortunately, the Arclight Hollywood didn’t have one because I did indeed look for one. Perhaps taking drugs like these characters are constantly doing would have made for a far more enjoyable cinematic experience. I just settled for popcorn and an Advil instead.

5. NORWEGIAN WOOD

I think this Japanese film makes it on this list because it was my biggest disappointment of the year. My favorite film of 2005, TONI TAKITANI was based on a Haruki Murakami short story, so maybe I had unrealistic expectations for this movie, as it was another Murakami adaptation. The bloated running time and the endless parade of unlikable damaged female characters, each one more insufferable than the last, slowly drained the life right out of me.

2011 Best and Worst Films of the Year List

Posted: December 28, 2013 in Film

Originally posted on December 31, 2011

I’ve been sending out my best and worst movies of the year list on New Year’s Eve for almost a decade now and I want to thank you all for taking the time to both read my thoughts and share yours with me. I realize that how we perceive films is subjective and that they can affect us all in a different way based on our life experience and interests, and that is precisely why movies are my defining passion. As most of you know, my taste in film and music is wildly eclectic, ranging from the mainstream to the obscure and I’m fiercely proud of it. Going to the cinema is one of my greatest pleasures in life and hearing the projector play a 35mm film is a slice of heaven. If you share my love of 35mm, I hope you find a few minutes to sign the petition at the bottom of my list this year to save the medium. It would mean a great deal to me.

What made 2011 a unique year in cinema for me was how all the films that really made an impression and stayed with me were ones that physically affected my heart, either by making it soar (HUGO), race (DRIVE), break (50/50), or even stop for a few seconds out of sheer terror (PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3). Out of the 102 films I saw in the theater this year and 10 that I saw on DVD or on demand, these are the movies that had the most impact.

TOP TEN FILMS of 2011

1. HUGO

Martin Scorsese has crafted a visually breathtaking film about friendship, the birth of cinema and finding one’s purpose in life. As the camera sweeps into one long tracking shot of a Paris train station in the 1930s, you are invited to take a journey into this immersive 3D world that is so magical and overwhelming, that it actually made my heart feel as if it was swelling with joy. The story captures the essence of why we love the movies, how they can make us feel and why each one can be a discovery of its own. HUGO is an imaginative treasure, an experience like no other, and a veritable cinematic feast for the soul.

2. THE RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES

A sci-fi masterpiece that was reminiscent of the awe I felt leaving the theater when I was 14 after seeing T2 for the first time. Andy Serkis owns this movie. His Oscar worthy performance as Caesar the ape is extraordinary. He slowly reels the audience in, causing us to care for him and eventually actively side with him and his simian comrades in their war against the human race. Rupert Wyatt’s background as a writer, director and cinematographer are evident in the pacing and subtle build of each scene leading us to the explosive climax, which is filled with tension fueled shots of leaves falling from trees, dark profiles running across a security camera and an epic Golden Gate Bridge battle featuring acrobatic apes scaling cables, cars and even riding a horse. Although the spectacle itself is immensely satisfying, cinemagoers are also given an intelligent, fascinating and genuinely moving story, and end credits that leave us clamoring for more.

3. DRIVE

I fell even more in love with this hypnotic film upon my second viewing. Nicolas Winding Refn frames each scene in DRIVE like a work of art, from the glow of the streets of Los Angeles, to a street fight seen in shadows, to a wounded character lying on the cement in the foreground as we see the perspective of a character slowly dropping to his knees to meet the eye of another in the background. And it is all set to a 80s soundtrack that sizzles and electrifies. Ryan Gosling is mesmerizing as a stunt driver who occasionally takes jobs as a getaway driver for criminals, and Carey Mulligan is beautifully vulnerable as the girl that catches his eye. Albert Brooks is chilling as the no-nonsense villain who won’t hesitate to stick a fork in your eye if you make a decision that is bad for business. This film is graphically violent, stylistic, heart-pounding and gorgeous- it’s all pure poetry.

4. 50/50

A poignant, funny and wonderfully written film which had me at Radiohead’s, “High and Dry.” Joseph Gordon-Levitt delivers a layered performance as Adam, a man given a cancer diagnosis with a 50% chance of survival and confronts it with humor, fear and courage. Adam’s sidekick, Kyle played masterfully by the charismatic Seth Rogen, displays such true honesty and friendship that we would all be lucky to have someone like him in our lives in a similar situation. The screenplay is so authentic, warm and touching that it becomes tangible and relatable for the viewer and we start asking the same questions as Adam. What if we’re not ready to die? How do we accept a fate that we have no control over? How do we tell our family and friends? How will they react? As Adam faces chemo and grapples with an uncertain future, we hold our collective breath rooting for him to survive and laughing with him at the absurdity of it all. This is the most humanistic, heartbreaking, insightful and hopeful movie of the year.

5. THE SEPARATION

An edge of your seat thriller set in Iran where accusations of murder, abuse and theft fly. You watch as these crimes unfold but begin to question what you saw and who knew what as you get wrapped up in the lives of two families. As the investigation unravels, we are intrigued by the intricacies of the human memory and how we all can perceive the same event differently. The timeline of this film is fast paced and spellbinding and it provides a window into a world where religion, truth, honor, loyalty, integrity, greed and desperation can be one and the same.

6. MIDNIGHT IN PARIS

My oh my, a Woody Allen film with time travel? Am I in heaven? No, but it feels pretty close watching this enchanting film set in Paris with an endearing Owen Wilson playing a man yearning to live in another time and place where the world was more romantic and engaging. All the art history references had me swooning in my seat and I’m sure it’s the same for anyone who loves film, literature and music. Woody Allen takes us on a ride through exquisite Paris providing us with a history lesson, making us laugh and just flat out leaving us giddy as we enjoy vintage Allen.

7. THE ARTIST

Watching this French gem was one of the best times I’ve had this year at the movies. It chronicles the fall of a silent movie star played by Jean Dujardin during the emergence of talking pictures in Hollywood. As Dujardin’s character George Valentin refuses to adapt to the new talkie format and falls on tough times, we see his equally magnetic prodigy Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) shoot to stardom. Both of these actors are a sight to behold but Dujardin is the revelation. He is charming and electric as he smiles, dances and emotes in this black and white silent film which is absolutely captivating from beginning to end.

8. PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3

The first two films in this franchise landed on my best films of the year list in the honorable mention category, but I never expected a third installment to surpass the original, let alone be one of my favorite films of the year. Once again, these movies continue to blow my mind. This prequel was bone chilling, had me wrapped in the fetal position in my seat and glued to the screen in fear of what could happen next. The filmmakers that brought us CATFISH, came up with a brilliant conceit for this one by having the main character set up a camera on an oscillating fan so we get to look in on the action as the camera pans from left to right. What we see as a result, coupled with a terrifying game of Bloody Mary, kept me skittish for days. As if the film couldn’t get any better for this die hard horror fan, the jaw dropping climax was set in my hometown of Moorpark, California. Checkmate, guys. Checkmate.

9. SUPER 8

An instant sci-fi classic gifted to us by J.J. Abrams’ astonishing imagination, and inspired by his childhood hobby of making home movies with his friends. This is a nostalgic love letter to movies like GOONIES, E.T. and STAND BY ME– films that shaped a generation, took a hold of our hearts and made us think that anything was possible. The talented cast of kids assembled for this project is each amazing in their own way, and you can actually see Elle Fanning become a star right before your eyes. One noteworthy scene of many has Joel Courtney’s character sharing with Fanning a super 8 film of his recently deceased mother, when she was alive and vibrant with her family. It’s sweet, tender and left me in so many tears, that they were literally falling down my neck. I loved everything about this film.

10. WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN

Lynne Ramsay fashions an unsettling family portrait centered on a mother, played superbly by Tilda Swinton in what is sure to be an award-winning performance, as she struggles to raise an inhuman monster- or to put it another way, her son. This disturbing character study explores the evolution of a psychopath and is completely unflinching in its candor. It’s a marvel how they cast the three actors that play Kevin from ages 2-16, as they are each riveting and frightening. WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN demands to be seen and discussed. It’s powerful, shocking, stunning, but most of all, haunting.

Honorable Mentions: TREE OF LIFE, WIN WIN, THOR, MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE, THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU, HORRIBLE BOSSES,  MELANCHOLIA, PARIAH, THE THING, THE MUPPETS, TAKE SHELTER, CERTIFIED COPY

TOP FIVE WORST FILMS of 2011

1. SUCKER PUNCH

What a complete mess. A gaggle of girls are imprisoned in a mental institution so they decide their best escape is to fantasize about being strippers and call girls. Um, I think I’d rather be locked up in a padded cell than prostitute myself, but maybe that’s me. They also use their imaginations to do inexplicable things, like sneak up behind a sleeping dragon and slit its throat in front of its baby. I heard some misguided souls hail SUCKER PUNCH as a female empowerment/girl power flick when it’s the antithesis of this. It cheapens the genre by using weak, pneumatic and overly sexualized girls from this schlockfest as representatives of independent, strong women when Sarah Connor, the ultimate female empowerment character in film, covered this ground far more effectively. She sacrificed everything to raise the future savior of humanity and I’d love to see her take her machine gun to the likes of Babydoll, Sweet Pea, Rocket and Blondie. Now that would be a worthy sequel.

2. TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON

I mean…why is this movie starting with a girl ascending a staircase in her underwear to a mugging Shia LaBeouf? Well, maybe it gets better. It doesn’t. We are led on a series of pointless job interviews and then to the Decepticons descending on Earth again, to just a series of endlessly baffling and relentlessly boring scenes. But wasn’t the six hour battle of the Transformers clashing metal against metal and obliterating Chicago pretty cool? No, no it wasn’t. I might liken it more to torture. I took off my 3D glasses twenty minutes into this movie and surveyed the nearest exit signs. I even glanced at my friends who drove us to the theater to give them a sign that I was in hell. No luck. So I endured this picture but just for the record, I would rather set my face on fire than sit through another TRANSFORMERS movie ever again.

3. THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN- PART I

I’ll admit I have some interest to see how this odd saga ends. But from the likes of the first half of the finale, it’s going down in flames. This might be one of the most ridiculous and unintelligible films ever made. Some critics may say it’s the source material but I gotta give credit where it’s due with this one: the director, Bill Condon. I can’t imagine a director going to print on a scene in which a pack of wolves are shown against a white background continually glancing at each other from different camera angles having a conversation through melodramatic voiceovers. Or when the heroine, Bella needs to drink blood to stay nourished, the vampires in the house look for something to put the blood in so she won’t see what she is drinking. If you were in my house, I’d grab uh, I don’t know, maybe a mug or a non-see through plastic cup, but these clever vampires who live in the middle of nowhere hand her a Styrofoam cup complete with a straw. And then for the duration of the film she seems to have an endless supply of these cups and straws as if they were running a nondescript burger joint on the side. These are just a few of the random, exasperating and nonsensical details from this tacky, poorly produced, bizarro film.

4. RANGO

I don’t care how striking the CGI is in this film, it wasn’t good enough to get me past wanting to punch the chameleon voiced by Johnny Depp in the face. This movie is filled with unlikable, annoying, ugly characters that thrive on nothing more than their ability to be quirky and weird. The title character natters on and on and often feels sorry for himself. At one point, he meanders into the street on a quest to kill himself. How delightful and strange. Please. This movie was like one long acid fueled trip with the most hideous, insufferable people on the planet.

5. ALBERT NOBBS

I’m not sure this film had a point other than showcasing Glenn Close disguised as a man. It’s never very believable why she chooses to not reveal her true identity, and for the second half of this movie she preys on someone who clearly doesn’t love her, in the hopes of trapping her into a life she doesn’t want. It makes for an unseemly plot and a frustrating and painfully boring cinematic experience. ALBERT NOBBS lands in this category for many reasons, but chief among them may be the fact that I actually considered taking my own life while watching it. Do yourself a favor and skip it to avoid the same fate.

2010 Best and Worst Films of the Year List

Posted: December 28, 2013 in Film

Originally posted on December 31, 2010

It’s New Year’s Eve and once again that means it’s time to send out my list of the best and worst movies of the year. This year, I saw 113 films in the theater and rented 19 movies on DVD. Through all the films I saw what was most noteworthy to me about 2010 were the amazing documentaries. I think I could make my top ten list solely on them alone. Instead, I will honor my favorite docs along with some foreign, independent and big budget films that I just loved in 2010.

Before I get to that, I want to make a cinematic personal note that 2011 marks a major milestone for my two favorite films of all time. On January 25, 2011 my second favorite film, BROADCAST NEWS will get the Criterion Collection treatment being released on blu-ray complete with director commentary, alternates scenes and other fun extras that will make my head explode. And July 3, 2011 will be the 20th anniversary of the film that changed me forever, TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY.  This landmark will be celebrated with the launching of a new licensing program for fans like me and hopefully, some of the LA and NY art houses will pay tribute to this masterpiece with screenings.

Now, let’s look back at what I believed the best and worst films of the year.

Top 10 Films of 2010

1. THE SOCIAL NETWORK

I saw this film 3 times and can testify that it gets more and more rewarding with each viewing. It’s brilliant- a fascinating character study that’s filled with sharp, kinetic dialogue that simply crackles off the screen, a visceral score that gets under your skin and a completely riveting story. It has knock out performances by the whole cast with scenes that are mesmerizing, intriguing and sometimes explosive. Andrew Garfield is the heart and soul in this film and reveals so many layers to his character, Eduardo- he’s vulnerable, smart, and tough and someone the audience can truly connect with. My favorite scene showcases  Garfield’s Eduardo as he is hit with the full magnitude of Zuckerberg’s betrayal and you see the courage and blood rush into him ashe leans over and proclaims to Eisenberg’s character, “You better lawyer up, asshole, because I’m not coming back for 30%. I’m coming back for everything!”  It gives me chills every time. This film is not just extraordinary; it’s a master class in directing, acting, writing, cinematography, editing and film scoring. All I can have left to say to Hollywood is, “More please.

2. TOY STORY 3

Every once in a while, you see a film that moves and speaks to you as if’s looking directly at you and you were exactly who it was made for. The remarkable thing about TOY STORY 3 is realizing that it didn’t have just that affect on you, it spoke to everybody. Sort of a shared emotional experience that lets you know that you are not alone when your imagination allowed you to love, care deeply about and creates lives for your toys when you were a kid. Your toys were there for you, provided solace and were your friends too. Not only does this astonishing film let you reconnect with your childhood but it’s also a cinematic feast of action packed sequences set in a day care center, tickles your funny bone with its unique characters and their neuroses and explores the themes of loss and acceptance. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a scene more simultaneously terrifying and gut wrenching then the incinerator scene at the climax at the film. The journey of these toys as they try to find their way back to their precious Andy is one of the most poignant and wonderful two hours of my life this year because during this time I got to be in the presence of absolute magic.

3. RABBIT HOLE

Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart deliver astonishing performances as a couple dealing with this loss of their only son and the film chronicles how they manage to move on and live when it feels like their whole world has come crashing down. This is a beautiful film that moves, uplifts and breaks your heart. But it also provides hope and is filled with vitality for life that you wouldn’t expect with its devastating subject matter. I loved these characters and watching them question their lives and futures while finding a way to be present in this one life as it’s the only one we’ve got.

4. INCEPTION

Christopher Nolan takes on a thrill ride into the mind where we encounter the many layers of dreams and a way to manipulate them and therefore, the person having them. This movie is mind blowing on so many levels. The characters are constantly moving through the film using exposition so organic that it seamlessly moves the story forward. On top of the visually eye popping special effects, the intense score and the wonderfully complicated storyline, we also get to watch some incredibly talented actors played opposite each other. When I realized that Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Leonardo DiCaprio and Cillian Murphy where taking up the same space on the cinema screen, I had to pinch myself for fear I was dreaming.

5. WAITING FOR SUPERMAN

An inside look into our country’s broken Education system with interviews with educators, law makers and parents. This documentary reinforced to me what I already believe about unions but also opened my eyes to the reality the children in the U.S. face today. This film is essential viewing and what I hope will one day be seen as a turning point in making our country a better place to learn and grow.

6. MOTHER

Bong Joon-ho weaves together a haunting tale of a Mother who is protective of her mentally disabled son. She tries to shelter him from the cruel world and when he gets targeted by the police as the key suspect in the murder of a young girl, she goes to great lengths to vindicate him and seek out the truth behind what really transpired.  The Korean film takes its time and slowly builds in intensity right up until its shocking climax. It’s a suspenseful and twisted psychological thriller with an ending I didn’t see coming and left me shaken for days.

7. THE FIGHTER

I’ve always been a sucker for sports films. This one is particularly inspired because it possesses the astounding talent of Christian Bale who embodies the character of Dicky, a meth addicted boxer who at one time was a great boxer and now is trying to help his younger brother achieve the dreams that he never could. This movie sneaks up on you as you don’t realize the full magnitude of how these characters have grown on you and what you invested in them until the ending delivers an emotional knockout on the viewer that leaves our hearts full.

8. THE CRAZIES

To live the life of a horror film fan means we’re often left disappointed with the endless amount of shoddy remakes and even original movies that Hollywood offers to us. Once in a while, we get one and it’s a beauty to behold- a diamond in the rough. if you will. Leave it to my Michael Eisner’s oldest son to prove that a solid, edge of your seat horror film can still be made. I loved everything about this film- the opening shot of a town in flames, the first confrontation of an infected citizen on a baseball diamond, to the impeccable performance of Timothy Olyphant as the town’s sheriff.  Dear fellow horror fans, we got a live one here- a great gift to us this year so seek it out on DVD if you missed it in the theater. I, for one, got my DVD copy as a Christmas gift and it was a merry one for me.

9. TERRIBLY HAPPY

A terrific Danish film that is a cross between BLUE VELVET and BLOOD SIMPLE which follows a cop from Copenhagen who is reassigned to a small town after a recent mental breakdown. He must learn to find his place in his new surroundings and at the same time command the respect of the strange locals who seem to like taking the law into their own hands. It’s a clever, engaging and excitingly odd little film and I enjoyed it immensely.

10. WAKING SLEEPING BEAUTY

An inside look into the Walt Disney Company’s animation division from 1980 and 1994 revealing the rebirth of the medium after new management came into the company in 1984 and breathed new life into it.  Before this documentary, I didn’t know I could worship Michael D. Eisner any more than I already did but after seeing him choke up during a eulogy for his closest friend Frank Wells, I realized my admiration for this man simply has no bounds. This is a must see film for animation and Disney fans alike.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: ANIMAL KINGDOM, IS IT JUST ME?, FISH TANK, EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP, WINTER’S BONE, NOWHERE BOY, BLACK SWAN, ANOTHER YEAR, JOAN RIVERS: A PIECE OF WORK, INSIDE JOB

Top 5 Worst Films of the Year

1. GROWN UPS

In theory, the premise of five comedians doing a BIG CHILL type reunion comedy seems to be a winning combination. Instead we’re stuck with excruciatingly self indulgent mess of a film where the jokes fall flat and toilet humor reigns supreme. I can’t imagine anyone watching the dailies of this film and being proud of one second of this dreck or encouraged to keep up the nasty tone and vulgarities that it was producing. Someone somewhere needed to pull the plug and save its viewers from one this abomination.

2. THE LAST AIRBENDER

I think it’s very possible that this film could one day be a cult classic in the vein of PLAN NINE FROM OUTERSPACE that viewers flock to midnight screenings to gape at in disbelief. Or maybe a better comparison, it that it seems like one of the B movies on SyFy that Joe McCale make fun of on “The Soup.” It’s hard to believe that this movie was made with a big budget. It’s as if this film was made by someone who never made a movie before. Like a major studio plucked a random person off the street and gave them a huge budget and told them they could write, direct and cast the film on their own. What we get is a plodding film where the characters actually move the story along by announcing what they are doing next, act like they are reading lines off cue cards and perform fight sequences like they just practiced in their back yard a new move they invented. THE LAST AIRBENDER is jaw dropping in its poor production values, shoddy special effects and set pieces. I think someone in Hollywood was pulling a joke over on us but forgot to give us the punchline.

3. COP OUT

This is a long, poorly edited comedy that doesn’t know where it’s going or what it’s trying to say. It’s just a hodgepodge of random scenes with Tracy Morgan and Bruce Willis teaming up to fight the bad guys with absolute zero chemistry between the leads.

4. CLASH OF THE TITANS

I feel lucky that I saw the 2D version of this film as Twitter blew up with the rage of a thousand geeks who very were subjected to the botched 3D conversion of this film which had had some of the actor’s hair floating in front of their heads to name one complaint. But that is as far as I go when I use the word “lucky” in reference to this completely ridiculous film where Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes were indistinguishable, nothing made sense and the story was mind numbingly boring.

5. ALICE IN WONDERLAND

One of the main reasons why this film lands on the worst list is because I just adore the Lewis Caroll story and it was listed in my 2009 best of list as the film I was most excited to see. Fast forward to March where I’m sitting in a dark theater 40 minutes into this film trying to negotiate with myself that I fall asleep, no one will know because of my 3D glasses. Hey Tim Burton and Johnny Depp, I think I’m finally breaking up with you. Sorry, it had to go down like this in such a public manner but your continued nonsensical bizarre collaborations are suffocating me. I need some space.

2009 Best and Worst Films of the Year List

Posted: December 28, 2013 in Film

Originally posted on December 31, 2009

It’s New Year’s Eve and time for me to roll out my annual list of my favorite and most hated films of the year. I saw 11 more films in the theater than last year making this year’s tally total out at 105 movies I saw in the theater and 29 on DVD.

2009 was a year that delivered three sci-fi slices of heaven, STAR TREK, TERMINATOR SALVATION and AVATAR. All films, I might add, that I listed in my 2008 list as the ones I was most looking forward to seeing in 2009. It’s incredibly satisfying to know that Hollywood can still turn out a great story. The only films I am truly looking forward to seeing next year are Lukas Moodysson’s MAMMOTH and Tim Burton’s ALICE IN WONDERLAND. I wonder if history will repeat itself and these films will land on my top 2010 list as well. Only time will tell. Okay, here we go folks, my lists for the best and worst films of the 2009.

Top 10 Films of 2009

1. Avatar

Cameron changes the art of moviemaking and reinvents special effects every time he creates a film. He did it with THE ABYSS, T2, TITANIC and now AVATAR. Cameron is a true visionary and AVATAR is magic, pure magic. I am not sure what more I can add about this groundbreaking film that I haven’t already said when I named it the #2 best film of the decade, except that it’s such a sensory overload that it causes me to cry whenever the end credits roll. I think the synapses in my brain are so overwhelmed by this amazing achievement that crying is the only way for me to express my awe. And seriously, when has a film ever done that before?

2. The Hurt Locker

I’ve never been a fan of films that explore the theme of war, but this movie is so much more than that. It’s a visceral, edge-of-your-seat story about what it means to be so passionate and talented at something, that it makes you feel alive. Jeremy Renner delivers a riveting performance as an adrenaline junkie who can’t truly be happy unless he’s doing what he does best, diffusing bombs. This is a heart-pounding, tension-filled movie that has you constantly reminding yourself to exhale and breathe.

3. Terminator Salvation

Only three times in my life have I sent out a breathless, mass e-mail to all my cinema loving friends urging them to rush out to see a film. The first time was my senior year in college after I saw ELECTION, then a couple of years ago after being mesmerized by THE LOOKOUT and this year, the week of the release of TERMINATOR SALVATION. I have figuratively kept my undying love for T2 on my sleeve since I was 14 and have since waited for a worthy follow-up to my favorite film of all time. This MAD MAX style sequel was better than I ever imagined it would be. It takes us into the future where we finally get to experience the war between man and machine, catch a glimpse of those rubber-skinned T-600s that Kyle Reese told Sarah Connor about, watch as John Connor becomes the man he is destined to be and Reese emerge as the hero we always knew he was. The 14-year-old inside of me that saw this film 7 times in the theater will forever be grateful to McG for taking care of this franchise and understanding the motivations of these beloved characters.

The Director’s cut of this film on Blu-ray allows us to see some precious scenes that were cut from the original movie like one of my favorite lines from the resistance fighter pilot, Blair Williams when she says, “You can focus on what is lost or fight for what is left.” Sadly, the DVD doesn’t contain so many of the scenes that I was heartbroken to see cut from the film like Reese discovering the picture of Sarah Connor in his jacket pocket at the end. I can only hope these scenes will be restored on a subsequent “ultimate” DVD package at a later date for the most hard core fans of the franchise. Maybe that’s wishful thinking on my part but a girl can dream, can’t she?

4. (500) Days of Summer

This is such a perfect little film. It’s a genuine and unique take on what it really means to connect romantically to someone and the heartache that comes with the realization that it’s not meant to be. (500) DAYS OF SUMMER employs impressive storytelling devices such as switching up the linear timeline of the film, emotions acted out through obscure film references (extra points for the Bergman nods) and a split screen revealing a character’s actual reality vs. his hopeful version. This film is also a love letter to Los Angeles and music in which the director beautifully photographs the city and creates a soundtrack that is a playful mix of British pop, 80s rock and contemporary tunes.

5. Star Trek

When I was a little girl, my father introduced me to “Star Trek.” We would watch old episodes of the 1960s show over and over again. As I got older, I became a devoted viewer of “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” so much so, that several of my friends got together to watch the series finale entitled, “All Good Things…” at the end of my junior year in high school. It was the first true TV event I had ever experienced. So, to say that I was looking forward to seeing Captain James T. Kirk and Mr. Spock meet for the first time at the Starfleet Academy in J.J. Abram’s new film, STAR TREK would be a grand understatement. In fact, seeing the film catapulted me into geek heaven and I was ecstatic to see this prequel of an adored franchise not only be one of the most entertaining films of the year but also one of the best reviewed.

It’s a popcorn space adventure that takes you on a thrilling ride with some of the richest and most diverse characters of all time. The casting was perfection and spot on with Kirk’s swagger, Spock’s logical poise, Bones refreshing candor, Uhura’s confidence, Scottie’s wit and know-how, Sulu’s swashbuckling abilities and Chechov’s naiveté. Orci and Kurtzman’s writing is crisp and fun and their dialogue just pops off the screen. It’s one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had at the movies and it was reminiscent of the storytelling and feel of BACK TO THE FUTURE- one of those movies you could watch again and again. It was also poetic that this time around, by getting my Dad into an advanced screening of the film, I was the one who was able to reintroduce these characters to him.

6. The Box

Hands down the most misunderstood film of the year and one of the most engaging. I think this film challenged audiences in an unexpected way and as a result, divided critics and confused the average moviegoer who expected a run-of-the-mill thriller. Well, Richard Kelly is a rare and gifted filmmaker and nothing he envisions or creates is ordinary. Each frame of this film is like a work of art. I loved the style of it, the way the actors and settings are framed and how this film starts quietly and ends with a bang. It’s evident how much time and energy Kelly spends on every detail in this story. There are moments during the film where you don’t quite understand why characters are behaving a certain way but it all comes together at the end and you are rewarded for your patience. You realize that nothing is done just for show- every tiny, little nuanced detail has a reason for being. THE BOX felt like a cross between a Twilight Zone and a David Lynch film, but it’s also evocative of Hitchcock with its VERTIGO-esque soundtrack and psychological storyline. James Marsden, Cameron Diaz, Sam Oz Stone (the remarkable actor that plays their son), Frank Langella and Kelly’s usual troupe of character actors are all fantastic. This movie packs a punch and maybe it’s not for everyone but I can only hope that it finds renewed life on DVD. It’s a brilliant picture and one that Kelly should be proud to book end with DONNIE DARKO.

7. A Serious Man

The underlying theme of this film might be summed up in the Jefferson Airplane lyrics that resurface throughout the film, “When the truth is found to be lies and all the hope within you dies.” The Coen Brothers fashion an original story set in the 60s centering around a college professor who can’t catch a break. His wife is leaving him, his children won’t listen to him, his mentally unstable brother refuses to leave his house and his tenure is in jeopardy when anonymous letters start turning up in the dean’s office proclaiming his incompetence. You suffer through his frustrations and anxieties but also the unexpected humor that comes with the constant irony his life has become. The Coens infuse the film with Jewish cultural references that can sometimes confound but more often than not, intrigue. This is a delightful, black comedy that is fresh, irreverent and distinctive.

8. Big Fan

Pledging your undying support for a sports team can bring a person unbridled joy, blind deep-seated hatred for an opposing team and the heartbreak that comes with defeat. BIG FAN captures the obsession of fandom as we follow its protagonist, a Staten Island native named Paul who lives and dies by the New York Giants. Patton Oswalt inhabits this lug with such sincerity that whether you understand him or not, you root for him and appreciate his anguish. This is a fascinating character study and also a cautionary tale about investing so much of ourselves into an entity that might, at times, consume our identities.

9. A Single Man

Tom Ford constructs a gorgeous, literary film which allows us to observe a day in the life of a man who has decided to kill himself. He carries on what would be a normal day by  going to work, visiting his best friend and running errands while at the same time putting his affairs in order for his self demise. What he doesn’t prepare for is the constant signs throughout the day which give him a reason for living. Ford conveys these signs by saturating the film with color that awakens your senses. This slice of life story is beautifully written and Colin Firth is just astonishing as a man who can’t imagine living another day with the crushing heartache that overwhelms him.

10. Fantastic Mr. Fox

Oh Wes Anderson, how you never disappoint me. This stop motion animated tale is inventive, sweet, charming and thoroughly pleasurable from the beginning to the end. I literally couldn’t stop smiling for the first half of this movie, while watching a family of foxes and their animal neighbors outsmart three tyrannical farmers. Each character in this community of animals is carefully developed to have their own special, vibrant personality with a touch of Anderson’s trademark wit and cleverness. I love this movie—it’s not just a fable for children, but a delight for adults as well.

Honorable Mentions: ADVENTURELAND, SUGAR, THE HANGOVER, MOON, INGLORIOUS BASTERDS, MICHAEL JACKSON’S THIS IS IT, UP, AN EDUCATION, DRAG ME TO HELL, DISTRICT 9, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY

Top 5 Worst Films of 2009

1. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Unbearable, unintelligible and never-ending. I found the first TRANSFORMERS film cinematic cotton candy- light, airy and fun. This sequel is like what you get once you overindulge in junk food, an excruciating and painful root canal without novocaine. I literally did not know what was going on for most of this movie, nor did I care. The clashing of robots was so beyond excess that it became mind numbing. When did Transformers master the ability to time travel or successfully morph into humans? Why am I asking these questions? This film was one big WTF in a summer full of movies that for once actually contained franchise pictures that were smart and engaging. Sadly, the only revenge we were served was in Michael Bay’s gleeful attempt to strangle the life out of us. Well sir, you may have succeeded in doing so for the few hours we were subjected to this abomination.

2. Disney’s A Christmas Carol

In a year when AVATAR’s performance capture techniques blow your mind, it’s hard not to wince when you see the video game style characters that populate this film. It’s also somewhat sad when you imagine that this version of Charles Dicken’s classic may be the first one a child grows to know. It’s incomprehensible, too dark at times to make out the animation, possesses action sequences that are a bit of a visual assault on the senses and most importantly, it lacks the magic and heart of the original story. The fact that Disney could accomplish a 25 minute version of this story called Mickey’s Christmas Carol in the 80s that still makes me cry to this day and this full length film doesn’t conjure a single stir of emotion in me, is absolutely ridiculous. The filmmakers should have spent more time on bringing this wonderful story to life and less making us marvel at Jim Carrey’s Scrooge shooting off in the sky over Victorian London.

3. It’s Complicated

There is nothing complicated about this pretentious movie where these characters live in a world so drenched in wealth that their conversations revolve around remodeling their houses, baking chocolate croissants and using yoga as an excuse to sneak away for trysts at luxurious hotels. I’m not sure why this film disturbed me as much as it did; maybe because no one in the film ever acknowledges any real, tangible problems that can’t be solved with money. Meryl Streep’s blithely hands her vapid kids a credit card when they make puppy dog eyes at her, shrugs when one teenage daughter can’t help but text incessantly on her cell phone before she drives off in her Prius, while the other casually mentions she’s off to meet with her “wedding specialist.” The scenes in this film where Streep and Martin try to smoke pot for the first time in 20 years or when Streep meets with her pneumatic girlfriends over wine, made me want to off myself. Maybe if Streep stopped throwing her head back and laughing every three seconds, she could have saved this movie from being an inaccessible mess and a fantasy chronicling the woes of rich people.

4. Funny People

A self indulgent movie about how comedians are all really sad clowns inside. Sandler plays a character, much like himself, who regrets the choices he has made in his life once he realizes he may be dying. What ensues is a lot of bad jokes and awkward pacing about the tortures of being a true artist and the sacrifices that must be made in the pursuit of greatness. Some critics hailed this Judd Apatow film as being his most personal film but that doesn’t mean it’s something worth sitting through. It’s a meandering movie that is an hour too long because I think Apatow was so in love with his personal vision that he couldn’t bare to remove even a single scene from his masterpiece. Too bad we had to pay the price for his generosity in the editing room.

5. Friday the 13th

The first 10 minutes of this movie was terrifying and surprising as we witness an entire camping party get picked off one by one and that is all before the credits. But then the real cast emerges to suck the life out of the rest of the movie and a lesson in sheer boredom is dispensed slowly and painfully. I found myself wishing that the ski mask killer would show up more frequently just so he could hurry up and kill off these nattering teenagers and put them and us out of our misery.

Best Films of the Decade: 2000- 2009

Posted: December 27, 2013 in Film

Originally posted on December 26, 2009

2009 is almost over and I thought it’d be fun to share with all of you my picks for the 10 best films of the decade. Earlier this month, when I first decided to complete this project, I didn’t realize how enjoyable it would be to sift through all the notes I’ve taken over the years and decide which pictures to include. I took this task very seriously and actually watched several of these movies over again to ensure that I was satisfied with their particular ranking.

My Best of the Decade list consists of films that meant the most to me out of the over 1,400 films I’ve seen from 2000-2009. It’s a diverse collection of films with varying genres- four of them are foreign, some are obscure, American films, and one is the most expensive film ever made; but their defining characteristic is a GREAT story. I hope I can convince a few of you to seek out some of these amazing films if you have never seen them before or perhaps to revisit them if you have. As always, my Best and Worst Films of the Year list will come out on New Years Eve. Don’t forget to check your in-boxes for it. Now let’s get to it…

Top 10 Films of the Decade

1. Amélie (2001, France); Dir. Jean-Pierre Jeunet

This may very well be the most vibrant, imaginative and wonderful movie I’ve ever seen. It didn’t make it hard to place it at the top of my best of the decade list. In the theater, I saw it five times, just so I could be awake in the dark with this rich, fairy tale about a girl in Paris who makes it her mission to help those around her and make their lives a little better. AMELIE is the type of film that makes you feel alive and as if anything is possible. Jean-Pierre Jeunet lets you see through the eyes of Amélie and, in doing so, allows you to realize that it’s the little things in life, like cracking the surface of a crème brulee, that make life worth living.

2. Avatar (2009, USA); Dir. James Cameron

I’m not sure I would have fallen in love with movies if it wasn’t for James Cameron. The human element he adds to every film he creates is astounding. In ALIENS, he reveals a child’s ability to help restore a woman’s capacity for love and in TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY, John Connor reawakens the emotional core in his mother. In AVATAR, Cameron manages to get us to connect and side with an alien race pitted in battle against our own. He takes us on an immersive journey into another world that feels so real that it consistently takes your breath away. When the end credits started to roll the first time I saw this film, I literally burst into tears. Not out of sadness but of sheer awe. Cameron did it again. He captured my heart and mind for a few hours and renewed my faith in commercial movies. He will always be to me, a filmmaking God.

3. Lilya 4-Ever (2003, Sweden); Dir. Lukas Moodysson

This Swedish film takes places in the former Soviet Union and follows Lilya, a 16-year-old girl, who is abandoned by her mother and through a series of subsequent betrayals finds herself in a downward spiral. She befriends a younger boy named Volodya and his friendship becomes the closest thing she has to any true human connection. Together, they try to make sense of their lot in life until Lilya makes a tragic decision to leave home in hopes of a brighter future where she believes she can be loved.

At the end of this unforgettable film, the camera like a ghost takes you back to key locations in Lilya’s life. It’s reminiscent of the end sequence of John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN. Except LILYA 4-EVER isn’t a horror film. It’s a portrait of a girl who clings to humanity and hope despite her very innocence being ripped away; a girl who etches her name into a bench just to prove to the world she exists. This film will gut you alive. It will make you feel like running home, getting under the covers and never coming out. It’s a harrowing reminder of how cruel this world can be.

4. Best of Youth (2005, Italy); Dir. Marco Tullio Giordana

I finally joined Netflix in 2005 so I could rent this six hour Italian film. I missed it in the theater and as soon as it released, I popped it into my DVD player one Saturday afternoon and was so captivated that I watched it in one sitting. THE BEST OF YOUTH chronicles the lives of two brothers between 1966 and the early 2000s. It’s really quite remarkable to follow these two very different men. You really come to care about them and become extraordinarily invested in even the smallest decision they make in their lives. As a result, you live through the joys, heartache, trials and tribulations that come with age and realize how fragile we all are and how very precious time can be.

5. Donnie Darko (2001, USA); Dir. Richard Kelly

On the DVD commentary of this film, first-time writer/director, Richard Kelly jokes that more people worked on the movie than saw it in the theater. I was one of the lucky few that did see it in the theater and was ecstatic that it found an audience on DVD. In fact, it has since become a bit of a cult classic and widely embraced by the generation of kids that grew up in the 80s. This sci-fi yarn allows the talented Maggie and Jake Gyllenhaal to share the screen and takes us into the very brilliant mind of Richard Kelly. It centers around an intelligent and lonely high school kid who meets a monstrous 6-foot tall rabbit who informs him that the world will end in less than a month. Donnie sets out to change his destiny and in turn unravels the mysteries of time travel and discovers the true meaning of sacrifice. This film is smart, haunting, inspired and it will stay with you for a very long time. It is the singular movie on this decade list that I have seen so many times that I have lost count and it’s undeniably a unique work of art.

6. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001, USA); Dir. Wes Anderson

Having nowhere else to go, the patriarch of a family of geniuses returns home after a long absence, under the pretense that he is dying. He is however not greeted with the homecoming he expected and is forced to really see his children for who they are for the first time, and in turn finds something he never expected: forgiveness. Anderson spins an inventive story of dysfunction with colorful characters that ultimately learn the importance and value of family, and he infuses it with genuine heart and his signature wit, making his follow up to the charming BOTTLE ROCKET and RUSHMORE, pure cinematic bliss.

7. The Lookout (2007, USA); Dir. Scott Frank

The story of THE LOOKOUT is so well-written that it simply crackles off the screen. It gave my heart the same adrenaline shot I felt when I saw CHINATOWN for the first time. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a former high school hockey star who suffers a head injury in a tragic accident and is forced to live a life struggling to remember how to do simple mundane tasks. He is manipulated into playing a part in a bank heist and things go horribly awry. This movie works on so many levels- it’s a fascinating character study, a taut thriller and a poignant story about loss and redemption. It’s quite simply a modern masterpiece and essential viewing for anyone who loves movies.

8. There Will Be Blood (2007, USA); Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson

This sprawling epic allows us to follow a mad man so cunning, evil and twisted that you’re completely mesmerized by him. Daniel Day-Lewis’ portrayal of an oilman who is driven by much more than greed, something innate fueled by hatred, is one of the most electrifying performances ever accomplished by an actor. Radiohead prodigy, Jonny Greenwood delivers a score nothing short of perfection for this film- it becomes its own character, picking you up and shaking you along the way. The last line in this movie is so flawless that it left me literally shaking in my seat with childlike glee. THERE WILL BE BLOOD is completely enthralling and becomes more and more rewarding on multiple viewings. It will no doubt one day be regarded as a seminal American classic.

9. Tully (2002, USA); Dir. Hilary Birmingham

A coming-of-age tale that follows the Coates family in rural Nebraska during one summer when old secrets resurface and change their lives forever. It’s a beautifully paced little film that has an incredibly moving performance by Bob Burrus who plays Tully Coates, Sr. There is a particular scene with Burrus handing out ice cream one night after dinner to his sons, Tully, Jr. and Earl that is utterly heartbreaking in its sheer simplicity. This quiet American film will just completely wash over you with it graceful shots of small-town life and its tremendous depth of character.

10. Tony Takitani (2005, Japan); Dir. Jun Ichikawa

I’ll never forget the impact this film had on me the first time I saw it. I was walking out of the theater and started to talk about the movie and I just started weeping right there on the sidewalk. I collected myself, walked into a restaurant for a bite to eat and when I attempted to continue my thoughts on the film, I started crying again.  This literary film is based on a short story by the acclaimed Japanese author, Haruki Murakami and is about a man who has lived his whole life with loneliness until he meets a woman who changes his life. He falls in love but soon learns that she has a flaw which eventually leads to tragedy for the both of them, and Tony’s ultimate return to the loneliness that has defined his life. TONY TAKITANI is beautifully photographed and its poetic score and extraordinary story create a dreamlike mood that is absolutely exquisite.

Honorable Mentions:

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004, USA); Dir. Michel Gondry

Ghost World (2001, USA); Dir. Terry Zwigoff

Mulholland Dr. (2001, USA); Dir. David Lynch

In the Bedroom (2004, USA); Dir. Todd Field

Memento (2001, USA); Dir. Christopher Nolan

Winter Solstice (2004, USA); Dir. Josh Sternfeld

Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003, USA); Dir. Quentin Tarantino

2008 Best and Worst Films of the Year List

Posted: December 27, 2013 in Film

Originally posted on December 31, 2008

It’s that time of year where I share with all of you the list of my favorite films of the year. I saw less movies than I did last year but I think that may be because I was in a bit of black hole for about three months when a little movie called QUANTUM OF SOLACE completely kicked my ass. Thanks to Chris Brown’s dance anthem, “Forever,” I got through those long nights at the office. But I still managed to see 94 movies in the theater and 31 additional movies on DVD so Bond didn’t entirely usurp my movie going habits. Before I get to my list, I’d like to mention that, personally, 2008 was a watershed year for me because I got to meet my hero and role model since I was 15, Michael D. Eisner. And I met him on a day where he was being honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for all his extraordinary accomplishments in Hollywood. Eisner was my inspiration in my formative years and taught me so much about what it means to have a true passion for what you do. Meeting him was everything I’d hoped it would be- he was kind and gracious and took a moment to sign his book for me.

So enough of my personal reflection, let’s get to my true intentions- rolling out my lists for my favorite and most hated films of the year. I have to say that 2008 wasn’t as great a year for films as years past. In fact, several films that would normally make my honorable mention list landed in my top 10 for sheer lack of films which I absolutely adored. However, I am insanely excited about the movies hitting the multiplexes in 2009- it’s going to be a great year to be a Sci-Fi fan with the highly-anticipated STAR TREK prequel, James Cameron’s AVATAR and the film us Terminator fans have been waiting for- TERMINATOR SALVATION. Getting to see John Connor become the man he is destined to be, and the future war between man and machines, which the previous films all sufficiently whetted our cinematic appetites for. Life doesn’t get much better than that. Alright, here are my lists:

 My Top Ten Best Films of the Year

1. WALL-E

I discovered this year that the theme of loneliness resonates with me more than any other subject explored in cinema. But that makes a lot of sense as to why I am so drawn to Bergman movies. The story of a robot who is the last of his kind in a post-apocalyptic world shook me to my very core. The feeling of loneliness conveyed on screen in the first 20 minutes of what seemed at first like a silent movie, was so overwhelming that it had me in tears and reminiscent of my favorite movie of 2005, the Japanese film- TONY TAKITANI. In fact, I can only think of a few moments in this marvel of a movie that I wasn’t crying. In the end, when I thought WALL-E may have lost his true self, I was sitting there in my seat completely sobbing. On top of this film being so incredibly moving, it may have also been one of the most romantic movies I have ever seen.

2. THE WRESTLER

An affecting character study which allows you to follow around a man who, despite his obvious flaws, is really quite remarkable. He clings to his humanity even when life is cold, brutal and unflinching. Darren Aronofsky captures Mickey Rourke’s heartbreaking performance so delicately that you can’t help but root for this wrestler and Rourke himself to reclaim the greatness they once let slip through their fingers.

3. LET THE RIGHT ONE IN

The tale of lonely 12-year old boy who forms a beautiful friendship with the girl next door, who has been twelve for a very long time…on account of she’s a vampire. This Swedish movie takes you into a world where two souls can connect when they need each other most and allows you to believe that despite their differences, they can change one another for the better.

4. MILK

An incredibly moving and poignant true story about a man that was strong enough to stand up for what he believed in the face of true adversity. Sean Penn is terrific in all the little nuances he captures to bring to life the charismatic Harvey Milk and Emile Hirsch just about steals every scene he is in.

5. IN BRUGES

A bracingly dark comedy that is so smart, witty and twisted that it had me gleefully giddy in my seat. Ralph Fiennes use of profanity was startling and hilarious and his scenes alone may have been my favorite in this cleverly-written feature.

6. THE DARK KNIGHT

A gritty, crime drama that is a true piece of art. Christopher Nolan weaves together a complex and dark story and packs it with sweeping camera shots, edge-of your seat suspense, a mesmerizing villain and jaw-dropping action sequences. It’s the kind of movie that makes young kids want to be a director and/or fall in love with cinema for the very first time.

7. PINEAPPLE EXPRESS

This stoner buddy comedy had me laughing so hard and consistently, that my laughter actually morphed into some bizarre sound that I had never even heard before. What I loved so much about this movie was how completely unpredictable it was- you literally did not know what was going to happen next. Seth Rogan reminded me of a young Albert Brooks with his smart, self-deprecating style of humor, while James Franco was unbelievably wide-eyed and sweet in his own naiveté. The ending diner scene was also pure comic genius.

8. CLOVERFIELD

I saw this slice of pulp horror heaven twice in the theater and loved every second of it. Its shaky-cam real time storyline takes you straight into the heart of Manhattan as an unknown entity invades and wreaks havoc. The subway chase sequence is visceral and terrifying and the ending is tragic and brilliant.

9. ROCKNROLLA

I stalled seeing this Guy Ritchie film for a while because I’m not terribly enamored with his style of filmmaking. But I was absolutely won over by this thoroughly entertaining story of the London crime underworld filled with fascinating characters like Tom Wilkinson’s gangster boss and the totally magnetic breakout star Tony Kebbnell who plays a junkie rock star. This film was, hands down, the coolest movie of the year.

10. VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA

An instant Woody Allen classic that would fit nicely in the company of some of his best comedies of the ‘70s. Rebecca Hall’s character is sardonic and biting in her observations on life and Penelope Cruz is just terrific as the crazy ex-lover of Javier Bardem. The dialogue is sharp, witty and fun- it’s a great time at the movies.

Honorable Mentions: REVOLUTIONARY ROAD, HAPPY GO LUCKY, DEFINITELY-MAYBE, FROZEN RIVER, INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL, REPRISE, THE STRANGERS

 My Top Five Worst Films of the Year

1. SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK

I just want to first say that I think Charlie Kaufman is brilliant and I just adore Samantha Morton, so to say that this film was a disappointment would be a huge understatement. About 20 minutes into this movie, I actually thought about taking my own life. It’s an absolute mess of a movie and suffocates in its own pretentions and quirkiness. And it just gets worse and more convoluted as it plods along and along. And all the while different and increasingly unique ways of committing suicide start to mill about in your head…anything to make this movie end.

2. THE LOVE GURU

To call this movie a comedy would be a great disservice to the genre. It was painfully unfunny- the jokes fell flat, were distasteful and adolescently gross. Jessica Alba was so cringe inducingly bad that she deserves the Razzie this year.

3. MAMMA MIA

Wow, this movie was a hot mess. It looked as if it was choreographed by some second rate high school dance instructor, Meryl Streep seemed to be inebriated for the entire length of the movie and the actors sang as if it was karaoke night at the cinema. Please, Pierce Brosnan, never, ever sing again.

4. JUMPER

As always, Samuel L. Jackson sucked it in this movie. I can’t take this guy serious anymore. He always seems like he is playing a caricature of himself. None of the characters were likeable and this script didn’t make any sense. Jamie Bell saved this movie from ranking higher on this list because even when he’s trapped in a horrible movie, he can’t help but be interesting.

5. MADE OF HONOR

I wanted to love this movie- I mean it was the flip side to one of my fave Rom Coms of all time, MY BEST FRIEND’S WEDDING. Except it lacked any sort of redeeming quality and felt as if some frat guys got together and wrote this mean-spirited toilet humored piece of dreck.

Meeting My Hero

Posted: December 27, 2013 in Film

Originally posted on April 25, 2008

As most of you know my hero since I was 15 years old has been Michael D. Eisner. Today was the day I dreamed about all my life- the day I finally met my hero. For those of you who don’t know how much this means to me- let me give you a little back story.

When I was fifteen, I saw him for the first time on TV when I was watching the American Teachers Award on the Disney Channel. It struck me how his eyes seemed to shine with the love of his career. Everything came together for me in that moment, and I instantly knew what I wanted to be. I formed a dream to become a corporate executive for the Walt Disney Company, but I knew that I could not merely have a dream and hope it comes true. I had to also dedicate and motivate myself to ensuring its existence. The next day, I went to the library and researched anything and everything I could get my hands on about the Walt Disney Company and Eisner. I quickly discovered that he was at the forefront of the one of the most legendary corporate turnarounds of the 20th Century and this intrigued me. I saw him as this creative genius whose success and perseverance clarified to me what was waiting for me in my future.

I proceeded to write down the steps necessary to reach my goal, including seeking out my weaknesses and overcoming them. During my high school years, I overcame my fear of public speaking, and strengthened my leadership, teamwork, and communication skills as avenues to ensure my future success.

At USC, I followed the same route and accomplished everything I said I would since I wrote that list… including choosing a college in the Los Angeles area near the entertainment industry and landing internships after my sophomore and junior years in college. It was during these internships that I realized it no longer mattered what company I worked for, as long as I worked with films. And I soon realized my passion would lie in marketing them.

I knew that when I formed my dream that I would confront many obstacles, but I also knew that I would never cease finding ways to improve myself and to acquire new goals and aspirations. I know that sheer luck would not provide me with success. It would be achieved by the result of hard work, a relentless desire to succeed, and an incredibly strong sense of self-worth. Michael Eisner taught me all of that through following his career, reading his books, etc. I could not think of a better role model to have in this lifetime than the one I found in him. I even had a vendor make a sticker three years ago for me that says “Michael Eisner Rocks” that I could put on my car to support him during the times when everyone seemed to be criticizing him.

So that brings us to today! Today Eisner was getting his Star on the Walk of Fame and my amazing friend, Fernando got me access to the VIP area. I arrived with my wingman, Steve and we patiently waited for the ceremony to start. All three of Eisner’s sons were walking around and greeting family and friends. Apparently, they submitted Eisner’s Walk of Fame entry without him knowing it and he was completely surprised. The Chamber of Commerce dude came out and told us all  “not to be afraid to cheer when we heard something we liked.” So that’s all I needed to hear. First he introduced the Disneyland Band who came in from the El Capitan Entrance playing “The Mickey Mouse March,” and then Mickey and Minnie came out and stood in the back and responded animatedly to all the actions on stage. Bob Iger came out and introduced Eisner who got big applause from the crowd and I took a million pictures. Iger talked basically about how much Eisner rocked and how he turned around Disney while Eisner stood there next to him smiling at his friends and family. John Travolta was introduced next and got the most cheers. He talked about how Eisner helped shape his career, etc. Eisner spoke after Travolta and delivered an eloquent speech about how he could not have accomplished what he did at Disney without Frank Wells and what a legacy Walt Disney created for them to work with, etc.

When he was finished, the entire audience was sprayed with color confetti in the shape of Mickey Mouse Ears. Eisner stepped down from the podium and started walking around to talk to his sons and friends. I was cheering during his speech so this woman in front of me knew I was eager to meet him. She pushed me in front of her so I could have a good chance to say hi when he came over my way. I gave Steve my camera and asked him to take pictures if I met him. Right as he was coming my way, I inched my way up to him and he said “Hi Sue” to some woman next to me. Then I made my move. I said, “Hi, I’m Becky from Sony Pictures. Congratulations!” He smiled and shook my hand. And then I asked, “Would you sign my book?” He said “Sure” and took his book “Work In Progress” and my pen from me.  I said “You’ve been my hero since I was 15” and he smiled and signed his name on the intro page. As he was signing his name, I could feel tears coming from my eyes and thought to myself, “Oh god, Becky. You need to find the nearest exit route! You have to abort! Get out of here before you start crying!!” So I said “Thank you” when he handed the book back and he smiled his warm smile and said, “My pleasure.”

I took the book and ran over to Steve and was so excited. Then the tears started coming and coming and I was furiously wiping them away. I was so embarrassed that I was so overcome with emotion but this was my hero. If I could have met anyone in the world, living or dead, I wouldn’t choose Ingmar Bergman, Vincent Van Gogh, Thom Yorke, James Cameron or even Albert Brooks. It would be Eisner. Steve and I started laughing at the fact that I was standing in front of his ceremony crying. I finally got it together and asked Steve if you could tell I had been crying and he said, “Well yeah…unless you were sprayed with mace by security.”  Outstanding…and God knows why I said I was from Sony- maybe I thought it added some legitimacy. We stuck around, took more pictures and watched Eisner get interviewed by all the news channels. Finally we got a picture of his star and left for lunch. When lunch was over, we went back and took more pictures of his star.

It was a great day and even though I dorked out, it was worth it to say I had the guts to walk up to the man that changed my life and tell him he was my hero on probably one of the biggest days of his life. It was extraordinary to be there and I’ll never forget it.

2007 Best and Worst Films of the Year List

Posted: December 27, 2013 in Film

Originally posted on December 31, 2007

Before I get to my best and worst films of the year list, I want to acknowledge two extraordinary men the film community lost in 2007; Ingmar Bergman and Sherman Torgan. On a global scale, Ingmar Bergman was one of our finest international directors and personally, my favorite director. His films explored the human condition and revealed to us that although we are flawed, there is a great beauty within us all. On a local level, Sherman Torgan founded and ran the only full-time film revival house left in Los Angeles, the New Beverly. It is much more than a movie theater to me and thousands of Angelenos, it also serves as our own personal film school, giving us the opportunity to see rare films that are out of print, Hollywood classics, silents, foreign films and recent art house fare. Sherman was passionate about movies and shared this passion by personally booking all the films shown at the theater, creating the calendar and even changing the marquee letters every few nights to reflect the next double bill. His son, Michael has undertaken the monumental task of keeping the theater running and putting together some great programs including a retrospective on Bergman after his death and recently bringing film director, Edgar Wright to the New Bev for almost a month long festival to show us his favorite movies. Thank you, Michael for letting the New Beverly live on and please know that we film lovers out there will continue to support the theater and keep Sherman’s memory alive.

Now on to my best and worst films of the year list! Last year, my new year’s resolution was to not miss out on seeing a first run movie that I wanted to see because I was waiting for a wingman. I accomplished this goal in 2007 by seeing 112 movies in the theater and 24 on DVD. There were a lot of very good movies that came out this year but following is a list of the films I believe were great.

 My Top Ten Best Films of the Year

1. THE LOOKOUT

I loved this movie so much that I saw it three times in the theater the first week it came out. The script was so well-written, literary and brilliant that it reminded me of the first time I saw CHINATOWN. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a former high school hockey star that suffers a head injury due to a tragic accident, and is now forced to live a life struggling to remember how to do simple, mundane tasks. He is manipulated into playing a part in a bank heist and things go horribly awry. This movie works on so many levels- it’s a fascinating character study, a taut thriller and a poignant story about loss and redemption. It moved me unlike any other film this year and quite literally of recent years. It’s a modern masterpiece and essential viewing for anyone who loves movies.

2. THERE WILL BE BLOOD

I saw this film last night and it forced me to reevaluate all the other films on my list. Paul Thomas Anderson wrote and directed this sprawling epic that allows us to follow a mad man so cunning, evil and twisted that you’re completely mesmerized by him. There were a lot of great performances this year but not one is even in the same league as Daniel Day-Lewis’ portrayal of an oilman who is driven by much more than greed- something innate fueled by hatred. I always knew Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood was a genius and he delivers a score nothing short of perfection for this film- it becomes its own character, picking you up and shaking you along the way. The last line in this movie is so flawless that it left me literally shaking with childlike glee. THERE WILL BE BLOOD is captivating, invigorating and will no doubt be regarded as an American classic.

3. INTO THE WILD

An idealistic young man leaves the comfort of his home to set out on an adventure to explore the Alaskan wilderness. He meets several people along the way and changes their lives but what he doesn’t realize, until it’s too late, is how much they have each made a mark on him. This is a wonderful true story about the gift of life and how easily it can be taken away by the decisions we make.

4. ONCE

The music in this film lifts you a higher place and no matter where you hear it again, you are instantly taken back to this beautiful and heartbreaking world where two soul mates meet but ultimately realize they can not be together.

5. DARJEELING LIMITED

After this film ended, I could have easily sat down and watched it all over again. Wes Anderson brings us a hilarious, witty and fun story about brothers searching for that missing piece of their life on a train journey through India. You feel lucky to take that ride along with them.

6. MICHAEL CLAYTON

An intricate puzzle of a film and when all the pieces are fitted together, it leaves you absolutely floored and impressed. George Clooney, Tilda Swinton and Tom Wilkinson each deliver knock-out performances.

7. WRISTCUTTERS: A LOVE STORY

A sweet, surreal tale about a limbo where people that commit suicide are sent and are forced to live a dreary existence where they can never smile. It’s completely original, inventive, funny and charming.

8. LARS AND THE REAL GIRL

This is the second year in a row a Ryan Gosling film has landed in my top ten. There’s no mistaking his talent and, in this movie, he makes you believe and accept his love for an inanimate doll. Emily Mortimer shines as Lars’ adorable sister-in-law who only wants the best for him. It’s a fairytale of sorts, but also a film for those of us that know how valuable our imaginations can be.

9. NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

The Coen brothers create a powerfully suspenseful and violent film. Javier Bardem is amazing as a lethal for hire killer who was born to hunt down his fellow man. Josh Brolin plays the hunted in this exhilarating cat and mouse game.

10. KING OF KONG: A FISTFUL OF QUARTERS

An intriguing and fun documentary about two men competing for the Guinness World Record for the highest Donkey Kong score — a classic good versus evil story that leaves you on the edge of your seat.

Honorable Mentions: ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, GRINDHOUSE, MY BEST FRIEND, RATATOUILLE, BOURNE ULTIMATUM, THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY, 1408, WAITRESS, LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD, FIRST SNOW

 My Top Five Worst Films of the Year

1. FANTASTIC FOUR: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER

Okay, let me make this plain, this movie could not have possibly sucked any harder. From the very first scene, I hated this movie. The dialogue was groan inducing, the characters had as much depth as cardboard cut-outs and I didn’t know what the hell was going on nor did I care.

2. STEPHANIE DALEY

Heavy-handed, self-important and pretentious. Sounded like it was filmed in a basement and the score was so shrill that it almost made my ears bleed.

3. THE MESSENGERS

This horror film stalled twenty minutes in with its lame dialogue, lack of scares and poor attempt to copy Japanese horror camerawork.

4. HEARTBREAK KID

Mean-spirited but, worst of all, criminally unfunny.

5. PERFECT STRANGER

The plot was all over the place and there were just about 400 twists at the end, none of which made any sense.

Farewell Bergman

Posted: December 27, 2013 in Film

Originally posted on July 30, 2007

“These lines indicate that Bergman is beginning to formulate what will be recognized later as the overriding philosophy of his middle period: that there are brief instances in life that are of such exquisite beauty that they compensate for all the misery and unhappiness.”

— Peter Cowie, Ingmar Bergman: A Critical Biography

I heard the news of Ingmar Bergman’s passing this morning and couldn’t help but cry. His films have changed my life and instilled in me a love for international cinema. I saw my first Bergman film at LACMA in 2000. My friend who took me warned me that PERSONA was a little cerebral but he thought I would enjoy the film. If only he knew that I would completely fall in love with the director at first viewing. I was fascinated by the movie and I wanted to see more of his work.

The next month, the New Bev played a double feature of PERSONA and THE HOUR OF THE WOLF. I caught the second showing of WOLF and it scared the hell out of me. It was the most frightening movie I had ever seen and my friend, Colin and I were so shaken by it- that we had to get coffee and relax before we drove home. Soon after, I started to borrow DVDs from the friend who first introduced me to Bergman. After seeing WILD STRAWBERRIES and THE SEVENTH SEAL, I decided that I wanted to see all of the movies that Bergman directed. I made a list of his filmography and planned to see each film in chronological order so I could see how his style developed and themes that he explored.

Luckily, Rocket Video on La Brea had an entire section of his films and every other Friday for a year, I would get take out after work and rent two Bergman films. One of his first films, SUMMER INTERLUDE still remains my favorite. It’s a beautiful film of hope and love but it also contains the dark introspective themes shown in all of his movies. A ballerina is forced to look into a mirror and confront her inner demons and by doing this, she overcomes the fears that are keeping her from finding true love and happiness again.

What makes Bergman films extraordinary is his complex characters. They express emotions and feelings in ways that we often are too scared or inhibited to do. They speak to siblings, family, wives, husbands, clergy and strangers with unflinching raw emotion and often times, brutal honesty. These characters also question their life, religion, love and own mortality. They shock us, frighten us, touch us and move us. I’ve never had a director so consistently challenge me or open up his soul to his audience so easily.

Bergman even got me to pick up a pen again. I hadn’t written a short story since high school and his films inspired me to write two stories in my late twenties. The first was a novella named “Melatonin” about a broken soul named Simon who felt connected to Bergman but not to anyone else. The story opened at the New Beverly as he watched PERSONA for the last time. He wished he could communicate like a Bergman character and recalled how the heroine in PORT OF CALL scrawled the word “ensam” meaning alone with lipstick on her bedroom mirror. My second story was published and was titled, “Life in a Glass House.” I had several nods to Bergman in this tragic story including naming the town the protagonist lived in after Bergman’s residence, the island of Faro and naming a candy bar that was in a pivotal scene a “Malmo Bar” after the city theatre Bergman managed and directed in the 1950s.

I’ve managed to see 41 films Bergman has directed to date. There are still a few that I am searching for but I’m not looking too hard because I like to know there are still a few films out there that I’ll experience for the first time. I did get the opportunity to see a first run Bergman film in my lifetime when I saw an advanced screening of SARABAND in 2005. I had the honor of being the first to clap when the credits rolled and having Bergman fans around me join me in their mutual admiration.

Ingmar Bergman changed the landscape of filmmaking as we know it. We should all be grateful for the magic lantern that he received at age 9 in exchange for his toy soldiers. With it, he created his own world and later in his life, invited us in. And what a brilliant and remarkable world it was. Ingmar Bergman will be missed, but always remembered.

2006 Best and Worst Films of the Year List

Posted: December 27, 2013 in Film

Originally posted on January 1, 2006

It’s the 1st of the year and time for me to send out my 2006 best and worst films of the year lists. My movie-going habits plunged a bit this year and I only saw 85 films in the theater and 25 on DVD.  I believe this is attributed to coordinating mutual schedules with friends to see a movie that caused me sometimes to suffer movie withdrawal for a few weeks. One lesson I’m taking with me in 2007 is that it’s ok to not have a wingman for every film I want to see.

My Top 10 Best Films of the Year List

1.THE DEPARTED

The most entertaining and riveting film of the year. All of the performances were top notch but Leonardo DiCaprio was the stand out with his searing portrayal of a conflicted soul.

2. HALF NELSON

Ryan Gosling was so extraordinary in this film that I saw it twice just to watch his heartbreaking and flawless performance all over again. All of the facial nuances and little things that he did with his hands reminded me of how I felt the first time I watched Marlon Brando in ON THE WATERFRONT. Gosling deserves the Oscar. A wonderful story with a knock out performance by Shareeka Epps made this film a cinematic treasure.

3. BUBBLE

A quiet American film that was simply a masterpiece.

4. NIGHT WATCH

This Russian Sci-Fi film is the first in a trilogy with the second film due out in 2007. I loved this film so much that I saw it twice. It contains jaw-dropping special effects, subtitles that at times viscerally respond to dialogue and a story that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Hands down the coolest film to hit theaters since KILL BILL.

5. THE FOUNTAIN

This may have been the most beautiful film I’ve ever seen.

6. ROCKY BALBOA

It’s a perfect bookend to the franchise and every bit as good as the original. This movie was jam packed with rousing scenes that were completely unexpected and reminded me why I love this boxer. Most notably, a great, genuine scene where Rocky tell his son that life is what you make of it. It

7. UNITED 93

Very powerful and highly emotional experience. Nicely paced.

8. LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE

Wonderfully written smart comedy with a lot of heart. Preston Sturges would have been proud.

9. LOOKING FOR COMEDY IN THE MUSLIM WORLD

This film proved that Brooks is still a genius and can still make me laugh so hard that I can barely breathe.

10. CHILDREN OF MEN

A Sci-Fi film that is dark and intelligent and completely overwhelming.

Honorable Mentions: Reincarnation, Stranger than Fiction, The Omen, The Illusionist, Hard Candy, The Queen

My Top 5 Worst Films of the Year List

1. UNREST

Part of the “8 Films to Die For” series that played select cities one weekend in November. I just got out of another film in the series REINCARNATION that was so smart and creepy that I got greedy and decided to see the next film playing.  Big mistake- it ended up being the most laughable and atrocious film I’ve seen in years. I felt compelled to “boo” when it was over but refrained when I noticed the cast and director were in the same theater. Seriously, it was so bad; it went past good and back to bad as they say in GHOST WORLD.

2. MIAMI VICE

Nicely shot is about the only redeeming quality I can say about this film. Dialogue was cringe- worthy in countless scenes, the music was overdone and I had to hold my laughter in some of the more “serious” moments.

3. THE GOOD SHEPARD

This movie was a complete mess. Flash forwards, flashbacks, flash sideways- what the hell is going on and do I even care? This film made me look at my watch and that alone gives it a spot on my worst list. Mind numbingly boring and seriously, what’s up with actors spanning 30 years and not aging a day. Jim Emerson had a spot on review on rogerebert.com that explains the disaster far more eloquently that I ever could.

4. ART SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL

So disappointing especially because of Zwigoff’s past efforts. Too many annoying and unfunny moments to count that I wanted to scream.

5. MUTUAL APPRECIATION

This beginning of this film was fun and then the entire picture went completely awry. It was jam packed with scenes that thought they were much more clever then they actually were. The result was a pretentious mess that went on entirely too long.

Special mention for the “Most Disappointing Film of the Year”: LITTLE CHILDREN

I saw Todd Field’s first film, IN THE BEDROOM three times and it was #2 on my top ten list of best films in 2001. I loved all the silences in BEDROOM- so much was said by the quiet scenes in the film through the actor’s looks, unspoken words and the beautiful shots of empty rooms and roads. As Ebert wrote in one of his reviews, Spacek and Wilkinson were “masters of the hidden struggle beneath the surface.”  LITTLE CHILDREN was the antithesis of BEDROOM because it wouldn’t shut up. And I’m not talking in a clever Eric Rohmer sort of way. When the actors weren’t speaking, the incredibly grating narrator popped up to explain thoughts of the characters that were so bracingly obvious, you had to wonder what Fields was thinking. Winslet and Haley’s extraordinary performances are the only thing that saved this film from making my worst films of the year list.

2005 Best and Worst Films of the Year List

Posted: December 27, 2013 in Film

Originally posted on December 21, 2005

It’s that time of the year to send out my top 10 best and 5 worst films of the year list to those of you who care about what films, in my humble opinion, I believed were the best and worst of the year. In 2005, I saw 94 films in the theater and watched 19 films on DVD. That is approximately 40-50 less films in the theater than I see in an average year so I guess the box office slump hit me personally this year too. My excuse? Well, I saw all of the films that I wanted to see. So sadly, there wasn’t a great deal of exciting films in 2005 but there were some amazing showings of revival films and film series. Here’s hoping 2006 bring us some great films. Following are my lists!

My Top 10 Best Films of the Year List

  1. Tony Takitani
  2. Batman Begins
  3. Saraband
  4. Match Point
  5. Winter Solstice
  6. Junebug
  7. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
  8. King Kong
  9. Pride and Prejudice
  10. The Squid and the Whale

Honorable Mentions: Capote, Wedding Crashers, Serenity, The Skeleton Key, Separate Lives, Broken Flowers, The Weather Man, Melinda and Melinda

My Top 5 Worst Films of the Year List

  1. Elizabethtown
  2. Grizzly Man
  3. Constantine
  4. Sahara
  5. The Island

Special mention for the Most Boring Film of the Year: The Constant Gardener