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Top 10 Films of 2014

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Just a quick update before we get started. I’ll have my Oscar predictions and results from the latest Vote! segment out this week, so make sure to get your votes in before it closes. Additionally, hopefully, my review of “Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter,” a film I greatly adore, will be published before week’s end. Now let’s get going…

25: The Raid 2: Berandal (Gareth Evans)
24: Snowpiercer (Joon-Ho Bong)
23: Foxcatcher (Bennett Miller)
22: The Trip to Italy (MIchael Winterbottom)
21: Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch)

20: The Rover (David Michod)
19: I Origins (Mike Cahill)
18: Frank (Lenny Abrahamson)
17: The Imitation Game (Morten Tyldum)
16: Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson)

15: Whiplash (Damien Chazelle)
14: The Drop (Michael R. Roskam)
13: Nymphomaniac (Lars Von Trier)
12: Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer), A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (Ana Lily Amirpour)
11: Birdman (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu)

10: Starred Up (David Mackenzie)/(’71, Yann Demange, 2015?)

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Are we going with 2014 or 2015 for “’71?” It’s rather comical that up-and-coming super-stud Jack O’Connell had three films screen this year, the worst of which received the widest release. “Starred Up” is a hard-hitting prison drama that’s lifted to towering heights by the performances of O’Connell and co-star Ben Mendelsohn. Swapping the more traditional, cringe-worthy visual aspects of the unflinching prison sub-genre (not all) for impenetrable dialogue and a vast array of relationships teetering on the brink, “Starred Up” will fill you with insight before knocking a few teeth down your throat.

9: Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy) / Enemy (Dennis Villenueve)

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Very few have had quite as stellar a year as Jake Gyllenhaal in 2014, which is why I couldn’t help but rank this remarkable double-feature inside my top 10. This double-dose of Gyllenhaal showcases the actor’s staggering, at times terrifying range. It’s mind-blowing that Gyllenhaal didn’t garner an Oscar nomination for either of these two fantastic performances, but I digress.

8: The Guest (Adam Wingard)

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Containing easily the best soundtrack any film of 2014 had to offer, “The Guest” sees dynamic duo Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett reach new cult status. With incredibly charismatic performances from Dan Stevens and Maika Monroe, in addition to non-stop action “The Guest” is endlessly entertaining!

7: Locke (Steven Knight)

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Looked upon as a reliable, strong-minded scribe with a plethora of solid screenplays to his name, including the creation of “Peaky Blinders,” a personal television favourite of mine. Prior to 2014’s “Locke,” Steven Knight hadn’t much to brag about from behind the camera, but that quickly and assertively changed. Led by a phenomenal performance from occasional Knight collaborator Tom Hardy, “Locke” is a magnificent spectacle of the human experience.

6: A Most Violent Year (J. C. Chandor)

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This is the second consecutive year-end “best of” list J. C. Chandor has cracked for me, personally (All Is Lost, 2013). Much like last year’s film “All Is Lost,” “A Most Violent Year” didn’t get much love come award season, but once again that didn’t discourage my ranking it inside the top 10. With formidable performances from its entire cast, including Jessica Chastain, Oscar Isaac, and Albert Brooks, a subtle, yet immensely powerful story, gloomy atmosphere, and the sure-handed direction from Chandor, “A Most Violent Year” is a must-see to any who missed it.

5: Force Majeure (Ruben Ostlund)

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As I’m sure most of you are aware, comedy cinema doesn’t sit too well with me. Which should only speak volumes in regards to “Force Majeure’s” placement on this list. Providing the laughs, abundantly, and a rock-solid story that’s never as easy to watch as its breezy demeanour would insist, “Force Majeure’s” Oscar snub is almost as unforgivable as the absence of “Mommy” in the Best Foreign Language Film category.

4: Gone Girl (David Fincher)

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To say that I adore David Fincher and his very impressive resume would be a massive understatement. “Gone Girl,” although not the illustrious filmmakers best work to date, certainly has a place amongst the top of his efforts. Further cementing Ben Affleck as a force to be reckoned with both on and off screen and earning Rosamund Pike an Oscar nomination, deservedly so I might add, “Gone Girl” mixes all the potent Fincher facets into one hell of a morbid cocktail.

3: Leviathan (Andrey Zvyagintsev)

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The odds-on favourite to take home “best foreign language film” at this year’s Academy Awards, “Leviathan” is an aptly titled juggernaut. Breathtaking visuals, impressive performances, and an unfathomable socio-political complexity are just a few tangents of what makes “Leviathan” triumphant.

2: Mommy (Xavier Dolan)

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Directed and written by home-grown Canadian wunderkind Xavier Dolan, “Mommy” catapults the young filmmaker to the relative peak of my top 10. I’d feel very unpatriotic leaving Dolan’s latest off this list, but rest-assured he earned this spot. “Mommy” is brutal, unforgiving, whilst conversely evoking the most genuine and rooted responses of the emotional spectrum. Performed with the utmost investment by the entire ensemble, “Mommy” is one foreign language film you won’t want to miss.

1: Interstellar (Christopher Nolan)

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It doesn’t exactly bode well for the credibility of Nolan’s latest topping this list, seeing as I could be considered the leader of Nolan’s group of so-called “Fanboys,” but I can’t stress “Interstellar’s” greatness enough. You’ve either seen this film by now and loved it or hated it. I fail to see the middle ground and apparently so does everyone else. With monumental visuals, a complex, out-of-this-world premise that simultaneously showcases the down-to-earth emotionality and intellectual reach of the human race. “Interstellar” will leave you in awe and down-right flabbergasted. Thankfully, this film offers much post-viewing reading that should solve any issues or curiosity.

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What did you think of my list? Have a list of your own? Let me know in the comment section below!

 

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Best Cinema Experiences of 2014:

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What really counts in this post is the experiences, not the wording or grammar, etc… That’s my polite way of asking you to disregard the lazy, formulaic summaries and to focus on each, particular screening and the atmosphere each created. Also, please forgive my shoty camera work and the quality of some of the videos…

I Origins (Cast and Director Q and A):

I’m a Mike Cahill admirer. “Another Earth” blew me away and I couldn’t wait for his follow up…and it did not disappoint. Oh, and having Michael Pitt join Cahill in a post-screening Q and A was the icing on the cake.

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99 Homes: (Cast and Director Q and A):

Michael Shannon, Laura Dern, and Andrew Garfield so close I could literally reach out and touch them…need I say more? Shannon is one of my all time favourite actors and the chance to hear him speak about his latest film nearly had me in tears of fortune and excitement.

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Locke: (Stephen Knight Q and A):

If you know me, you know that my fandom in regards to Tom Hardy and “Peaky Blinders” knows no bounds. Naturally, having the chance to catch an advance screening of “Locke,” Hardy’s and “Peaky Blinders” creator Steven Knight’s latest collaboration, left me winded. It’s also the only time my mom has ever stepped into my world, the life of a die-hard cinephile. And the fact that she loved it in its entirety left me overjoyed.

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The Imitation Game: (Cast and Crew Q and A):

Benedict Cumberbatch…in person…that is all… Oh, and Keira Knighley and Matthew Goode too.

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Q and A: Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

The Guest: (Director/Writer/Cast Q and A):

This past year’s screening of “The Guest” during TIFF 2014’s Midnight Madness program was easily the most fun I’d had at a cinema all year. Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard are uproariously funny and extremely talented at what they do. Add in the charismatic, unbelievably charming and handsome Dan Stevens in addition to the lovely Maika Monroe, and you’ve got one hell of a theatre experience. The film itself cracks my top 10 of 2014 with ease and this screening has a lot to do with it. I hate to admit it, but having my lame-o friends undergo the craziness with me made all the difference in the world. Plus, we were the only ones to bring a beach ball! Which only added to the over-the-top atmosphere throughout the entire screening. I should probably explain… Midnight Madness is TIFF’s most out of control cinephile experience. There’s loud music beforehand, it starts at midnight, there’s the potent scent of substance abuse lingering in the air, and usually has a ball or two being tossed around. It’s essentially a rock concert that replaces the band with a film.

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The 50 Year Argument: (Martin Scorsese Q and A):

This is, without question, the best experience I’ve ever had in a theatre to date, let alone 2014. Of course, any occasion that has you sitting in the presence of one of cinema’s greatest filmmakers is a monumental occurrence indeed. To be completely honest, the film, “The 50 Year Argument,” although thoroughly engaging and utterly interesting, was simply a welcomed formality, a terrific bonus. Being granted the opportunity to listen and digest Martin Scorsese discussing film and his career for an extended period of time is unlike any euphoric treat that’s ever graced itself to my presence.

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Did you have a particularly awesome cinema experience this past year? Let me know in the comment section below, I’m dying to know! Also, if you haven’t contributed your voice to the latest poll, please click on Vote! in the bar above to do so…don’t make me chase you down!

I Origins (2014)

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The cleverness of Mike Cahill’s latest, “I Origins” stretches way beyond the title itself, but it’s as good a place to start as any. Presenting the fairly new prospect of cataloging the entire human race through iris recognition, “I Origins” takes a fantastical twist into much more profound philosophical territory. An arduous trek for validation to all that we consider hallow and priceless. A search for individual definition and a unanimous understanding of our universe, both spiritually and scientifically.

Looking through a lens of such broad, unfathomable depth, it feels down-right irresponsible to define “I Origins” by the placement of this witty, otherwise utterly precise homophone, but if the contact fits… Regardless, I’m sure this relative synopsis of “I Origins” will only further discourage those intimidated by the sheer magnitude of what Cahill proposed with “Another Earth,” from ever seeing it. You know, alternate universes, tears in the very fabric of space and what not. If these topics flabbergast and frighten you, what’s beyond will surely send you into fits of cardiac-arrest, as I assure you the scale of “I Origins'” grasp couldn’t possibly reach any further.

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It’s difficult to break-down what Cahill is proposing with “I Origins” into manageable portions while trying simultaneously not to get caught up in their scope. I mean, we’re literally left to decipher the direction of our compass as a conscious being. That being said, one can’t help but become transfixed by what’s on display here. The science of it all is enough on its own to discombobulate and overwhelm, like a virus. And that’s a mere superficial blemish compared to where “I Origins” delves. A place where belief and fact collide like charged particles in an acceloator. Leaving us aware of our predetermined doom, scattered about desperately searching for answers to unanswerable questions. Yet, perhaps what’s most engaging, conversely infuriating about “I Origins” is that it doesn’t exactly provide a formidable solution. However, much like the things we cling to for meaningless solace during our brief existence, it does act as a sedative, a distraction, a numbing agent.

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This war between religion and science is nothing new and as a result, predictably so, “I Origins” offers nothing imperative to its resolution. “I Origins” simply explores where either road will lead you. That said, one must invest genuinely to reap its benefits. If there’s been one thing consistent about Mike Cahill’s body of work it’s that the viewer must be willing, at any given moment, to entrust their experience entirely to Cahill and his vision. We might be asked to skip a few steps along the way, forgive the occasional absence of slight details or the probability of suspect coincidences. In the end however, our reward outweighs the risk.

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The performances aren’t imperative to a successful experience here. One can’t help but feel that “I Origins” would’ve been better off as a documentary rather than a romantic drama infused with frequently incomprehensible elements of sci-fi. But, each character does come off as believable, creating the right amount of sympathy and intrigue. Michael Pitt keeps getting stronger, Brit Marling is as entrancing as ever, Steven Yeun will have to settle for ‘Walking Dead’ fame at the moment, and Astrid Berges-Frisbey is surprisingly memorable. Most importantly though, it’s clear that each cast member understood the insignificance and subtlety that defined their respective characters. Yes, they’re to represent humanity, but buy and large, they’re a progressing agent.

Without question, “I Origins” is Mike Cahill’s most visually impressive picture to date. Where his previous efforts, such as “Another Earth” tackled the macro universe, “I Origins” is a veritable microscope. Cahill has really solidified his delicate touch and flaunts it. Some might find the visual contrasts too dissonant, ranging from cringe-worthy dismemberment to angelic symbolism, but there’s no denying the stimulation that accompanies it. Yet, perhaps the biggest surprise of Cahill’s latest is the musical accompaniment composed by Will Bates and Phil Mossman. A film that can barely keep grounded is lifted to even dizzier heights by a soundtrack of such epic proportions.

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I choose to believe that too much ambition is never a bad thing. I applaud Mike Cahill endlessly for the leaps of faith and fact he took to arrive at his fully formed vision and will never condemn him for exercising it. It’s a cloudy, often beautiful, yet oddly empty vision, but something to marvel nonetheless. Unfortunately, we live within the bounds of reality, so at its core, “I Origins” is mere assumptions and hypothesis. There’s a lot of material to digest split by merit and belief. Coincidentally, what this concoction of opposites accomplishes is a hollow victory. Easy on the eyes rather than thought-provoking fodder. However, it’s occasional spurts of brilliance rooted in research and passion makes “I Origins” noteworthy, watchable. Nevertheless, tackling the human eye’s ‘Irreducible Complexity’ head on is admirable no matter which way you slice it.

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I ORIGINS: 8 OUT OF 10

Top 10 Films That Give Me Goosebumps

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Now, before you jump to any conclusions about this week’s top 10, just bear with me for a minute. When I mention “goosebumps,” I mean these specific films listed provoke a profound reaction of euphoria, nostalgia, and wonderment in me, essentially any strong emotion. These feelings can be caused by breathtaking imagery, an ambient, sedating soundtrack, haunting dialogue, or simply a magnificent performance. I know this top 10 is rather personal and abstract, seeing as any film can evoke any reaction depending on the individual. I just think its time I put more of myself into these weekly posts. While the other editions of the top 10 segment are sorted and ranked by me and me alone, I do take other factors into account before concluding and publishing. You might think that this top 10 contains a lot of my all- time favourite films. Although it is a good indicator of what I look for and enjoy in a film, you’d be surprised at how many are actually considered to be some of my preferred films…but I digress…let’s just get into it!

For each film listed I’ll provide a brief clip for you all to check out. If you like what you see, I highly recommend all films listed, so give them a watch and be sure to let me know what you think!

Honourable Mention:

“The Trip” (2010) Michael Winterbottom.

 

10: “Melancholia” (2010) Lars Von Trier.

 

9: “Another Earth” (2011) Mike Cahill

 

8: “To the Wonder” (2012) Terrence Malick.

 

7: “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” (2004) Michael Gondry.

 

6: Into the Wild (2007) Sean Penn.

 

5: “The Tree of Life” (2012) Terrence Malick.

 

4: “127 Hours” (2011) Danny Boyle.

 

3: “Take Shelter” (2011) Jeff Nichols.

 

2: “Moon” (2009) Duncan Jones.

 

1: “Sunshine” (2007) Danny Boyle.

 

Okay all, that’ll do it for this week’s top 10, hope you all enjoyed it! If you have any comments or questions about the top 10 or any of the films listed, don’t hesitate to ask. Everyone have a great weekend!

Another Earth (2011)

I will be posting my review for “The East” this upcoming week, so I thought I’d prepare you guys for it by doing a Brit Marling weekend! Today’s review will be “Another Earth” and tomorrow’s will be “Sound of My Voice.” Hope you enjoy, have a great weekend!

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A down-to-earth drama told on the grand-scale of science-fiction. “Another Earth” is an epic, gloomy, provocative tale about probability, loss and perseverance…While it may take a little light-reading and a second viewing to fully comprehend and appreciate the material, “Another Earth” is worth the effort. Offering an elegant, unnerving solution to the age-old paradox of questioning the duplicate or parallel of oneself about lifestyle and choices. Director and co-writer Mike Cahill manages to turn a simplistic, promising life into a dooming circumstance with rewarding capabilities. Capturing surreal moments that are sure to provoke chills and striking imagery that fill the story with wonder and ambience. Cahill has emerged on the scene and tore through the fabric of space-time in order to deliver this truly unique picture.

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Rhoda Williams (Marling) is a seventeen-year-old high-school student who has received an acceptance letter from MIT. That night, she celebrates with her friends. Simultaneously, another planet that has just emerged is discovered near Earth, the planet is eventually dubbed “Earth 2.” After the party, Rhoda is driving home, while also searching for “Earth 2” in the sky. Accidentally crashing into another car carrying a man, his wife, and baby son. The crash kills the man’s wife and child and Rhoda is sentenced to four years in prison. When Rhoda is released from prison, she takes residence at her parents house before trying to commit suicide some time after, but fails. Soon after, Rhoda picks up a small job and obsesses over “Earth 2,” until it is all she can think about.

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What co-writers Mike Cahill and the resplendent Brit Marling have created with “Another Earth” is a brilliant, almost unbearable contrast. To have such a humbling and sullen story punctured at numerous points by this gleaming hope almost seems cruel. Yet, we all wish at some point in our existence to take something back, a moment, a mistake, an error. At one point or another, we all contemplate a decision and whether it was the correct one. We ponder endlessly about the notion of the opposite and what our lives would be like had we made a different choice. Cahill and Marling have simply taken this regret and expanded it, mirrored it. The blend of these uncertainties and the addition of a parallel earth allows us to explore these hypotheses. By doing so, we now have a cinematic experience that transcends the screen and personally connects to each and every viewer.

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This atypical, symmetrical earth has feasible science behind it, not fact, rather, plausibility. To those trying to find its significance, don’t get bogged down in genre labelling. Think of it as a tool, like rhetoric. It’s relevance is in direct correlation with the thesis surrounding “Another Earth.” It doesn’t exist to add a fantastical element to the film. It’s presence is merely an enhancer for the overall ideal of the film. If it were up to me, this picture wouldn’t even be categorized under science-fiction. While it undoubtedly has sci-fi features and visuals, it isn’t meant to overpower the dramatic story at Another Earth’s core. As previously mentioned, we all want to know what it would be like if we made different choices, well, this other earth somewhat allows us to see what it would might be like.

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“Another Earth” centres around two main characters played by the aforementioned Brit Marling and William Mapother. Without question, Marling gives the better performance of the two. That being said, Mapother isn’t far behind in his portrayal. Mapother perfectly captures the listlessness and emotional vacancy that comes with a man who has had everything taken from him. As he tries to recuperate and move forward, he is constantly weighed down by this unrecoverable anchor. Mapother, although sparsely used, certainly has the chops to hang with up-and-comer Brit Marling. Speaking of Marling, the argument can be made that Another Earth was her breakthrough performance. Living a life, once filled with unlimited potential, constantly suffering the consequences of her reckless youth. Marling is immaculate in this psychologically complex and emotional diverse role.

Visually stunning, powerfully acted, and firmly directed. “Another Earth” is a staggering piece of cinema and proves to be quite the game-changer. Brit Marling is a force not to be trifled with.

Another Earth: 8 out of 10.