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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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Dallas Buyers Club (2013)

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I’ve heard a few claim that actors, such as Christian Bale for “The Fighter”, only won an Oscar or other accolades simply due to the sheer amount of weight they either lost or gained for the corresponding role. That their achievement was merely bestowed upon them for such radical weight shifts and was not the result of towering talent and investment. Of course, this topic has come up more often recently due to award season buzz surrounding the aforementioned Christian Bale, who once again changed his weight for the film “American Hustle” and skyrocketing star Matthew McConaughey, who lost a dangerous amount of weight for his film “Dallas Buyers Club.” Is it a coincidence that these two actors are at the centre of most award season rumours and predictions? Or is there merit in changing oneself physically as well as mentally for a role that demands it? What do you think?

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I feel that this statement, regarding the cohesiveness of recognition and weight modifications, which may or may not resonate with each of you, is completely and utterly false, no matter which way you swing it. Even if one was recognized or given an award for a role in which they endured a significant weight change, it takes an incredible amount of balance, self-restrain, and discipline to pull of such fluctuations, and the recipient, in my opinion, is very much deserving of the praise, maybe even an award. I mean, it’s not as if this type of endeavour is a walk in the park, regardless if you’re gaining or losing excessive pounds. I think it’s important for actors to throw themselves entirely into their characters, and if significant physical alterations is what needs to be done in order to achieve total and believable portrayals, so be it.

That being said, of course I think that there is more to garnering universal acclaim in the film industry than mere weight transitions. One can lose all the weight they please, but like a performance that requires no physical changes, if the facial expressions, emotion, authenticity, rawness, talent, and honesty isn’t there, the performance is moot. Keep in mind however, that rising and falling numbers on a scale do contribute significantly to a characters appearance, obviously, as well as the mental stability and impression the character’s surrounding environment has on him/her. It can enhance the viewer’s experience to an uncomfortable, realistic extent and increase the range of an actors talents. Weight fluctuation is a skill, a tool utilized by actors to accomplish their job as impressively, thoroughly as possible.

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PLOT:

Based on the real story of Ron Woodruff, “Dallas Buyers Club” centres around Mr. Woodruff, an electrician who doubles as a hustler and who is your stereotypical redneck, racist and homophobic. When he isn’t at work however, Ron partakes in a lifestyle consisting of frequent, unprotected sex and drug use. Upon waking up in a hospital after a work-related injury, he is informed that he is HIV positive. Fearing the worst, Ron quickly finds an illegal way to obtain the most recent, potent drug to assist in his recovery and stabilization. Soon, Ron comes to terms with the fact that the drug is destroying his body and other patients systems as well. And with the assistance of a foreign doctor, companies abroad, and a few locals, Ron starts the Dallas Buyers Club. A membership-driven organization that distributes unapproved remedies that work safely and effectively to those suffering from AIDS. Of course, illegal activity cannot go unnoticed and unpunished, and it’s not long before those not benefiting from this secret operation take action.

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As I mentioned previously, Matthew McConaughey, the star of “Dallas Buyers Club,” lost a threatening amount of weight for his role as Ron Woodruff. He’s already earned the golden globe for his outstanding portrayal here and has been nominated for an Oscar as well. That should speak enough to the caliber of his performance here. It’s a risky character to undertake, but he’s done a stellar job capturing and exuding the fear, vulnerability, and courage of Ron Woodruff. McConaughey’s recent rapid ascension is unprecedented. Over the past couple of years, he’s shifted from rom-com playboy to Oscar heavyweight with outstanding outings in high-profile gigs such as the television series “True Detective” alongside Woody Harrelson and the film “The Wolf of Wall Street” directed by Martin Scorsese. You can catch McConaughey in another hotly-anticipated flick “Interstellar” directed by the illustrious Christopher Nolan set for release later this year. It’s looks prime to earn him more accolades and praise.

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Now, I know I might catch some flack for this next statement, nonetheless, it’s my honest opinion and needs to be said. Jared Leto, who has already earned a Golden Globe win like his co-star, did not impress me nearly as much as the performance’s reputation leads on. It’s a good portrayal, but nothing to get overly excited about. I respect and admire the heart and bravery needed for the role and Leto fulfilled it quite well, just not as sufficient and brilliant as McConaughey. Maybe Leto’s character was so over-shadowed by McConaughey’s Woodruff that it left me cold and indifferent. Regardless, it’s definitely a notch above most, but not Oscar worthy, again, in my opinion.

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“Dallas Buyers Club” is completely driven by its performances. The story is inspiring, riveting, and thought-provoking. Yet, apart from these facets, cinematically there isn’t a lot to marvel at. That being said, it does provide some of the most honest, harsh filmmaking of the year. All in all, “Dallas Buyers Club” is without question one of the best of 2013 and should be respected as such, despite what it obviously lacks.

Dallas Buyers Club: 8.5 out of 10.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

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If I wasn’t already in the minority thinking that Peter Jackson was right to turn J. R. R Tolkien’s beloved, timeless classic “The Hobbit” into three films. I definitely asserted myself as an outcast raving over how formidable Jackson’s first outing “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” was and how it placed the forthcoming flicks on impeccable footing. Now, we’re a year down the road, and I feel no different about it. It’s been a year between chapters, that’s a long wait, especially for an enthusiast such as myself, but the second chapter of this soon-to-be epic trilogy is finally upon us and I’ve stayed true to my fanboy title. Rushing, nervously and excitedly to my nearest theatre late Thursday night to behold the first showing of Jackson’s next masterpiece, “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” in IMAX 3D, and not just for Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar” teaser either…that’s just a bonus. How’d I feel about the film, you ask…let’s just say, I wasn’t disappointed…

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Now, I know what you’re all thinking, “this guy is supremely biased” and you’re not wrong in concluding that. You may choose to skip my review for a more neutral, honest take and I won’t hold any blame against you. But before you do, consider this. The hard truth of it is, if you can’t enjoy this, you’re probably not a fan of Jackson’s LOTR universe to being with and shouldn’t be judging it in the first place…and I never cheat my readers out of the truth and honesty. If the “The Desolation of Smaug” had flopped, believe me, I’d be the first to let you know. Thankfully however, this isn’t the case. It’s a definite improvement in nearly every aspect while also capitalizing on the errors of its predecessor, not that there were many to begin with. And despite having similar themes, Jackson is able to make the content seem fairly new and exciting. He captures a lot of the magic that made his LOTR trilogy so superlative and successful, which is, quite frankly, the most reassuring aspect for the upcoming finale and is all any good-hearted fan could ask for.

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There’s a lot here that is reminiscent of the LOTR trilogy, but it’ll never be the LOTR, so let’s just get that comparison out of you head right now! If there’s one thing holding back “The Hobbit” trilogy, it’s no fault of its creators, rather, the viewers simply expecting LOTR all over again. That’ll never happen! Honestly, I consider the LOTR trilogy to be cinema’s greatest achievement. I know a lot of you will fight me on that, but that’s just how I feel. Nothing will ever live up to that comparison, so stop holding this series against it. The source material for both series differ greatly, I can’t stress that enough. If you’ve read the series, you’ll know exactly what I’m referring to. “The Hobbit” is directed to younger readers, it’s more cliched, nostalgic, simple. I wouldn’t go as far as to recommend completely cleansing your thoughts of any relation to the LOTR, simply because you’d miss out on a few awesome easter eggs and shout-outs to the original trilogy. That being said, the less you stack up Jackson’s two trilogies, the greater your experience will be.

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It may end on a bit of a cliff-hanger, which hampers most middle films, but if anything, it only really sets its hooks in deeper. A nagging, stinging, aching anticipation for next year’s finale that is proves useless to try and shake. Nonetheless, let’s stick to what’s available to us now. There’s a lot of new faces presented in this sequel, but of course there’s only one newcomer on everybody’s mind. There’s no question that the highlight of “The Desolation of Smaug” is of course, Smaug himself. It’s all any die-hard Tolkien fanatic has been waiting for since the series was first announced. You’ll be waiting till roughly the last forty minutes of the film’s nearly three hour runtime for Smaug to finally appear, but when he does, you’ll find yourself watching one of the greatest cinematic achievements of 2013.

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Apart from this greedy fire-breather, Orlando Bloom’s Legolas draws a substantial amount of excitement. Jumping weightless amongst the striking scenery of Middle Earth (provided by the always breathtaking New Zealand which Jackson once again utilizes to full effect) and dismissing countless foes. He might be a little more edgy than you remember, but a thrill to watch nonetheless. Luke Evans’ Bard really was a pleasant surprise. Gritty, emotional, and whole-heartedly invested, Evans truly added another complex, impressive layer to this fantastical spectacle. The final addition, Evangeline Lilly’s Tauriel still reigned supreme, for me at least. Rarely have I ever become smitten with someone so striking who could also beat me to a bloody pulp at the drop of a hat. A quick shout-out to the cast of dwarves who’ve finally been allowed to expand their emotional range. The serious tone really allows them to show off their depth instead of trotting around uttering witty, cliched catchphrases.

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Smaug is played by the incomparable Benedict Cumberbatch, who, aside from giving voice to this monstrous dragon, also provides the facial expressions and movements, much like that of Andy Serkis’s Gollum. Emerging from a baffling pile of riches, it’s the dark, malicious, egotistical voice that first strikes fear into your gut as Smaug himself dances amongst the shadows. Then, when the big reveal hits, you’ll find yourself struggling to pick your jaw off the sticky cinema floor. Agile, gargantuan, and devilishly clever, Cumberbatch’s Smaug is, without question, the biggest “wow” moment of the year. As for Martin Freeman, he’s still the only young Bilbo for me. His reluctant courage and comical movements are inspiring and hilarious. You’d be hard pressed to find someone who could successfully deliver just one of those facets. Sadly, Gandalf takes a bit of a back seat on this one, but it’s Ian McKellan, it’s the role he was born to play. So those brief moments he’s present are just as rewarding and nostalgic.

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“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” is another magnificent entry into Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth. The visuals are as superlative as ever. Whether it’s Smaug, the bewildering, gloomy Mirkwood and Laketown, or panoramic shots of Middle Earth, Jackson never seems to lose his form. The progression of the story isn’t a strain to endure and keeps the viewer glued with heart-racing action and genuine emotion. The dialogue doesn’t feel so contrived and each character is given more than enough importance to thrive. It still doesn’t rank with the best the LOTR trilogy has to offer, but it isn’t a steep decline either. “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” will undoubtedly stand the test of time and is a terrific set-up for next year’s big finale.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: 9 out of 10.

Memento (2000)

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This constantly scathing and scornful neo-noir about a man living in perpetual sadness is teeming with complexity, brilliance, and heartbreaking material. Consisting of two separate segments, one told chronologically in black and white, the other told in full colour and reverse. “Memento” has discouraged its fair share of viewers, but has astounded even more. Directed by filmmaking heavyweight Christopher Nolan and adapted from his brother Jonathan’s short story entitled “Memento Mori.” This is the Nolan’s first full-length feature together and roots their already exceedingly prosperous careers. “Memento” toys with its audience, tinkers with the mind and morals of each viewer. While everything may not be essentially what it seems. Ironically, this falsification is the films only truth and it is played out with the utmost effectiveness.

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Leonard Shelby (Pearce) has short term memory loss resulting from an injury he sustained attempting to prevent his wife from being murdered. He remembers everything up until the point of the injury, after that, all that he experiences remains only briefly in his mind afterwords. Before the incident, Leonard was an insurance claims investigator and consistently remembers an encounter with a man named Sammy Jankis. Leonard has tattoos all over his body to help him remember the facts about the perp who murdered his wife and escaped justice. Leonard has made it his life mission to find his wife’s killer and submit him to his own form of redemption.

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While “Memento” is a demanding psychological thriller that takes quite the toll mentally. What makes this mysterious Nolan tale a cut-above is its disheartening and emotional content that is equally as exhausting. Driven by loss, violence, and vengeance. “Memento” although primed by retribution, is fuelled with love and ignited by an honest rage, a deadly, yet sympathetic combination. Although all of this is a lot to absorb, process, and conclude. Nolan does an excellent job leading the audience through this intricate memory, making it as effortless and transient as possible. Like most of life, “Memento” is exquisite proof that everything isn’t always cut and dry. That being said, in this context, the circumstance is tiptoeing around the grey area. Regardless, this experience is unlike any other you’ve encountered watching a film. It is impossible to simply watch “Memento,” you either invest completely, or not at all.

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“Memento” and its execution is completely entrusted to Nolan. However, the cast is charged with as difficult a task, arguably even more so. Due to Leonard’s condition, from the get go the audience is full of skepticism towards each character and their motives. The ensemble’s job is to convince the viewer that they’re genuine. Not such an easy feat when they only have a few minutes to work with at any given time because of the way the film is structured. Nonetheless, “Memento” triumphs and a large part of that success derives from the cast, which features: Guy Pearce, Carie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano.

Carrie-Anne Moss and Joe Pantoliano give absolutely outstanding performances in support of Guy Pearce. Which really magnifies the fact that other than “Memento” and the “Matrix” trilogy, Moss and Pantoliano don’t garner enough screen time in high-profile features, which is a shame considering how effective they are. As for Guy Pearce, who I feel is also incredibly underrated, just not on the same scale as Moss and Pantoliano, really steals the show, as he should. Pearce does a terrific job highlighting the dark humour hidden amongst his character. In addition to fully entrancing the viewer with his melancholic, empathetic, and unstable tendencies. In summary, Memento is solid all the way through, on paper and both behind and in front of the camera.

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“Memento” is essentially the film that made me the cinephile I am today. It is one of my all-time favourites and I don’t think that will ever change. “Memento” is disturbing, heartfelt, and immensely hypnotic. Directed with the utmost precision and acted immaculately, “Memento” is a must see.

“Memento” 9.5 out of 10.

Top 10 Superhero Flicks

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Another week, another top 10!

With “Man of Steel” released recently, I figured now would be as good a time as any to deliver my 10, all-time favourite superhero films. I didn’t want to jump the gun just in case “Man of Steel” managed to crack the list and then have to go back and edit it, that’s why I waited. No doubt a lot of you will not agree with my choices, so let me explain a little before hand. I am a huge fanboy and while that does have its perks, it certainly comes with its own set of disadvantages. Such as being unable to admit a film is subpar due to my misplaced sense of invincibility and obsession. So please, while gazing at this top 10, be gentle :).

I’m getting real close to completing this segment’s header image so please bare with me at least for this week. Inevitably, “Captain America” did not make the list but I felt a powerful need to include him in this post whichever way I could.

Also, guys please follow The Cinema Monster on facebook and twitter. There are links to both on the right side of the page. It would mean a lot to me. I know its a hassle, but I just created them and if no one follows, they bare no purpose. I followed everyone on the blogroll already, so just simply go to your followers and follow me back…please :).

One last thing before we get started. Next Friday I will be unable to post a top 10. Would anyone like to contribute a top 10 of their own to the segment? I’ve been wanting to have a guest rank a top 10 for some time now, so I guess there is no time like the present. I’d like to start off with just one guest top 10 a month, at least until its popularity grows. So, if you would like to be the first to post a top 10, please e mail me with your idea for the top 10 and your website so I can quickly select one and we can prepare for next week. The email is thecinemamonster@gmail.com

Enough witty banter and self-publicity, let’s start the top 10.

 

10: “X-2”

Why?: Easily the best in the trilogy. “X-2” sees the mutants band together to defeat a common foe, and while this may be a comic book cliche, I love when it happens. Also, Wolverine vs Lady Deathstrike is enough on its own.

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9: “Thor”

Why?: I am a huge Thor fan and I feel that he is the best Avenger. I was a little weary of his own full-length feature series, but the original proved me wrong and its sequel “Thor: The Dark World” looks fantastic. And…c’mon…Chris Hemsworth.

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8: “Iron Man”

Why?: Seeing Tony Stark fight his way out of capture, build a formidable, almost indestructible suit, and destroy Jeff Bridges is enough. Let alone the fact that this film without question has the most heart and believability.

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7: “Spider Man 2”

Why?: I’ll admit I am not a huge fan of Raimi’s “Spider Man” trilogy. I did enjoy the first film, but the third and final entry was a complete bust. However, the second film is outstanding.

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6: “Man of Steel”

Why?: Remember when I said I’m a fanboy and essentially go into the cinema with blinders on, well, yeah, that’s why. But seriously, this film was amazing, I don’t understand why it’s taking so much heat. Sure, it wasn’t perfect, but it was still epic and utterly captivating.

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5: “Batman Begins”

Why?: Odds are, if you’re not a fan of Christopher Nolan’s introduction to his reboot of the Batman franchise, I don’t much care for you as a person. Just kidding…sort of. Between Cillian Murphy’s Scarecrow and the fact that my last name is Falcone, I couldn’t resist.

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4: “The Avengers”

Why?: Directed and written by the masterful Joss Whedon. “The Avengers” is everything you’d expect it to be, and so much more.

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3: “X-Men: First Class”

Why?: Honestly, this flick blew my mind. The origin stories of essentially every single mutant, it’s clever, witty dialogue, and insatiable heart. “X-Men: First Class” is a no brainer for me. “I prefer…Magneto.”

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2: “The Dark Knight”

Why:? Many argue that it is the greatest superhero movie of all-time. While it’s hard to argue, I must insist there is one better. Nonetheless, with Heath Ledger’s Joker portrayal, the bat-pod, and everything in between, “The Dark Knight” is down-right perfect.

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1: “The Dark Knight Rises”

Why?: Christopher Nolan’s immaculate ending to his epic “Dark Knight” trilogy. Many thought he could never top “The Dark Knight,” but I, like many others, feel he did the job.

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Honourable Mentions: “Captain America,” “Spider Man,” “Iron Man 2,” “X-Men,” “Unbreakable,” “Watchmen,” “Kick Ass.”

 

If you feel that I’ve overlooked a flick or that a film made the list that shouldn’t have, feel free to comment below. Also, if you are interested in contributing a top 10, please let me know. Have a great weekend!

Inception (2010)

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Outlandishly complex, visually mesmerizing, and action-packed. “Inception” is an intelligent blockbuster that bursts forth from the screen with all the spectacle and wonder that makes cinema so riveting. With infinite staying-power fortified by unlimited ingenuity, an empathetic human element, and dynamism. “Inception” is easily one of the best science fiction films to ever be released, if not the best. Written and directed by the distinguished Christopher Nolan. “Inception” is a brilliant addition to his already stellar collection of highly memorable films and adds another layer of superlativeness to his stern and bright reputation. Completed by an all-star cast and an absolutely epic score from the incredibly talented Hans Zimmer. “Inception” is an unparalleled cinematic experience and regardless of its intricate story or the grandness of its heart-stopping scale, should stand the test of time (no pun intended).

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Dominic Cobb (DiCaprio) is a skilled thief who is somewhat of a master when it comes to the artistic science of extraction. Simply put, Dom can be inserted into anyones dreams and steal their most valuable secrets and information. After a failed job, Dom and his partner Arthur (Levitt) are hired by Saito (Ken Watanabe), the original target, to convince a rival company’s owner to disband his inheritance. This tactic is officially known as inception. Upon recruiting Eames (Hardy), Ariadne (Page), and a few others, the group begins plotting against their target, Robert Fischer (Murphy), unaware that Dominic is hiding a dark and possibly dangerous secret about his late wife Mal (Cotillard).

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Once again Nolan is able to top his previous efforts with a completely unique and bewildering idea presented with his usual flare and style. Evidently, more than a few like to poke fun at “Inception” claiming its premise as idiotic, amongst other aspects they feel to be miscalculated. Nonetheless, Nolan’s ability to transcend and harness the abstract remains unrivalled and is a much needed jump-start for the currently unbalanced film industry. While the path he has carved for cinema might not be for everyone. Cinephiles and critics universally agree that Nolan is a mind like no other. Arguably the most successful, forward-thinking, genius working in film as of the moment. Nolan always pushes the envelope and upon assisting in the much needed reboot of the Superman franchise, it appears the sky’s the limit for this one of a kind filmmaker, but I digress, back to “Inception.”

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Very rarely does a film come along that proves to be a game-changer, and in every sense, “Inception” is one of these films. Whether it is the folding over of an entire city, mind-churning paradoxes, or astoundingly choreographed action sequences, “Inception” is deliciously appealing. Granted, a majority of these magical, majestic, delectable scenes take place in a fantastical realm. However it doesn’t degrade the sheer intellect, talent, and innovation infused into every single one of these miraculous scenes. And while the production value and intricacy of these aspects is enough for them to stand on their own. What truly puts “Inception” at another level is the brains that accompany the brawn. Equally matched intellectually and visually, “Inception” is its own excellent contrast. The mind and eyes receive quite the workout, yet, never has a strenuous effort felt so euphoric.

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Talk about easy on the eyes. “Inception” has the outwardly striking, abundantly accomplished, and utterly skilled cast to assist in the completing of this masterpiece. Starring the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Cillian Murphy, Marion Cottilard, and Michael Cane, amongst other proficient personnel . “Inception” is undoubtedly the full package with an ensemble that knows no weakness.

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Many will deny it having seen a few of these stars in previous films, but “Inception” officially launched Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Cillian Murphy into the mainstream. Each give a humorous and heartfelt performance that instantly made them crowd favourites. Cottilard and Page do an outstanding job grounding this flick, adding a much needed emotional element to this larger-than-life picture. What can one say about Leonardo DiCaprio, he always makes it look so effortless, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Finally, to quote the great Mr. Nolan, “it’s always good to have a little Michael Caine in your film.”

Literally appealing to every sense, “Inception” is not to be missed by anyone in existence, cinephile or not…and how about that ending?

Inception: 9 out of 10.

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Man of Steel (2013)

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Adding much needed depth and humanity to such an illustrious character, who’s storied and intricate history is as delicate as it is powerful. “Man of Steel” has the action, heart, and nostalgia to satisfy both fanboys and newcomers alike. While it may prove to be too bombastic and interwoven for a few critics and harsh naysayers. This polarization is nothing new to the Superman franchise. Nonetheless, “Man of Steel” is a revival with such exuberance, precision and emotion, that it is nearly impossible to resist its charms. However, having been built-up, collated, and magnified with significant importance and anticipation for close to two years. “Man of Steel” was arguably set-up to disappoint and sadly but inevitably, for some this is the case. Regardless, for die-hards, cinephiles, and inner-children everywhere, including myself. “Man of Steel” was well worth the wait and is a fresh, honest, and mesmerizing take on the world’s most famous superhero.

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Krypton and its inhabitants face imminent destruction due to an unstable core. To protect their new-born child, Jor-El (Crowe) and his wife Lara launch a spacecraft carrying their son Kal-El (Cavill) to Earth, in order to secure the fate of their race. Upon arriving at Earth, Kal is found and taken care of by his adopted parents Jonathan (Costner) and Martha (Lane) Kent, who rename Kal, Clark. Because of Clark’s Kryptonian physiology, he inherits superhuman abilities on Earth. Soon, Clark and the entire population of Earth are under attack from another native of Krypton.

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Written by the immensely successful “Dark Knight” trilogy scribe’s David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan. Who make sure that “Man of Steel” contains all the wonder and amazement of the cosmic superhero’s intergalactic existence, in addition to the grounded and elemental nurturing that fortified the batman re-imagining. “Man of Steel” has all the makings of another fortuitous endeavour, not only for “DC comics,” but all involved. Nolan, who also produced the flick, oversaw most of the film’s creation and was essentially present for the ideal’s birth from Goyer’s mind. Although, clearly stating that he would not direct another Batman film, or superhero film of any kind, Goyer and company had to look elsewhere for someone to helm this reboot. After a slew of high-profile names fell to the wayside, it was visionary filmmaker Zack Snyder who was officially picked to take the reigns.

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Upon witnessing the triumphant boom of the Marvel franchise into multiple blockbusters and countless tangents. DC, simply put, had their work cut out for them. Looking to Christopher Nolan for a spark that would ignite a similar explosion, DC completely entrusted him with their future prosperity…and while it is decidedly easier to simplify Batman with a modern, realistic twist. It is near impossible to humanize and ground a hero who was born amongst the stars and soars through space. Be that as it may, with “Man of Steel,” Goyer and Nolan have managed to transform Superman into a dark and brooding character with a heart and mind just as strong as his physical capabilities. All in all, Nolan has been, and will continue to be the catalyst and made sure that the continuation of DC films not only goes smoothly and successfully, but will continue to thrive.

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Having director Zach Snyder’s keen eye for detail and jaw-dropping flare coordinating with Nolan and Goyer’s taste for believability, soul, and consciousness makes “Man of Steel” the most unique and honest take on the superhero to ever hit the big screen. The film has an exquisite blend of fast-paced action, atmospheric imagery, and heartfelt relationships that never cease resonating. Snyder’s vision for “Man of Steel” brilliantly collaborates with Hans Zimmer’s epic, melancholic soundtrack, Nolan and Goyer’s disheartening, but bewildering script making the finished product truly something to behold. If you let critical skepticism, minor blemishes, and transitional inconsistencies tarnish the films reputation or influence your opinion, this might not be the picture for you. Take my word for it, set aside the hype and reviews, appreciate this breathtaking rebirth for what it is.

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Obviously, without a cast to perfectly animate these features and hard work, the film would utterly falter, luckily, this is not the case. “Man of Steel” stars Henry Cavill in the title role, Amy Adams as the beautiful but brainy Lois Lane and acting heavyweight Michael Shannon as the blood-boiling villain, General Zod. The film’s supporting cast is equally as impressive, if not more so. Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Russell Crowe, Laurence Fishburne and the surprising Antje Traue solidify what is an outstanding ensemble.

It’s been a while since Kevin Costner has blown any of his co-stars out of the water. Yet, aside from Cavill and Shannon, Costner is without question the most sublime and really reminds us all of his staggering talent. Diane Lane and Russell Crowe aren’t far behind, preparing Clark for the brash and brutal reality of the world’s he is now apart of. The two are formidable in their supporting roles and add another layer of brilliance to an already astounding story. As for Fishburne, who is his usual, intimidating self. One can’t help but feel letdown by his standard performance, however, his role was extremely limited. If I’m being completely honest, I had never seen Antje Traue in a film prior to “Man of Steel,” but now that I have, I am smitten. She really captures the fearless mentality of Faora and if i might add, looks quite good doing so.

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Out of the three leads, I’d say that Amy Adams is the most underwhelming. Albeit, that is in comparison to Michael Shannon and Henry Cavill, so a case can be made that it’s more of a compliment than an insult. Yes, she is sweet, cute, and calm in the face of danger. I’m not implying she performed horribly, I’m stating that Lois Lane in general was somewhat underwhelming. Which should be the case considering “Man of Steel” is dealing with the origin story of the man himself, not her. The severely underrated and tragically underused Michael Shannon finally gets his due as a ruthless, violent, determined villain who’s primary goal is to guarantee the safety of his people. One can tell that Shannon has always had this dark, primal catharsis waiting to be unleashed deep down inside. Now, finally, Shannon has burst into the mainstream and will hopefully stay there. Shannon delivers a powerhouse performance.

Henry Cavill is Superman: the body, the hair, the voice, everything. I don’t know how else to put it. His acting is superlative, he clearly got in incredible shape for the picture, so he obviously invested heavily in the role. Everything about his emotional range, mannerisms, even the way the suit fits him is enough to send chills down your spine.

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“Man of Steel” offers a never-ending series of heart-racing action seqeucnes that look anything but contrived or inauthentic. One thing on everyones mind prior to the film was how Cavill would look while flying, and thankfully, these segments look dignified. Snyder should gain a stronger fan-base with “Man of Steel” considering his preceding films left audiences divided to say the least. For those Superman enthusiasts, be sure to look out for a few easter-eggs throughout the film. They’re sort of like subtle nods to the audience, a way of saying thank you and we appreciate you.

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For the record, I’m overjoyed that I’m struggling to convey how I feel about “Man of Steel” in this review. As with every film that is or eventually becomes an all-time favourite of mine, I have a hard time dissecting them. I think it’s because I can never quite put my finger on what I love about them. It’s just a reaction, a series of euphoric shocks to my brain. I write excessively trying to unveil the root of my fascination, but never can, that’s why this review and all others like it are so long. I think this is the best way to describe how I feel about “Man of Steel.”

Man of Steel: 8.5 out of 10.

Top 10 Worst Cameos

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Another week, another Top 10, and I couldn’t be more excited! As you probably realized from the article title, this week’s edition will contain 10 cameos I figured to be just plain awful. However, while I was compiling this list, I realized how exceedingly hard it was to find 10, utterly terrible cameos, so I expanded the criteria a bit. The cameos listed are not confined to just being terrible, they can be odd, bizarre, unnecessary, and so on, and so on. Essentially, anything that’s out of the ordinary. I was initially going to post the 10 best cameos I could think of, but came to the conclusion that one couldn’t exist without the other. So, instead of starting strong and finishing weak, I reversed the printing order. Next week’s top 10 will contain the best cameos, so, yeah, look forward to that!

And no, before you even ask, Mike Tyson’s cameo in “The Hangover” is not on this list. Until I am able to concoct a header image for this “Top 10” segment, I will continue to use random pictures that are in some way connected to the general theme.

I know that some of you may not agree with my choices or think that I overlooked a cameo that down-right ruined a movie for you. If this is the case, leave a comment below and I will address you personally, because I have nothing better to do ;).

Without further ado, let’s get started!

 

10: Bruce Willis in “Oceans 12.”

Why?: Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love the “Oceans” trilogy. It’s just that this particular segment really annoys me. The whole Julia Roberts thing and meeting Bruce Willis and him being oblivious to the stars and situation around him, it just really bothers me.

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9: Thomas Lennon in “The Dark Knight Rises.”

Why?: Another film that I genuinely love through and through. I just feel that this is a cameo that Mr. Nolan should have let slip through the cracks. Regardless if it was casting or a legitimate attempt at a cameo, it is so bizarre and unnecessarily funny.

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8: Quentin Tarantino in “Django Unchained.”

Why? Again, I absolutely love Mr. Tarantino and his films, yet, I can’t let this cameo slide. I know he likes to appear in his own films and I am fine with that. I thought his cameo in “Pulp Fiction” was hilarious, but “Django Unchained” is another story. The accent is atrocious and that entire sequence felt a bit off to me. I know I am going to catch hell for this.

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7: Matt Damon in “Finding Forrester.”

Why?: Reprising his role as Will Hunting, oh wait, does he? Anyway, the movies are so similar that Damon’s cameo really connects the two in an unpleasant way. This is as unnecessary a cameo as they come. Don’t worry, this list has more Matt Damon to come.

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6: Arnold Schwarzenegger in “The Expendables.”

Why?: I know that Willis has a brief cameo as well, but didn’t feel like picking on him twice. I didn’t care for “The Expendables” and I see no reason to drag down another action star just for a brief chuckle.

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5: David Hasselhoff in “Piranha 3DD.”

Why?: Because I said so, that’s why. This is such an unnecessary film and I see no need to bring the “Hoff” into it.

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4: Matt Damon in “Eurotrip.”

Why?: Yes, the movie is somewhat entertaining and the cameo may be funny as hell, but it is so weird and idiotic. A mega-star like Matt Damon doesn’t belong down in the gutter.

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3: Stan Lee in, take your pick.

Why?: Yeah, it was cute and charming for a while, but it got real old, real fast for me.

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2: Macy Grey in “Spider Man.”

Why?: I don’t mind a good cameo, but it can’t date a film for eternity, if you know what I mean.

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1: M. Night Shyamalan in “Signs.”

Why?: I don’t think a career has ever gone so sour, so fast. This is as unnecessary a cameo as they come. Terrible acting and just plain weird. M. Night Shyamalan will be forever repeating to people “Hey, remember “The Sixth Sense?”

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If you’ve got beef with this top 10, be sure to let me know in the comment section below ;). Have a great weekend!

Insomnia (2002)

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An unnerving murder investigation set in the wilderness of Alaska that transforms into a dissection of morals. Insomnia’s stunning visuals, solid performances, and unmatched direction make for a riveting film that continues to grow in merit and effectiveness upon each viewing. An adaptation of Erik Skjoldbjaerg’s film of the same title. Insomnia captures and exceeds the deprivation, haunting scenery, and confusion of the original. Directed by the illustrious Christopher Nolan. His ability to mask the, at times, dark and violent subject matter gives credit to his subtle approach and how reputable his style and thought process is. Relying significantly, and with good reason, on its talented cast to convey the vast, shady emotions and psychological complexity throughout its runtime. Insomnia is that rare picture that accomplishes more by doing less.

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In Nightmute, Alaska, a seventeen-year-old resident is found murdered. As a favour to the police chief, two Los Angeles homicide detectives are sent in to investigate. Will Dormer (Pacino) and his partner are renowned in the police world but are facing some heat in regards to a recent arrest, this puts strain on their relationship. After a few days, Dormer begins to fall victim to a severe case of Insomnia. Fighting through his extreme exhaustion and hallucinations, Dormer, his partner, and local detective Ellie Burr (Swank) continue their research until an unexpected tragedy causes everyone to become skeptical and seeking the truth.

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This is the third full-length feature directed by Nolan and it arguably holds the most significance to his career. It is the last film he directed before he took on the Batman reboot which fuelled his sky-rocket to fame. His seemingly overnight success with the Batman franchise came as a shock to some considering that Nolan had only helmed lower budget, psychological thrillers. Until Insomnia, he hadn’t really worked with any big-name actors and it’s fair to say that his ability to create grounded, intriguing, brooding pictures wasn’t enough for Warner Brothers to let Nolan decide the fate of Batman, which is backed up by their original jitters when he first approached them about Insomnia. Regardless, Insomnia was the supreme stepping-stone needed to launch Nolan into his massive celebrity.

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Having initially gone to Warner Brothers before Memento to make Insomnia, Nolan was shot down. However, after the success of Memento, they finally decided to give him a chance with Insomnia, which turned out to be Nolan’s first studio picture. Needing to showcase his control of high-profile actors and ability to handle bigger budgets, as well as larger production values, Insomnia allowed Nolan to unleash all these facets in a single effort. Insomnia really solidified Nolan as a filmmaker and ultimately allowed him to take the reigns of the highly sought after Batman reboot. If he hadn’t grabbed hold of the saga, who knows, we probably wouldn’t have other, big-budget Nolan films like Inception or his forthcoming picture, Interstellar. So, in a way, Insomnia played the biggest role in the emergence of Christopher Nolan. Yet, this begs the question, we will ever see Nolan return to his semi-noir, psychological roots?

Whether or not Insomnia is Nolan’s most underrated and under-seen piece is yet to be concluded as his first full-length, Following, is still to earn its full value.  Nevertheless, there is no arguing that Insomnia does contain Al Pacino’s most underrated performance. Insomnia also features the diverse Robin Williams and the sparsely used Hilary Swank.

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Williams easily gives the best, most inspired performance of the entire ensemble. Yet, for some odd reason, people still doubt his abilities and refuse to take him seriously, even after Good Will Hunting. Although I can assure you his portrayal of a reluctant murderer in Insomnia is much more outstanding. Swank’s bright eyes and eagerness carry her well throughout Insomnia. She elegantly captures the uninhibited, almost innocent personality needed to convey her characters drive. As for Pacino, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a finer performance. The strength of his method and relentless investment pays huge dividends in Insomnia. Pacino impeccably absorbs the never-ending sunlight and turns that energy into the confusion, disorientation, and guilt needed to power his performance.

With astounding direction, unfathomable performances, and haunting imagery. Insomnia is the farthest thing from sedating.

Insomnia: 9 out of 10.

Mud (2012)

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A harrowing, instant classic that, without any doubt, blossoms into legend. Mud is a charming, captivating, irresistible coming-of-age yarn that transcends and disarms. Rich with dynamic visuals, a sweet, at times cunning script, and superlative performances from its entire cast. Mud is comprised upon an endless source of infallibility and revered assets. Filmed entirely in the state of Arkansas, rooted along the Mississippi River and its tangents. Mud’s locations are a breathtaking backdrop evoking a sense of wonder and serenity. Written and directed by up-and-comer Jeff Nichols who continues his rise to fame with this, his third full length feature. The only thing more reliant than the unsurpassable portrayals and unmatched scenery throughout Mud is Nichols sturdy, visionary direction. Despite some heavy, dark subject matter and clinging to innocence for effectiveness, Mud never loses its way.

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Ellis (Sheridan) is 14 years old and lives in a houseboat on the banks of a river in Arkansas with his mother Mary Lee (Paulson) and father Senior (McKinnon). One morning, after he sneaks out past his parents, Ellis meets up with his best friend Neckbone (Lofland), who is also 14 and lives with his uncle Galen (Shannon). The boys set out to an island on the Mississippi river where Neckbone has discovered a boat stuck high in a tree, believed to have been put there by an extreme flood. Soon after climbing the tree and into the boat, they discover footprints and fresh food. Upon returning to their boat, figuring it best to leave before the inhabitant returns, they are surprised to see a rugged man fishing. The stranger, who is soon revealed to be named Mud (McConaughey), asks the boys for food in exchange for the boat in the tree. As time passes, the three become close friends and begin to trust one another. This is when Mud and the boys enter into an agreement that will change their lives forever.

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Filled with the vibrancy and uncertainty of life and youth. Nichols honest take on the struggles of growing up is both refreshing and astoundingly accurate. Managing to convey the hardships and vulnerability that comes with being young and wide-eyed. Mud places the world at your feet, just to render you helpless when you reach out to grasp it. To accomplish this feat while simultaneously leaving the viewer content and without being overly sappy is stupefying. Yet, the theme most prominent and riveting in Mud deals with the emotion that leaves us confounded and in a daze, love. Stating that regardless of age, we always succumb to the idea of love and will always stumble over and sacrifice ourselves and one another for a taste of it. Mud is undeniably one of the best films of 2013 and will undoubtedly stand the test of time.

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With a plethora of symbolism, lyricism, and dynamism, it’s easy to get caught up in the ripples of Mud and lose sight of its heart…If you can keep track of each, individual storyline strand, Mud has so much more to behold. For instance, the forests and rivers ingeniously resemble the appeasing exteriors of Mud’s characters. And like these peaceful settings and docile people, there are unforeseen dangers that lie beyond them. Just a quick note on Mud’s tranquil soundtrack which is composed by David Wingo, who also wrote the score for Nichols 2011 hit, Take Shelter. Wingo’s ability to match Nichols ideals with music is unparalleled and I’m overjoyed that the two continue to work with one another.

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Even though Mud might not be as psychologically exhausting as Take Shelter or disconcertingly ferocious as Shotgun Stories, it is certainly just as visual and rewarding. Nichols continues to grow with each release and every single outing of his sheds a little more light into his bright, limitless future. The most reassuring and remarkable trait of Nichols films is that the newest chapter is stronger than the last. Nichols effortlessly and eloquently absorbs the natural and elemental beauty of Arkansas, the surrounding terrain, and vast skyline. There is no denying that Mud’s numerous, incredible performances and original script would be useless without Nichols keen, eccentric direction.

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Finding a pair of young, close-knitted, and talented leads is imperative to Mud’s success and Nichols found them in Jacob Lofland and Tye Sheridan. Mud again reunites Nichols with Michael Shannon, who stared in both of Nichols other films, Shotgun Stories and Take Shelter. Now, even though his role is certainly smaller than the duo’s previous collaborations, Shannon is equally as effective. Also starring Matthew McConaughey, Sarah Paulson, Ray McKinnon, Reese Witherspoon, and Sam Shepard. Mud’s ensemble easily gives one of the best collective efforts of the year.

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It is quite astonishing when an actor, let alone an ensemble breaks through the screen, allowing the viewer to discard the notion that what they’re watching is just a film, Mud has this effect. McKinnon and Paulson’s portrayal of a couple who’s marriage is on the rocks reaches a new level of believability. As they fight against the closing inevitability and try, relentlessly to keep their son stable regardless of their current circumstance causes a profound euphoria of respect to rush over the viewer. As for Shepard, who’s role is somewhat typical, is able to surpass its regularity with an unusually strong, aching performance. Witherspoon, who garners very little screen time, makes terrific use of her limited role. To be honest, I had very limited respect for Witherspoon as an actress, but after Mud, it has grown substantially.

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However memorable and powerful the supporting casts performances may be. They are simply outdone by Mud’s three leads Jacob Lofland, Tye Sheridan, and Matthew McConaughey. As McConaughey’s stock continued to rise throughout 2011 with his roles in The Lincoln Lawyer and Bernie, it slowly became apparent that there was no stopping his rapid ascension. Following up another hit in Magic Mike with Mud, McConaughey seems to have finally found his muse. McConaughey is now gearing up for another high-profile role as he is set to star alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, ready for release late in 2013. There is now, no denying McConaughey’s brilliance as he recently signed on to tackle the lead in the magnificent Christopher Nolan’s next film Interstellar, which will also feature Jessica Chastain and Anne Hathaway. Thankfully, there seems to be no end in sight for the once discredited Matthew McConaughey.

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Lofland and Sheridan, who were ultimately hired because of their abilities on a boat, knowledge of the area, and the time it would save not having to teach these facets to two other young leads, undoubtedly earn their spots. With a combined age that doesn’t equal some of their co-stars time of acting experience, let alone years on this planet, Lofland and Sheridan prove they’re not intimidated by underestimation. Having performed in Terrence Malick’s, The Tree of Life, Sheridan continues on his path to a fortuitous career. As for Lofland, Mud is his first full length feature, but you wouldn’t know it from his calm and confident performance. Both flourish in this highly advantageous opportunity and look to have extremely bright futures.

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With its unyielding, heavenly toxic imagery, phenomenal performances, and spot-on portrayal of love, death, and youth. It may be a bit premature, but Mud has eked its way into my top 10 all time favourite films and I don’t see it falling out anytime soon. It is a must see for anyone, cinephile or not.

Mud: 9.5 out of 10.