Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Tree of Life Review

Before I really allowed myself to absorb the film The Tree of Life, before I opened my mind up and gave in to the experience, I didn't believe in miracles. I never really considered the big picture of existence or how beautiful the world really is. 

The Tree of Life made me realize how incredible it is to be able to wake up each day and simply exist. I watched my wonderful daughter sleep one night, so peaceful and beautiful, and I realized if I made one decision differently, she wouldn't be a part of my life. She would never have a chance to paint a picture, tell a story, give me a hug or tell me she loved me. She would never have a chance to make friends, ride a bike, or watch a film without a perfect fateful moment back in 2005, when I made a last second decision to go to a friends house on Valentines Day and a girl walked in, a face I never had laid eyes on before and may have never seen again if not for that night.

We could have never met, we could have broken up, we could have not decided marriage was the right decision yet, or we could have decided to wait to have children. If we went down a different path during any one of these moments, she would not exist, but she does. She is the most important, incredible thing I have ever known, and generations of my family and my wife's family had to make exact, perfectly executed choices for her to be a part of my life today. 

It's a miracle. The Tree of Life taught me that they exist.


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Divergent Review

It is safe to say that I am a fan of Shailene Woodley, which is a pretty shocking realization to come to considering I am still trying to cleanse my soul of that abomination of a television series she starred on before her breakthrough role in The Descendants. After seeing her work in that film, The Spectacular Now, the otherwise terrible White Bird in a Blizzard and The Fault in Our Stars, it is pretty clear that Woodley is a special talent that needed the right material to show she could shine. Unfortunately, as hard as she may have tried in the hit young adult dystopian thriller Divergent, nothing was going to be able to elevate this film above mediocrity. 

Regardless of what reviews and others had said about Divergent, I still needed to give it a fair shake and find out if there was any meat on it's bones. After all, I had doubts about the quality of The Hunger Games franchise prior to the release of the first film, and I have since fallen in love with the story of Katniss and the revolution. Divergent is neither a good nor a bad movie, it is painfully mediocre. A major problem I have hear is the casting from the top down, as despite my admiration for Woodley in general, something wasn't right about her performance here. During quiet moments of reflection or her portrayal of emotional devastation, she fits perfectly into the role and her presence on screen feels right. However, when asked to be an angry, bad ass action star, it just doesn't work, which was correctly predicted by my wife after she read the book. 

What really killed me was seeing the extraordinary talents of people like Kate Winslet and Miles Teller totally wasted in roles far beneath their capabilities. Anyone could have played these boring, lifeless characters reciting material that, to put it kindly, was limited at best, so seeing faces that have previously proved their ability to steal a scene add absolutely nothing here was a hard pill to swallow. 

The story of Divergent takes place in a futuristic Chicago after society has become as simplistic and uninspired as the film itself. When a person begins their adulthood, they must choose a faction to enter into and commit to it for life, no questions asked. However, sometimes a person either doesn't fit into just one or they refuse to accept such a narrow, limited fate, and they do not comply by what is expected of them. Those people are known as Divergent, which is exactly what happens to our heroine of the saga, Tris Prior, played by the aforementioned Shailene Woodley.

I was never troubled by the quality of this movie, but I also was never really compelled by it either. Divergent just sort of is, it exists and it did an adequate job of entertaining me for a while. I will gladly check out the sequel and see if the experience is enhanced in any way, as perhaps the best is still yet to come for this franchise. A step in the right direction would be to limit, or hell, even kill off the character of Four, played (terribly) by the hunky cardboard cutout Theo James. I'm not familiar with this actor previously, so I can't speak to the overall trajectory of his career, but if this is his A game that is unfortunate. Divergent is a lukewarm bowl of bland but passable punch, and Theo James is the turd floating in it.


Sunshine Review

My daughter asks a lot of questions, as I'm sure most first graders do. What is surprising though is that for every nine ridiculously cute nonsensical queries like "Do cows wear pants?" or "Can we go to the moon tomorrow?", one will seemingly pop up out of nowhere that is shockingly profound. 

Recently, she was sitting playing with her toys, lost in her own thoughts and imagination, when she asked my wife and I "Who was the first person ever?". After getting her to elaborate further to ensure we understood the path she was taking, yes, at the age of seven she had become curious about the dawn of mankind. After the initial shock and giving the best boiled down answer I could come up with, essentially saying no one knows because it was so long ago, her follow up question practically made my jaw hit the floor. "How could there be a person without a mommy and daddy?" she asked. 

Next thing you know, we are at the library trying to find the most age appropriate books that focus on the topic of evolution. I shit you not.

That night, I went through the typical inner debate and subsequent turmoil that comes with the crucial decision of what to watch, and as I glanced at the many Blu-ray options on the wall I noticed Sunshine and thought of the questions poised by my young one only hours earlier. No, the film doesn't thematically connect to evolution or cover the birth of the human race, quite the opposite actually. Sunshine tells the story of a team of astronauts and scientists on a mission to reignite the sun and save humanity from extinction, but along the way some fascinating philosophical concepts are touched on that came flooding back with the way she worded her question for us.

For much of the running time, Sunshine was headed towards becoming an absolute science fiction gem, the kind of chilling and hypnotic journey into deep space that always appeals to me. Director Danny Boyle has such a gift for the craft and it shows, as not only is the entire film well made, but certain specific sequences manage to give me goosebumps no matter how many times I see them (although John Murphy's Adagio in D Minor deserves a ton of credit for the haunting nature of one in particular). 

Unfortunately, and I am sure if you have read other reviews or seen the film yourself this will be a familiar complaint, the third act is misguided and a shame considering how amazing the rest of the movie is. I actually love the concept behind what occurs, just not the way it was executed, as a work that was patient and thought provoking suddenly devolves into essentially a mediocre slasher movie. Still, what works throughout Sunshine does so gloriously, and because of this I still highly recommend the film overall despite the really troubling turn it takes.

"Who was the first person ever?" she asks.

What would it be like to be the last? Just one man remaining, alone with God. 


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Avatar Review

Despite comfortably in the lead as the highest grossing film of all time at the box office and being nominated for nine Academy Awards back in 2010, Avatar has become a widely admonished work and thus finding enjoyment in it almost feels embarrassing and shameful. Essentially, loving this film is the cinematic equivalent of dating an absurdly gorgeous girl in high school, but your best friend hates everything about her personally. Are you honest with your buddy and admit to your relationship, citing the fact that you think she is hot as your reasoning behind the decision? Or do you keep things quiet, waiting to meet up with her at night after pretending you need to go home?

On a purely aesthetic level, no one would argue with the attraction. Hell, you are lying to yourself if you don't admit to it. Avatar is a technical masterpiece, the very definition of a reference quality achievement, the ideal disc to pop in if you want to show off the capabilities of that amazing new flat screen you just put on your wall. However, the narrative feels drenched in familiarity as the story feels as if it has been done numerous times previously, and also I can't help but imagine James Cameron with a giant evil grin on his face as I watch, literally whispering in my ear how great he is and how important his work is for cinema. Without a doubt something else feels in play here beyond humble craftsmanship and storytelling, like you can actually see Cameron's ego on display in every frame.

Despite this, I am here to say that I love the movie and I, for one, am not afraid to admit it. If Avatar is the most jaw dropping girl in school, then I would have gladly held her hand and walked down those hallowed halls with a dumb, proud smile on my face. Why? Because I am so damn entertained the entire time I experience this film, even while knowing and accepting any flaw that I previously mentioned. I would never marry her, of course not. I need far more interesting depth and substance to spend my life with a person, but for the occasional fling you can do far worse than a mindless viewing of Avatar. Just sit back, relax and tell James Cameron to take you deep into Pandora.

Reading back that last line, it sounds even more perverted than I imagined. Forgive me.


Monday, February 23, 2015

My Probably Terrible and Way Too Early 2016 Best Picture Predictions

Who says it's too early to make Oscar predictions for next year? Where's the fun in waiting for more information? I say, do it now and then shake my head in disgust later this year when it becomes obvious that these are completely off the mark

So here we go. These are my probably terrible and way too early 2016 Best Picture Predictions

Knight of Cups
The Martian
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
St. James Place
Midnight Special
The Revenant
The Hateful Eight
Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

A part of me thinks this is a very realistic list, and another part of me thinks this would just be too good to be true for me personally. 

Knight of Cups is the new film from Terrence Malick, the man behind my favorite film of all time, The Tree of Life. I don't want to set myself up for disappointment, but I have faith that this will be another special cinematic experience from the genius auteur.

The Martian is based on the fantastic debut novel from Andy Weir of the same name, and it is Ridley Scott returning to science fiction which is where he is at his best (yes, including Prometheus which I love). As someone who has read the book, trust me, this is the type of material that the Academy can fall in love with, and if you take a look at the cast listing of this film, you will see the potential for something remarkable. 

Silence is currently in production with Martin Scorsese at the helm, which alone is enough to believe in its Oscar chances. The only thing about picking this one, it isn't even guarateed to be released in time for next years Academy Awards. It is currently listed as a 2016 release, although I have a gut feeling it finds its way to a film festival later this year and gets a limited release in time to qualify.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl feels ready to follow in the footsteps of recent Sundance gems that went on to bigger and better things. Just yesterday both Whiplash and Boyhood were major players on Oscar night, and both were debuted at Sundance. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl received overwhelming acclaim at the festival and won both of the top prizes there. I recently read the novel it is based on and yep, this is going to be a special film.

Directed by Spielberg, a script co-written by the Coen brothers, starring Tom Hanks with an October release date? A historical biography spy thriller? Yep, I feel good about the chances of St. James Place

Midnight Special probably won't be nominated for Best Picture. Let me get that out of the way. So why am I picking it? Because Jeff Nichols deserves the damn recognition, with his previous two films being absolutely sublime and yet they were overlooked by the Academy. Take Shelter is one of the finest films to focus on mental illness ever made, and Mud was just pure storytelling magic. In November of this year, his new science fiction drama will be released and I hope it is when the Oscars take notice and showcase the work of this amazing talent. Oh, and I hope Michael Shannon is nominated for Best Actor as well. The fact that he wasn't among the five recognized for Take Shelter is such a shame.

The Revenant certainly feels like a safe, solid pick now, the next film by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu after winning Best Director and Best Picture last night with Birdman. Perhaps a win for Leonardo DiCaprio here? We will have to wait and see.

I hesitate to include The Hateful Eight because I have a gut feeling it may not be up for the top prize after the last two films by Quentin Tarantino were nominated. Going three in a row would be quite the accomplishment, but with the campaigning of Harvey Weinstein backing it and the fact that the Academy clearly appreciates that intoxicating Tarantino style, it just might happen.

Finally, yes I am picking Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. As I am a massive Star Wars fan, this probably is wishful thinking, but hear me out on my logic. After the prequels proved to be such a letdown, if J.J. Abrams is able to put out an amazing new film (and I believe he will) with the original cast involved, released right in the heart of Oscar voting season, I imagine many voters will fall head over heels in love with the movie.

When Abrams rebooted Star Trek, I recall there being talk of it possibly sneaking into the Best Picture race, and that was Star Trek. No offense to the Trek fans out there, but it just isn't as beloved and cherished of a franchise as Star Wars. If he nails this, people like me will be ready to put up Abrams shrines in their bedrooms to honor the man. I wouldn't be that surprised if this film picked up a whole bunch of nominations in 2016, and not just for the technical achievements. 

So there we go. The nine films I currently think will be up for Best Picture next year. I look forward to coming back to this down the road and realizing I only got 1 correct.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

2015 Final Oscar Predictions

Only a few hours to go until Hollywood's big show kicks off, so it's time for my last minute final predictions of who will walk away winners in some of the major categories.



A month ago I thought this was a shoe in. Now, I really strongly considered going with Birdman and I think that may in fact win, but I have been riding the Boyhood train ever since I saw it last summer, so why jump off now? My favorite film of the year so rarely also wins Best Picture. Let's hope it happens here.


Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Birdman

Logically, you would think if I am picking Boyhood to win Best Picture, that the Academy would also award Linklater with director as well. This used to be pretty much a guarantee, that the two categories would align on Oscar night, but over the last few years the split has become a much more regular thing, and why not? Why can't a specific filmmaker be recognized for his achievement, and a different film be recognized for it's entire vision being the "best"?

It's also possible the opposite happens, Linklater wins director and Birdman takes home picture, but I am going with this.


Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

Despite the obvious love from the Academy towards Birdman, I still think Eddie Redmayne walks away with the trophy tonight. Voters love when an actor literally transforms for a role, and Eddie Redmayne pulls off something incredible turning himself into Stephen Hawking.


Julianne Moore, Still Alice

The best performance by anyone in 2014. Enough said.


J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

The chances I get this pick correct = 100%. J.K. Simmons is not only going to win, but in my world it is the only correct choice in the category. Brilliant, dynamite stuff by a man I have been a fan of for quite some time, thrilled to see him get recognized tonight. 


Patricia Arquette, Boyhood

Much like with J.K. Simmons, this is a guarantee. Without a doubt the Academy will recognize the amazing performance by Patricia Arquette, which happens to be the character I connected with the most in my favorite film of 2014. 


Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel

Wes Anderson has quite the unique, brilliant mind, and I will be thrilled if I am correct and his words are honored with the trophy tonight. The Academy seemed to really cozy up well inside The Grand Budapest Hotel considering it's 9 nominations, and between its screenplay and a few of the other awards like production and costume design, it won't go home empty handed.


Graham Moore, The Imitation Game

Remember, this isn't who I want to win, it's how I think actually will. If it were up to me, either Paul Thomas Anderson or Damien Chazelle would be walking on stage tonight to accept this award, but the snoozefest, sorry, film The Imitation Game seems destined to walk away with a win in this category. 



12 years of filming portrayed seamlessly over the course of less than 3 hours, with a fluidity that feels like pure damn magic. Yep, I not only think Boyhood will win for its editing, I am rooting for it.


Emmanuel Lubezki, Birdman

Had to include this category so I could embrace my man crush on Lubezki for the second straight year. Give Chivo the damn trophy!



Ida is a pretty darn good film, but Winter Sleep isn't even nominated. Therefore, I boo this category as a whole. Boooooo.



Not only will Citizenfour be recognized for being a great film (it is), but it is also seen as important and admirable for the courage it took to ever make it in the first place. I have a good feeling a speech regarding Edward Snowden being an American hero is coming a few hours from now.


How To Train Your Dragon 2

While this wouldn't be my choice (Princess Kaguya!!!!!), I also won't complain a bit seeing as how How To Train Your Dragon 2 ended up in my top 15 of 2014. 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

50 Best Films of 2014 - #10 - #1

10. Guardians of the Galaxy

Not only a top ten of 2014 entry, but easily my favorite movie from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. One of my biggest complaints about some of the other films, specifically Iron Man 2 and Thor: The Dark World come to mind, were their attempts to be comedic yet completely failing at actually being funny. Thus I was concerned when I was told just how much of a comedy Guardians of the Galaxy would need to be, but boy did it deliver. Not just with laughs, with EVERYTHING. A joyous, exciting, heartfelt, clever blast of a picture.

9. The Babadook

If you knew me well, you would know how unheard of this is for me. I have a real hard time connecting to a horror film, as I usually think an interesting premise and creepy trailer ends up ruined by the same stupid and predictable tropes, bad writing and excessive gore. The Babadook is an Australian horror film, and it's bloody friggin' brilliant. If you are simply looking to be spooked, it's scary as hell. If you are looking for depth and characters to actually care about, you cannot go wrong here. The Babadook is a meaningful metaphor wrapped in an intense and terrifying film, and it works on every level.

8. Birdman

A completely brilliant, unique cinematic experience, Birdman was a joy to watch for it's fascinating narrative and amazing performances, but it went to a whole other level due to the technical genius on display throughout. This is actually a difficult movie to explain, you just need to see it and decide whether it works for you or not. Some have called it artsy nonsense, pretentious, and silly. I call it one of the best and most original pictures of 2014. 

7. The Tale of The Princess Kaguya

I was already a massive fan of the legendary Studio Ghibli, with My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away being their two masterpieces so far. I officially have a third movie to welcome into that category. The Tale of The Princess Kaguya is a completely spellbinding, heartbreaking piece of cinema that for me, despite also loving How to Train Your Dragon 2 and The LEGO Movie (both of which were in the previous list of ten), is by far the best animated work of 2014. 

6. Whiplash

I still get the chills whenever I think about the last 10 or 15 minutes of Whiplash, the most memorable sequence from any movie released last year. Seriously, it's so electric it made the hair on my arms stand up. That isn't to say that the rest of the film was lackluster in any way. Whiplash was destined to be one of the 15 or so best of the year, and then that finale happened, and I can't stop thinking about it over a month after witnessing it unfold. That's the power of incredible cinema, and what Damien Chazelle crafted here is just that.

5. The Grand Budapest Hotel

The masterpiece I had always been waiting for from Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel is gorgeous on so many technical levels and also a brilliantly clever comedy. I had no idea how good Ralph Fiennes could be in a comedic role, and it certainly isn't easy to execute the quirky and odd material of a Wes Anderson, but he absolutely nailed it. Seriously, his timing is so spot on perfect I felt like I was grinning from ear to ear anytime he occupied the frame. 

4. Interstellar

Big, bold and ambitious filmmaking. I am a sucker for it, always have been and always will be. I can forgive a flaw or two because I am so mesmerized by the spectacle of the whole experience, which explains why Christopher Nolan's Interstellar lands as the #4 movie of the year. It isn't a perfect film, I cannot lie, but with every ever so slight issue I have with it, I am in jaw dropping awe of EVERYTHING else that worked so damn well. I saw it twice in theaters, and I can promise you there will be 20 more viewings at home coming in the future.

3. Winter Sleep

By far my favorite foreign film of 2014, and one worthy of inclusion into the top 3 overall and yet Winter Sleep isn't even nominated by the Academy. Ah, such is the complicated and confused relationship I have with those people in charge of Oscar nominations, but so be it. I just hope the lack of recognition doesn't stop people from seeking out and watching this gorgeous picture, and while my voice is small and unimportant, it won't stop me from continuing to scream it from the rooftops: Winter Sleep is a triumph of cinema and easily the finest acted movie of the year.

2. Gone Girl

I can't stop falling more and more in love with the work of David Fincher. Just when I think I couldn't admire the man and his vision on a deeper level, here comes Gone Girl, another cold and calculated thriller that entertained me endlessly and made my skin crawl with its ominous tone and perfectly unsettling performances. Based on the incredibly popular novel by Gillian Flynn, one of the aspects of this movie that really elevated it to new heights was the screenplay by that very same writer, with Flynn adapting her own work. It's one thing to come in and chop apart the words of someone else, but to do it to your own? To have the humility and intelligence to say to yourself, yes I wrote this, but a lot of it doesn't work when translated to the big screen? That's really something special.

1. Boyhood

Life. It's a fucked up, weird, heartbreaking, devastating, fascinating and beautiful thing, and it was encapsulated so poetically and gorgeously by Richard Linklater. Watching Mason grow up really resonated with me on multiple levels. Not long ago I was a kid growing up dealing with the bizarre and bullshit issues that accompany adolescence, and yet now I sit here with a 7 year old daughter and I can't believe how fast time has gone. Watching twelve years go by over the course of less than three hours with such a graceful and natural fluidity really made me think about the fact that time is relentless. All we can do is accept it and enjoy the ride.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Taxi Driver Review

When you hear the name Travis Bickle, you might think of the infamous quotes that have been repeated or referenced for decades. You may recall the wardrobe choices Bickle makes throughout the film as well as the iconic transformation of his hair, the image of DeNiro with a mohawk and an eerie smile across his face ingrained into your movie loving soul. Last night I sat down and experienced Taxi Driver through a fresh set of eyes, having gone far too long without a viewing, the last being as a dumb shit teenager who probably couldn't pick Martin Scorsese out of a lineup. 

As I dimmed the lights and got lost in this astounding masterpiece, I realized that despite his notoriety I never once viewed Travis Bickle as just some famous movie character. Travis Bickle is not a Halloween costume or a poorly executed impression used as a punch line in a sitcom. Travis Bickle is human, a man haunted by a world that surrounds him which he doesn't fully trust or understand. We don't merely follow him around, we see the streets of New York City from his perspective. We see the people he perceives as scum, the portion of the populace that he would eliminate if he could to make the world a better place. Often times the glare of their faces staring back at him are illuminated by a red glow that almost makes it feel as if the frame had been soaked in blood, or we barely see them at all, an ominous shadow cast over a city that he chooses to wander through each night despite the hatred he feels for those that occupy it.

Travis Bickle isn't a mohawk or a jacket or a taxi cab or a single quote people love to say when they look at themselves in the mirror. Travis Bickle is human. The way Scorsese films him is so real and fascinating that he somehow manages to make this unstable and violent man both terrifying and strangely sympathetic. When he approaches the beautiful and classy Betsy (Cybill Shepherd), it is completely understandable that she would be intrigued by this mysterious man. He is confident, he has charisma, and he stands out in a room full of strikingly similar and less exciting men. At one point after the relationship has taken a turn for the worst (for understandable reasons), Travis calls Betsy from a pay phone and just at the moment when it becomes obvious he is getting turned down for a second chance, the camera slowly moves to the right and looks down a hallway. My immediate reaction was to wonder, what is going to happen down there? The answer is nothing. Scorsese makes it clear that we shouldn't see Travis at this moment, but why? Is this another example of humanizing this evil man, that we are giving him privacy during this personal moment of failure? Or is the camera still functioning from the perspective of Travis, that we cannot see him because he wouldn't want to be seen at a time like this. Despite the various moments throughout the film that any rational person would find at best to be questionable behavior, perhaps the only moment that Travis feels ashamed of is the one in which he let the beautiful girl get away.

Seeing Taxi Driver again, at a time when I have learned how to truly appreciate the medium and gained an understanding of the subtleties that elevate a work from good to great to an essential work of art, I am floored. Every frame was like visual poetry, with nothing done accidentally or merely for aesthetic pleasure. This is a film that breathes life into the very soul of why we watch movies. The casting is absolute perfection which is what makes everything I mention above work so damn well. A character as deranged as Travis Bickle is humanized because of the way DeNiro conveys emotion and feeling with even the slightest look or mannerism. When he first meets Betsy, he pegs her for being lonely and sad despite looking the part of what other women would typically envy, and we know he is spot on even though she doesn't actually verbally confirm it. We know this because her eyes suggest the truth, that at the very core of her being she is searching for something more from this world than looking pretty and working overtime on a political campaign. When Travis crosses paths with the very young Iris (Jodie Foster), she portrays an image that attempts to convince the world that she is okay living life as a 12 year old prostitute, but when he calls her and her ways out for being so obviously wrong we know instantly she agrees even though she never says so. We see the pain in her eyes, the suffering caused by an adolescence that was never allowed normalcy, and I felt this reverberate through my entire body.

It takes a whole lot of talented people working with a singular, brilliant vision to craft a picture like Taxi Driver, the type of achievement that will force me to make the tough decision of which film to knock off of my all time favorites list so I can free up a spot.

As I said before, I now can appreciate the different between good, great and essential. Taxi Driver is essential.


Thursday, February 19, 2015

50 Best Films of 2014 - #20 - #11

Now into the top 20 films from 2014

20. Under the Skin

A tricky one to recommend, Under the Skin is enigmatic and utterly, shockingly strange, and while I loved it obviously and I know others who did as well, I also know a fair share of people who would ask me why the hell I wasted their two hours, or they would turn it off halfway through in disgust. This is really only a safe bet if you meet one of these two conditions: a) you are physically attracted to Scarlett Johansson, or b) you find strange, abstract cinema with some real depth and meaningful thematic substance appealing.  

I will leave it at this: there is some really interesting stuff happening here regarding the way we view and treat women in society.

19. Blue Ruin

I really expected this to be a by the numbers, you can see what is approaching around every corner revenge thriller. I was so damn wrong. Blue Ruin is smart, edge of your seat stuff, if you have Netflix streaming I highly suggest checking it out.

18. Life Itself

Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, I used to walk to a store nearby to purchase a newspaper every Friday specifically for the movie reviews, and it wasn't a difficult decision whether I should pick up a Sun-Times or a Tribune. I wanted to read the words of Roger Ebert, and even when I disagreed with the man, I always admired him. Life Itself is a wonderful documentary that serves as a tremendous tribute to Roger, but the best thing about it is that it is honest rather than simply positive pandering. Steve James doesn't mind showing that his subject was flawed because it is human to be flawed, and as a result the film is truly special.

17. Foxcatcher

A chilling and brilliantly performed picture based on a true story, I was engrossed inside the world crafted by Bennett Miller from start to finish. Foxcatcher is a cold and dour experience without a doubt, and one looking for anything light and fun will surely be counting the minutes until it's over, but if you are like me and find odd amounts of joy watching something ominous this may work wonders for you too.

16. Inherent Vice

Luckily for me, I had read the delightfully strange source material this was based on before seeing the film, the novel by Thomas Pynchon of the same name, so I knew what to expect going in. I knew much of the narrative would seem incoherent and the style of storytelling would feel out of sorts, but strangely that was what makes Inherent Vice such a blast to witness unfold. Sure, it's a mess, but what a glorious mess it is. Directed by one of the brightest modern auteurs working today, Paul Thomas Anderson, even if you have no idea what the hell is going on you have got to admire just how well crafted the ride is.

15. Nightcrawler

Lead by my favorite male performance of the year by Jake Gyllenhaal as Lou Bloom, Nightcrawler is another dark and creepy entry into my list, but unlike Foxcatcher it also has a wickedly clever sense of humor as well. The fact that this ended up at #15 on the year is a testament to just how strong 2014 was in cinema, because my goodness I love this movie.

14. The LEGO Movie

The first movie from 2014 I saw ends up being one of the finest of the year. It isn't often I can say that because typically the early months are the doldrums of the theatrical calendar, but The LEGO Movie turned out to be shockingly great. So clever, so warm, so much damn fun with a third act twist that brought quite a few tears to the eye, what initially felt like it was destined to be solely an advertisement for toys turned out to have an important and meaningful message in the end.

13. How to Train Your Dragon 2

Back in 2010, I was one of the few people who felt the first How to Train Your Dragon was the best animated film of the year. Understandable because the also amazing Toy Story 3 was released during that very same year, but How to Train Your Dragon just had this magical feeling that cast a spell on me and won me over immediately. I was concerned the sequel would be a let down, but that skepticism vanished quickly as the characters, the story and the stakes all matured since the release of the original. For quite some time this movie held my top spot of 2014 and with each revisit I am reminded why. How to Train Your Dragon 2 is an amazing film for any person of any age. 

12. Like Father, Like Son

The switched at birth story has been done before, but never this eloquently and with this much realism and passion. Like Father, Like Son is heartbreaking and thought provoking cinema, asking a rather important question: what makes a child yours? Is it the blood and genetics you share, or is it something more? A truly beautiful film, and as a father I made a very strong connection with this work.

11. The Raid 2

The first Raid film completely caught me off guard as I had assumed I would be bored by something that was essentially non-stop action, and instead I was pumped full of adrenaline and exhausted by the end of that insanely intense, blood soaked film. Within the first minute of The Raid 2, as the movie opens outdoors with a wide shot that is far different from the cramped and claustrophobic nature of the first film, it is clear director Gareth Evans wants bigger and better things with the sequel. That is exactly what he delivered, as this time around things are far more story oriented, yet when the action does show up it is just as intense and just as awesome as before. 

Next up, the top ten films of 2014. The picture above is from a work that landed not only on the list, but in the top 5 of the year.