2016 Movie Power Rankings

A power ranking of my ten favorite films of the year – and the complete list of all the films that didn’t make the cut.

It’s that time again, can you believe it? Two quick reminders:

  1. I’m using release dates from IMDb. So if The Lobster falls between the cracks, don’t blame me.
  2. This is a ranking of the movies I personally saw. So don’t get uppity with me just because you can’t find a specific movie somewhere. Having said that, I don’t update these rankings after they’re published so even if I see a 2016 movie after the fact, oh well, it didn’t make the totally arbitrary deadline.
  3. If you can click on a movie title, it means I wrote a review for it. Go ahead and click away! What have you got to lose!?

That was three things, not two. Just making sure you’re paying attention.

Check here for 2015 and here for 2014.

HONORABLE MENTION

10. N/A

I’m sorry but I can’t even pick a tenth movie. It was up in the air between Captain America: Civil War, Deepwater Horizon, Doctor Strange, Sausage Party, and The Neon Demon. There are serious flaws with each one in my opinion and I don’t think any of them deserve to make my list.

This was an off year for me. The number of films I saw didn’t differ much from previous years, but the overall quality of them definitely fell. Usually, creating this list isn’t too difficult, but everything below the Pantheon has been a struggle (as you’ll see).

Let’s hope 2017 isn’t the same.

9. The Accountant

This film’s greatest strength might be how good it is compared to the expectations most people probably had before seeing it. While it’s not a perfect product by any means, Ben Affleck delivers a nuanced performance that is accompanied by a nice blend of seriousness, humor, and unexpectedly badass action sequences, and it looks like there’s a genuine possibility this could end up being some kind of franchise.

Even though The Accountant doesn’t have the same adrenaline-filled high compared to a movie like Hardcore Henry or even John Wick, the added substance here is what makes this a superior film. Plus, the highly-functioning autistic protagonist could be the hero we need in this day and age – maybe more so than Affleck’s other 2016 hero in Batman v Superman: I Left the Movie Theater with the Worst Headache of My Goddamn Life.

8. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

Look, any movie that drops a disconcertingly catchy song about a girl asking to get fucked like Bin Laden deserves to be on this list. Also, we’re talking about The Lonely Island, who have a certain method of approaching comedy that doesn’t change very much in Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping.

This mockumentary about a singer/rapper named Conner4Real often goes over-the-top in parodying not only the music industry, but perhaps all of popular entertainment in itself. It also does a pretty funny job of showing the rise and fall of a pop star and it’s easy to see how someone like Justin Bieber might have served as inspiration for this kind of thing.

Andy Samberg leads the way with a typically charming performance, but the real stars of this movie are the original songs. They’re super catchy, super funny, and it’s a damn shame the aforementioned Bin Laden song hasn’t gotten traction during awards season.

The plethora of celebrity cameos in this movie round out a solid movie that succeeds in what it sets out to do, but doesn’t have the same resonance as other movies with similar goals. But that’s okay, because I see Popstar on my list, and not those other movies. Ha!

7. Sully

A quietly competent film buoyed by another strong performance from Tom Hanks and a steady directorial hand from Clint Eastwood. Sully is the equivalent of a Buick: reliable, subtly confident, and doesn’t take anything off the table any more than it needs to.

While some aviation-based films like Flight relish the gut-wrenching sequences in the air and milk them for all they’re worth, Eastwood and pilot Chesley Sullenberger (he consulted… for obvious reasons) decide to focus on the power of humanity rather than gratuitous special effects and cheap thrills.

It’s a move that pays off, giving us one of the year’s most sneakily satisfying films.

6. Deadpool

The most refreshing superhero experience since Guardians of the Galaxy comes from Ryan Reynolds, who also graciously provided us with one of the worst superhero experiences in 2011’s Green Lantern. Nevertheless, Deadpool is the character Reynolds was born to play and his performance has led to critical acclaim.

The R-rated adventure goes against the grain in a myriad of ways, with one common one being Deadpool breaking the fourth wall (addressing the audience or acknowledging there is an audience to begin with) and saying something snarky.

Really, the only losers here are the furious parents who chose to take their very underage children to see this movie, only to realize there’s literally a sex montage with each act taking place on a different holiday. Also, did I mention this is R-rated?

Sorry parents, it’s your loss. I can only imagine there’ll be a sequel. We can only hope future installments are just as good as this one.

THE PANTHEON

5. Zootopia

No joke, the hardest I laughed in a movie theater this year was during the DMV (Department of Mammal Vehicles) scene in Zootopia with the sloths. Even when I think about it now, it’s maybe one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a movie. On a broader scale, Zootopia is an ambitious animated film that explores important – and timely – themes like stereotypes, discrimination, and determination.

Like most animated movies, it tries to serve both the kids and the adults in the audience, and in both cases it really delivers. The animation is excellent, the voice acting is engaging, and the characters are both fun and relatable. Most of the humor is easy to understand for kids, but there’s also a lot of more subtle opportunities to make jokes older audience members would appreciate.

It’s a genuinely fun movie to watch, no matter how old you are.

4. Hell or High Water

Chris Pine and Ben Foster deliver the best acting of their careers with a helping hand from a rumbling Jeff Bridges and a bemused Gil Birmingham in this modern Western heist drama. There’s a rough beauty to how the complex story is shown in such a well-crafted and efficient way, thanks to a phenomenal screenplay by Taylor Sheridan.

The storyline is tight and brisk and the cinematography is simply sublime. The pacing is balanced, allowing us to lean forward in tense anticipation during the heist scenes while also allowing us to fully appreciate the scenes where Bridges and Birmingham get to exchange some of the best banter of the year.

I suspect this movie slipped under a lot of people’s radars. That’s a shame, because despite its seemingly ho-hum marketing campaign (I remember thinking I wasn’t interested when I watched the trailers), it’s actually one of the best films of the year.

3. Sing Street

This feel-good, coming-of-age tale takes place in the delightful year of 1985 in Dublin, Ireland. We follow a boy named Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) who transitions from private to public school. It’s rough at first before he sees a girl off in the distance. Lo and behold, he’s completely smitten and now he must somehow win her over. But how…?

I know, start a band!

Inspired by the likes of Duran Duran, The Clash, and other great bands of that time, Conor and his friends end up creating a band with undeniable potential. With a lovable cast and a story you immediately want to see end happily, Sing Street is a charming little flick with a big heart.

2. Arrival

Director Denis Villeneuve continues his strong run as one of the premiere directors of our time in a comprehensive piece of cinema that uses an alien “invasion” to lead the audience to places nobody could have seen coming. This is a movie that addresses a lot of deep and profound questions, juxtaposing the concept of extraterrestrial life with humanity’s existential ponderings.

The complex storyline is almost singlehandedly carried by my future bae, Amy Adams, as well as a throbbing, tense atmosphere and one of the best original scores of the year from composer Jóhann Jóhannsson. All those factors elevate the film’s twist from simply provocative to a complete emotional and mental experience.

Arrival is a can’t-miss film. So don’t miss it, jeez.

1. La La Land

It’s the only movie I saw in theaters twice this year and the second time was such a struggle because of how emotional everything is. After you’ve seen the infamous gut-wrenching ending sequence the first time, you can’t stop your heart from breaking into a million shimmering pieces as you watch everything all over again.

La La Land is the very definition of a memorable movie, filled with vibrant colors, glowing dreams, and the harsh slap of reality that says success can come at a hefty, hefty price. As an added plus, it’s a legitimately catchy original musical and I’ve heard lots of people say they’ve been listening to the soundtrack on repeat and letting themselves get caught up in the ensuing emotional rollercoaster.

Hell, it inspired me to take up the piano again so I can come closer to becoming a Korean Ryan Gosling (and finding my Emma Stone, um, without the [spoiler]).

Here’s to the fools who dream. Congratulations La La Land, you’re my Movie of the Year.

THE LEFTOVERS

Bad Santa 2

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Bleed for This

Captain America: Civil War

Central Intelligence

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny

Deepwater Horizon

Doctor Strange

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

Jason Bourne

Mechanic: Resurrection

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Ride Along 2

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Sausage Party

Suicide Squad

The Boss

The Brothers Grimsby

The Conjuring 2

The Do-Over

The Infiltrator

The Magnificent Seven

The Neon Demon

X-Men: Apocalypse

2015 Movie Power Rankings

A power ranking of my ten favorite films of the year and a list of all the other movies I saw for you to gawk at.

BS:JAG’s annual movie power rankings are still in their infancy years – this is only Year Two after all – but one day they will probably rival the Oscars and the Cannes Film Festival in prestige. Of course last year I was too generous with my rankings, giving nearly fifty percent of the films I watched a place in either the Pantheon or the Honorable Mention category.

That’s a format that’s not selective enough to imply any type of actual competition. Therefore, only ten films will be given actual rankings, while the rest are simply listed at the end (as usual).

Remember: release dates are based on IMDb and any movie title that is also a link sends you to my review of that very same movie.

HONORABLE MENTION

10. Kung Fury

This short film was funded entirely on Kickstarter and parodies the often over-the-top action films of the eighties as well as anything I’ve ever seen. The references are appropriately crazy while maintaining focused precision on channeling the eighties’ cheesiest pop culture trends and the short viewing time almost guarantees an enjoyable experience without overstaying its welcome.

I would place it higher, but like I said, thirty minutes is a solid amount of time to entertain our increasingly twitchy generation so I couldn’t place it above feature films that regularly go for three times the length of Kung Fury.

Still, it’s the best film of the year… to show how heinous Hitler would be if he knew kung fu and had the ability to travel through time.

9. The Revenant

I was gonna publish this way earlier, like late December type of early, but held off because I was waiting to see this with my dad. Turns out it was pretty much what I expected: a beautiful, raw film that falls short of true greatness because of its own heavy pretentiousness.

Still, watching Leo was an inspiring experience, and Tom Hardy once again showed why he is one of Hollywood’s greatest and underrated actors right now.

The cinematography was breathtaking and the score was simultaneously haunting, throbbing, and grandiose. Plus, this Chicago winter is really starting to hit us hard here and The Revenant has been a nice reminder things could always be worse. Dang bears…

Unfortunately, I can’t place it any higher on the list because so much of the movie was just patting itself on the back with all the tracking shots of nature and Leo crawling on the ground.

8. Mad Max: Fury Road

People have been saying this might be the best action film in decades. I wouldn’t go that far but it was certainly one hell of a fucking ride to experience. Even though I had to take a piss for the entire second half of the movie, I couldn’t bring myself to get up and leave because I was afraid I would miss something spectacular.

Tom Hardy was awesome, but Charlize Theron was something else. She’s always been pretty good at being a badass but this was really taking it to the next level. Somehow I love her even more now. Like, not even a crush, or lust, but an appreciation for what she’s doing in her profession.

Hell of a film, and the funny thing is people were saying in the beginning it’s a reboot nobody asked for. Well look where we are now. Nice.

7. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

At the end of the day, you have to admit one thing: we can talk about the artistic merits of filmmaking and what it means to work in that medium, but what all of us want at the core is a movie that is entertaining and fun.

And sure, there are a lot of worthy criticisms to bring up, like how much of it copies from earlier Star Wars films or how Kylo Ren was not as badass as we expected (still very complex as a character), but it has to be noted that the two biggest weaknesses of the prequel trilogy – acting and the script/dialogue – were vastly improved here.

While I’m not a big Star Wars fan by any means, even I started to tear up during the opening scroll and every time an old character came back into the picture, whether it was Han Solo or even C-3P0, my heart skipped a beat. I’m excited for the next movie.

6. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

I’m kind of a sucker for indie films and this one happened to combine a lot of elements I personally find very attractive in life in general. And sure, it’s kind of a film about teenage angst, but it was also about friendship, suffering, growing up, and love.

That’s not saying much, I guess, but it’s a glowing film filled with earnest performances and I’m pleased it’s on a list filled with a lot of bombastic characters ranging from Oscar Isaac in Ex Machina to even a lot of the more quirky guys in The Big Short.

The soundtrack is appropriately indie and conveys emotion well while “Me” and “Earl” have a continued theme of making parodies of classic films that had the movie connoisseur in me giggling with glee.

THE PANTHEON

5. Ex Machina

Few films have addressed the intriguing topic of sentient artificial intelligence with such style and grace as Ex Machina, which features delicious production design and a tight script on an equally tight budget.

One of my favorite actors, Oscar Isaac, continues to show why he is a bona fide star, while Domhnall Gleeson continues to show up in incredible films and TV shows (seriously, check out this guy’s IMDb page). Alicia Vikander does a great job as the A.I., and certainly kept me on my toes as I tried to figure out what exactly each character’s central motive truly was.

It’s a thriller that ends up being pretty frightening near the end and overall this is definitely the type of movie someone could actually say is seductive without being all cliché.

4. Beasts of No Nation

Netflix clearly means business as they continue to expand beyond just the simple streaming service they once were. First they introduced hit shows like House of Cards (an adaptation from the UK series, but still) and Peaky Binders and now they’re kicking butt with their movies.

Beasts of No Nation is headlined by director Cary Joji Fukunaga of True Detective fame while Idris Elba portrays a guerilla commander and both do a wonderful job. But the most important performance is from teen actor Abraham Attah, who is incredible to watch as he transitions from carefree young boy to ruthless child soldier who has done and seen unspeakable things.

Even with the sublime cinematography, it’s a hard film to watch because of the harsh subject matter. However, it is a necessary one. Most importantly, the plot focuses on the internal struggles of an unnamed African nation and removes any overt implications of Western influence, which is something even an exceptional film like Hotel Rwanda didn’t do.

3. Inside Out

Pixar really struck gold with this one and it certainly tackles the most complicated subject matter I can remember from an animated film (that I’ve seen).

The voice acting was sublime, the concept was wholly unique, and the interpretation of how the mind works was really refreshing to see from an adult’s perspective and hopefully from a kid’s as well.

Just a monumental effort by a studio that had been mired in sequels for a few years.

2. Sicario

From top to bottom, I think this was genuinely one of the best films of the year and I’m surprised it didn’t receive any nominations in the major categories for the Academy Awards. It should have been a lock for Best Picture, Best Director and either Emily Blunt or definitely Benicio del Toro should have been nominated too.

It’s a damn shame and I guess it really means 2015 was an unusually solid year for good films. On the other hand, why the fuck was Mad Max nominated for Best Picture?

My head is spinning.

1. The Big Short

The Pantheon’s leader is my choice for best film of the year, but it’s also perhaps the most important as well. We like to think history is cyclical, in that it often repeats itself. That is certainly true in the financial world, which is often dictated by the ebbing and flowing of society and its various moods.

The financial crisis of the late 2000s was exactly what it sounds like – a crisis. And while much of the world was impacted, most people still don’t know the substance behind the story. That’s where The Big Short comes in, explaining the housing bubble crisis through a variety of perspectives.

Humor is used extensively, whether it’s through the breaking of the fourth wall or more traditional means. It’s one of those rare moments where the humor doesn’t make light of what happened, but instead keeps the audience engaged and awake to actually follow the movie’s path.

Of course, following the path is relatively easy to begin with, as the complex subject material is deftly handled by director Adam McKay to ensure the most absorption by even younger generations. And it was clear the humor was appreciated in at least the crowd I was part of, as the primarily white and older audience members alternated between knowing groans and appreciative chuckles.

This is the type of movie open-minded high schools will show their students. They’ll just need to get those parental release forms signed first. Totally worth it.

THE OUTSIDERS

Ant-Man

Assassination

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Black Mass

Daddy’s Home

Dope

Entourage

Furious 7

In the Heart of the Sea

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

No Escape

Northern Limit Line

Point Break

Spectre

Straight Outta Compton

Tangerine

The Gallows

The Gunman

The Hateful Eight

The Last Witch Hunter

The Night Before

The Overnight

The Ridiculous 6

The Visit

Trainwreck

Wolf Warrior

Diamonds in the Rough: Ten Movies You Should See Right Now (Part 1)

Ten hidden gems in the vast world of movies that you should see before something tragic happens to you. Hey, I’m just saying.

Read the intro from the TV edition, then come back here. Are you back? Okay, good. This is Part 1 because there’s a lot of text and shoving it all into one post would be excessive. So here’s five movies now. You can have the rest later!

Bronson (2008)

For many people, Nicolas Winding Refn is a pretentious director who tries too hard to make artsy films with “meh” results. One of his most mainstream films, 2011’s Drive, featured one of the best openings and title sequences in recent memory before devolving into a Ryan Gosling/Carey Mulligan music video for College’s “A Real Hero.”

Most of his other films, like Only God Forgives and Valhalla Rising, are beautiful in the most boring and painful ways. Sure, symbolism in art is important, but does it have to be such a grind?

Aside from Drive and his Lincoln commercials with Matthew McConaughey, Bronson is probably his best project (sorry, haven’t seen his Pusher trilogy yet) and if not that, it IS definitely one of the easiest to get through.

With a smashing, growling performance from Tom Hardy that undoubtedly played a role in his casting as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises and a wicked soundtrack, this film based on Charles Bronson the prisoner (not the Death Wish actor) is artistic madness and disturbing in all the right ways.

Hustle & Flow (2005)

Someone once said, “Three 6 Mafia won an Oscar before Martin Scorsese” and that quip has become something of a favorite for people who like to look at the Academy Awards with heavy skepticism. Like me.

If you think about it though, it’s kind of a stupid statement because the success of “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” – a legitimately catchy song – doesn’t correlate at all with the failures of the Academy voters in getting Marty a statue before his consolation prize in 2006 for The Departed.

Still, it’s a funny saying, and I just want people to make sure I personally don’t take anything away from Three 6 Mafia’s great work in Hustle & Flow.

Aside from the soundtrack, the acting of Terrence Howard has to be noted. Although he didn’t win an Oscar for his work, he was nominated, and his initial fears of being typecast in future work were dissolved when he realized the full complexity of his character, DJay.

There have been some quibbles as to whether the movie divulges in too many black stereotypes, and I think all that noise is mostly unfounded. But going further into that would be playing with fire, so for the love of God, watch Hustle & Flow and just appreciate the goddamn chemistry and energy during the makeshift recording sequences – that’s where the magic happens.

It’s one of the best movies to come out of MTV Films, along with classics like Napoleon Dynamite and Justin Bieber: Never Say Never.

Kiss of the Dragon (2001)

In his prime, Jet Li was probably the most impressive martial artist/actor in a post-Bruce Lee world. And sure, guys like Jackie Chan were certainly no slouches themselves, but if you were looking for someone to inflict the most damage with the least amount of props and very little comedic relief, Jet Li (and you can certainly make a case for Donnie Yen) was the man to see for years and years.

Americans probably recognize Li from Lethal Weapon 4 and Hero, while younger audience members probably associate him with The Expendables franchise, but one of his best Hollywood films came out in 2001 and featured action choreography that was much grittier and more “realistic” than the usual Jet Li film.

It’s the type of movie with fight scenes that were acted out so aggressively, the director had to slow them down so the audience could actually see what was going on. Highlights include a fight against a bunch of jerks in a dojo, some badass twins who almost get the best of Li, and a generally cool European vibe that sets this film apart from the rest of Jet Li’s work.

Really, the only knock against Kiss of the Dragon is that Li basically beats up a bunch of French dudes… not exactly something to brag about. All joking aside, this is a great action film to watch, and I want to emphasize the action part. To be completely honest, this is something you could probably give the YouTube treatment – watch the best parts on YouTube, I mean.

But still, it’s a hidden gem I tell you.

The Thin Red Line (1998)

No list desperately begging people to see specific movies would be complete without a Terrence Malick film. While he’s not anywhere close to being the hipster Nicolas Winding Refn is, it’s undeniable that both express their focused fascination on the big picture in some, um, interesting ways. Take 2011’s The Tree of Life for example, a film so divisive it nearly sparked a world war (just kidding).

I would have put that movie on the list because it’s one of the most beautiful films I’ve ever seen, with exceptional cinematography. It’s also confusing as all hell, which is why The Thin Red Line gets the obligated Malick slot – the movies I pick have to be at least a little watchable, right?

It was released in 1998, the same year as another noteworthy WWII film. While the Tom Hanks vehicle was lauded for its realistic battle scenes and emotional appeal via patriotism, Malick went a different route (literally: the Pacific versus the Atlantic) and, like I said, focused on bigger questions than “What does it look like when a soldier miscalculates a fuse and gets blown to bits?”

The Pacific also provided Malick with a lot of natural, vibrant colors that end up in a gorgeous relationship with the cinematography and production design. Hans Zimmer – in a world before he became a close collaborator with Christopher Nolan – provides distinct music that you’d be wise to experience, especially if you only know Zimmer from his post-2005 work.

Since it’s a Malick film, there are the usual tangents and digressions that can be distracting. The massive ensemble cast is also something that can be a little annoying at times – many big names show up for about two minutes before disappearing forever.

Having said that, the distractions are completely worth it and depending on what you prioritize, an argument could be made that The Thin Red Line is better than Saving Private Ryan. I personally don’t believe it, but you won’t get laughed out of the building if you’re talking to people who are serious about movies.

Under the Skin (2013)

This polarizing film directed by Jonathan Glazer is easily one of the most unsettling things you will see and I’m still not sure whether it’s a blessing or a curse that Scarlett Johansson was cast in the leading role of an alien who is under the skin, so to speak, of a female human body.

The alien prowls the gloomy streets of Scotland for men and seduces them back to a decrepit wooden apartment. The apartment holds a black void where the men are enveloped in an amniotic fluid. As they helplessly drift, their internal organs are violently sucked out, leaving just the skin to aimlessly float about.

It’s disturbing, to be sure, but Under the Skin is more than just a superficial horror flick. As the alien continues to masquerade as a human being, it starts to explore what it means to be human. Through its eyes, we observe love and death and even a slice of chocolate cake.

While the film moves slowly, it’s truly the definitive example of cinematic art – the soundtrack (composed by Mica Levi) alone is worth many accolades, especially this track and this one too.

Not-so-quick note: Scarlett Johansson’s role here is more noteworthy than you think and her casting extends beyond just getting a star to help raise funds to actually make the movie happen. You see, 2013 was something of a landmark year for her.

She starred in three different movies that all used her beauty in a different way. In Don Jon, her beauty was used superficially – basically she was playing a New Jersey babe who was so hot, she could rub her ass on Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s crotch and make him, um, stain his pants. In Her, director Spike Jonze chose to neglect her physical body completely and have her voice an operating system that verbally bangs Joaquin Phoenix’s character.

Then we have Under the Skin, which asserts Johansson is so freaking beautiful, she really is basically an alien who can pick up any guy she wants under any circumstances, even on a shitty day in Scotland. And they’re all right, to a certain extent.

Of those three films, this is – by far – the most provocative and if you watch it, I think it will be pretty clear why. But again, I have to warn you: this is a slow film with little dialogue.

If you can’t get into it, there’s no shame in that. But if you can, even better!

2014 Movie Power Rankings

A comprehensive power ranking of all the movies I saw that came out in 2014.

When I was getting ready to rank all the films I watched this year, I checked my IMDb history to see exactly how many I was dealing with it. To my surprise, I counted 32 of them. 32! And the crazy thing is that I missed a ton of really great movies like Boyhood, Foxcatcher, The Imitation Game, and even The Babadook.

Funny how that worked out.

Instead of ranking every movie, I’ll rank my top ten and I also have some honorable mention movies as well. Before we get started, I should mention that the dates are a little wonky for some of the movies I saw.

Locke, for example, was released in January 2014, but was playing in film festivals in 2013… so I guess it’s a 2013 film? Even though it’s still being nominated for awards? Whatever. Fuck it. For efficiency’s sake, I will trust IMDb’s judgment and only list movies that they say came out in 2014.

Let’s get started (a movie title that is also a link indicates I wrote a review for it and therefore linked it).

 

THE PANTHEON

The bottom five was tougher than the top five. Also, Top Five is not in the Pantheon.

 

10. Nightcrawler

If you’re looking for a prime example of something that is somehow both great and borderline despicable at the same time, Nightcrawler is the cool Los Angeles light glowing at the end of the tunnel.

The highs were worthy of the Pantheon: Jake Gyllenhaal once again embracing his inner crazy, the phenomenal cinematography that was reminiscent of Collateral and Drive, and an intriguing premise.

On the other hand, the lows almost disqualified Nightcrawler from induction: none of the characters were likeable (which isn’t a requirement for a good movie, but still), the soundtrack was overly intrusive, and I personally did not enjoy the ending.

Really, I think this is a movie that gets its weaknesses exposed through the utter power of its strengths. Also, the things I didn’t like don’t necessarily make it a bad movie. I just don’t know if I ever want to see it again because of how slimy it was.

 

9. Force Majeure

What would you do if your family was suddenly facing imminent danger? Would you protect your family at all costs? Or, would you run? In the end, nobody can know for sure until they experience that moment.

Force Majeure, a Swedish film, explores the aftermath of such a scenario for one family on vacation. A controlled avalanche briefly looks like it’s out of control, prompting a dad of two kids to panic and flee the scene – after finding time to grab his phone and gloves.

To make matters worse, the mom stays behind and shields their son and daughter, only to find that the danger was just an illusion.

It’s a beautiful film, with the family’s dynamics completely shattered after the traumatic experience. A more elementary approach might just focus on dad dropping the ball, but Force Majeure is adept at also taking a look at the mom and her troubling realization that her own survival is apparently now secondary to the survival of her kids.

The film is also subtle, with a lot of the communication done through nonverbal methods (you know, body language). Aesthetically, that subtlety comes through from the location of the movie (rustic yet modern ski lodge) as well as the numerous tracking shots of the slopes and skiers lethargically doing figure eights in the snow.

Surprisingly, there was a fair amount of humor, with some of the sadder scenes being balanced enough to refrain from becoming too melodramatic.

It’s a great flick; maybe it will win the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.

 

8. John Wick

Even though I don’t exactly have a bountiful basket of prestigious films to pick from, this is bound to strike some of you as an unexpected landing place for Keanu Reeves and his gunplay. But John Wick was an absolute thrill to experience.

The movie knew exactly what it was, never strayed from that, and hit the mark on so many levels. Willem Dafoe and Adrianne Palicki were great in their supporting roles, with Palicki continuing to show she can, at the very least, pretend to be an absolute badass in movies.

I haven’t seen The Raid 2, but I assume that and John Wick are the best action films of the year (that don’t involve superheroes). And if both Raid movies are considered to be the definitive hand-to-hand combat flicks, then John Wick has to considered a definitive example of… gun-to-everything combat.

Hurry up and watch it before Keanu Reeves comes out of nowhere and punches you in the throat – with a bullet.

 

7. Guardians of the Galaxy

Speaking of superheroes, say hello to one of quirkiest groups in the galaxy. And they guard it too! During a time when gritty movies are threatening to overrun our lives, it was more than just refreshing to finally see a blockbuster movie go the other way and say, “Groot.”

Chris Pratt is a national treasure and that soundtrack was just phenomenal. Literally 100% of moviegoers were surprised by the opening credits for Guardians of the Galaxy.

Go ahead and dance, Chris Pratt. You earned it.

 

6. The LEGO Movie

One of the great accomplishments that The LEGO Movie achieved was successfully converting toys into a quality film. It’s something Transformers, G.I. Joe, and freaking Battleship can’t admit. The voice acting was fantastic, led by people like Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Morgan Freeman, Will Arnett, Will Ferrell, and Liam Neeson.

The visual effects were also noteworthy, making the LEGO pieces look like they were stop-motion, when they were actually completely computer animated.

If there’s an underrated aspect of The LEGO Movie, it’s the emotional appeal. Although I didn’t cry at the end, it was definitely one of those endings that’s so awesome and happy (with one of those moments where the bad guy goes to the good side), you can’t help but get blurry vision for a second.

By the way, it’s not a coincidence that The Grand Budapest Hotel is next.

 

5. The Grand Budapest Hotel

Wes Anderson was at his peak in The Grand Budapest Hotel, with another quailty ensemble cast showing off their collective acting prowess. Ralph Fiennes, in particular, was amusing, active, and witty as Monsieur Gustave H., the hotel’s concierge.

Smaller players like the menacing Willem Dafoe and the legendary Jeff, uh, Goldbum were also highlights in my opinion.

Anderson’s films are always fun to watch because of their unique production design and general style. The Grand Budapest Hotel was no exception, although this was a much more mature project than his usual fare. Instead of bemoaning the transition from childhood to adulthood, or lamenting the inevitable aging process, Anderson addressed all that through murderous conspiracies and blitzkriegs.

Some people are worried where he’ll go next because the movie was so good. Has he peaked? Is there a higher level he can reach with his trademark moviemaking?

Me? I’m not worried.

 

4. Edge of Tomorrow

If you’ve seen Edge of Tomorrow, this should not surprise you. It’s one of the better action movies of the past decade thanks to its strong cast (Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt), humor, visuals, and adept handling of time travel.

An appropriate analogy would be Groundhog Day + any Tom Cruise action movie = Edge of Tomorrow.

I’m not sure what was more unexpected: how funny this movie was, or Tom Cruise fully embracing a role in which his character actually starts off as a total coward and ends up saving the world, of course, as an absolute whirl of an almost literal killing machine (battle suits for the win).

Even better, Cruise eventually gets to be the smartass he is, as he has to relive the same day over and over again after each time he dies. He reveals information he shouldn’t know (classic!) and generally confuses the hell out of everybody.

But just like Bill Murray, he gets tired of the shit. The only difference is that Cruise has to save the world. Bill just has to not be a prick.

Also, Emily Blunt was a badass in this flick. I hear she trained in Krav Maga for this role. Whoa! She also had one of the best lines of 2014, when she realizes Cruise can repeat the same day over and over (which she had the ability to do, until she lost it… just watch the fucking movie), when she says, “Find me when you wake up.”

 

3. Whiplash

Who would have thought one of the most thrilling movies of the year would be about a music kid and his teacher? Of course, that’s a massive understatement, with the “music kid” (Miles Teller) being completely and obsessively dedicated to perfecting his craft as a jazz drummer, while the “teacher” (J.K. Simmons) is a psychopath that genuinely believes his abusive behavior brings out the best in his slaves – I mean students.

Real blood was shed in this film from Miles Teller, and there’s a particularly powerful moment when he submerges his bloody hand in a pitcher full of ice water.

I like to think it’s a nod to how the audience is feeling throughout the whole movie: hot, maybe agitated, symbolically bloodied, and looking for something cool to calm us down. It’s that kind of flick. There’s barely any actual action, in the John Wick-esque sense, but you better believe Whiplash is the title for a reason.

If J.K. Simmons doesn’t win an Oscar, I’m gonna throw a chair at a muthafucka.

 

2. Interstellar

I’ve though about Interstellar more than any other film this year. It’s similar to what happened after I saw The Tree of Life and The Thin Red Line, both directed by Terrence Malick. All three films (Interstellar was directed by Christopher Nolan) are vast, exploring large themes within the context of specific scenarios.

But you’ve probably heard a lot about Interstellar already. Just know if you haven’t seen it yet, it’s time. Not just for the spectacular visual effects (Hoyte Van Hoytema), the amazing score (Hans Zimmer), or just the damn scope of the thing, but because it will make you feel.

The emotional appeal in this film was absolutely phenomenal, and I know for a fact that lots of people were bawling through the movie.

It’s not #1 on my list right now, thanks to some shitty dialogue (Anne Hathaway tried…), but I feel like people will look back in twenty years and remember Interstellar more than any other film from 2014.

 

1. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

I would argue Interstellar took more computer wizardry to create, but Birdman was more daunting because of its format as basically an entire movie that is one long take. While some parts were clearly manipulated to only appear as a continuation of the same shot, it was just as clear that the actors and actresses involved, as well as everybody else on the crew, had to go through some unusually arduous times to get this movie right.

Director Alejandro González Iñárritu will probably win the Oscar for Best Director. His work for this film was remarkable, continuing his climb in the directorial power rankings. Ditto for Emmanuel Lubezki, whose cinematographic and photographic work in Birdman will also most likely be rewarded with copious amounts of trophies and trinkets.

I hope Michael Keaton wins an Oscar for Best Actor. His return to the spotlight was welcoming for me, who has forgotten those Batman movies and only caught glimpses of his brilliance in supporting roles in movies like The Other Guys.

Everything about Birdman was awesome, although the ending was a little polarizing (if taken on a superficial level). Emma Stone was also a little grating, but not as bad as Anne Hathaway’s monologue in Interstellar.

Right now, Birdman is #1 for its overall strength from top to bottom. Yet, I can’t help but feel that maybe Interstellar was better on some kind of transcendent level. Ugh.

 

HONORABLE MENTION

Movies that fell right in the middle. I limited this category to five movies; some movies in the final category are definitely good candidates for placement here.

 

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

If home is where the heart is, then Captain America’s heart is 100% in the US of A. Too bad it gets broken when rogue SHIELD operatives and some other bastards screw him over in The Winter Soldier. It was a great superhero movie that focused on real world problems, like the shadowy nature of the government and general black ops shenanigans.

Welcome to the 21st century, Cap.

 

Frank

This was an excellent movie… for the first half or so. The premise itself is intriguing: an aspiring musician (Domhnall Gleeson) winds up joining an eccentric band led by a mysterious musical “genius” (Michael Fassbender) who constantly wears a gigantic mask over his head. Cool, right?

Well, the last third was such a downer (including the mask coming off), that Frank fell right out of my Pantheon. It’s worth checking out though, just because the first half is so amusing.

 

The Drop

Although the story was fine, the real highlight of The Drop was the excellent acting. Tom Hardy and James Gandolfini (last film appearance before his death) led the way, with solid performances by Noomi Rapace and Matthias Schoenaerts.

Hardy is secretly one of the best actors out there, with a resume that includes Bronson, Inception, Warrior, and Locke. He was also Bane, and I thought he was fine, but that voice was really something else.

It’s funny though, because Hardy actually has a really great voice in real life – one of those voices qualified for radio and TV work. Regardless of what accent he’s talking in (Brooklyn in this case), his films are worth watching just for the work his voice puts in.

 

The Skeleton Twins

It’s one of those indie films that explores some deep issues but somehow makes you feel all hopeful and bubbly at the same time (that soundtrack though!). I really enjoyed it, although the movie did seem a little circular at times with its conflict-solution-conflict-solution cycle.

The chemistry between Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig, who portray siblings facing serious angst after coincidentally attempting suicide at the same time, was amazing and got some hilarious moments/montages going. I guess that SNL experience counts for something. Luke Wilson was great too as Wiig’s likeable and loving husband.

Um, by the way, I love you Kristen Wiig.

 

Top Five

Real talk: I saw the trailer for Top Five and immediately thought it was destined to be yet another average comedy that mostly misses the mark.

How wrong I was.

I ended up seeing it thanks to my buddy Kevin’s insistence, and found myself watching an intelligent and thoughtful comedy. Chris Rock, as star, director, and writer of Top Five, was very funny when necessary, but mostly relegated the task of being funny to his great supporting cast.

Everybody showed up, from JB Smoove to Jerry freaking Seinfeld. The supporting cast, overall, probably had the best scenes. Even that annoying Tracy Morgan who ALWAYS SHOUTS EVERYTHING HE HAS TO SAY!!!!!!

 

NO LIST FOR YOU! WAIT A SECOND…

These movies might have been entertaining (or not), but ultimately didn’t make the cut.

 

22 Jump Street

300: Rise of an Empire

A Million Ways to Die in the West

Annabelle

As Above, So Below

Godzilla (this review was my little blog’s debut piece)

Lucy

Neighbors

Non-Stop

Robocop

Sabotage

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

The Admiral: Roaring Currents

The Equalizer

The Expendables 3

Transformers: Age of Extinction

X-Men: Days of Future Past

 

The Art of the Pop Culture Trailer

Looking at the appeal of trailers and the common occurrence when trailers are better than the finished products. (Also this post is an excuse to watch a bunch of cool stuff!)

The Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3 as it’s affectionately known, ended on June 12th. During the four days it was in session, a lot of cool video game trailers were shown as usual.

I’m not a video game connoisseur (although I’m pretty good at playing them), so my interest in E3 mostly resides in the trailers. One of my favorites is still from 2011’s E3.

 

I’ve never played an Assassin’s Creed game, but that franchise is known for having some of the best video game trailers in the business. This year, for example, the franchise featured yet another cinematic beauty.

 

Of course, if you know anything about video games, you’ll know trailers are not very accurate in terms of what to expect in terms of both in-game graphics and gameplay. Assassin’s Creed does a great job of replicating some action sequences from their trailers, but even then it’s not as sweepingly epic.

Consumers have become so annoyed by the discrepancies between the crisp trailers and the actual games that nowadays, many video game trailers will make sure to point out whether the footage being shown utilizes in-game graphics and/or actual gameplay.

Fortunately, technology is a boss which means trailers and graphics are coming closer and closer together. For example, this NBA 2K14 trailer from October blew people’s minds because it showed in-game graphics and they were phenomenal.

 

At E3, people were buzzing about the new Star Wars: Battlefront because, for one, the best Star Wars video game franchise is coming back. Two, the graphics are amazing, even though they are still in the early stages of rendering.

 

Video game trailers are tricky by nature. Because presentation is so important, and because everybody is doing the same thing, video game trailers tend to be inherently unrealistic. They skew towards the cinematic, which is no longer an issue because everybody knows the deal by now.

People have come to accept that games will usually be less impressive than their trailers because the trailers try to be like movie and TV show trailers.

And in the end, it really doesn’t make that much of a difference. People will still buy games and play games based on cool trailers while knowing the cinematics are not representative of the actual in-game experience.

That relationship becomes trickier in the world of movies and TV shows, where the trailers utilize clips from the actual productions and have to persuade the viewers to invest; it’s advertising, marketing, and a job interview rolled into one.

Nowadays there are awards for just about everything. In the Hollywood industry, there are the usuals for acting and directing. There are also awards for posters and yes, trailers as well.

As movies and TV shows have advanced, so have their trailers. I remember back in the day when every trailer was just a set of scenes, the names of the actors, and vaguely appropriate music in the background.

While those basic foundations are still present in the trailers of today, the times they are a-changin’.

That was a reference to this? Bob Dylan? Anyone?

It seems like trailers are becoming their own art forms, which makes a lot of sense. They are like short films, although some movies may take a little too much liberty with that.

I mentioned music right above the picture of Dr. Manhattan mercifully covering his dong.

From my amateur analysis, I think music might play the biggest role in how trailers are perceived by us common folks. In the present, the sound of trailers is being utilized like never before.

Back in 2011, when Drive came out, I was listening to the radio when I heard an advertisement for it. The ad was just the audio from the theatrical trailer, but it had me hooked because of the unique combination of music, and um, violence. In fact, I was so excited, I took my parents along to see it and it became my favorite movie until I saw Her.

Anyway, check out the trailer for Drive.

You got goosebumps, right? Yeah you totally did!

While the trailer inadvertently gives away the entire movie, it was still excellent. Of course, it helps that the movie itself was pretty damn good – at least for professional critics (and me).

Moving on!

Watchmen had two trailers that actually used the visual and the audio really well (it’s all about that sloooow mootiioon).

The first one here uses “The Beginning is the End is the Beginning” by The Smashing Pumpkins.

The second one uses “Pruit Igoe & Prophecies” by the Philip Glass Ensemble and “Take a Bow” by Muse.

Director Zack Snyder must make some movies perfect for trailers because 300 won a Golden Trailer Award back in 2007.

So what is it about a good trailer that makes it, well, so good? What’s the appeal here?

I think the phenomenon is not limited to just trailers. As human beings, we’re attracted to glimpses into the unknown. While movies and video games might not be as intense as the coldness of space or the deep depths of the oceans, it’s still fun to speculate and ponder.

That is why sneak peaks are such a big deal, like revealing Batman’s outfit and Batmobile in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice which is scheduled to come out in 2016. The same obviously applies to the new Star Wars movie and basically everything that has to do with pop culture.

Hell, it applies to politics and sports as well. ESPN gets made fun of all the time because they always have “anonymous sources” that tell them where Free Agent X will sign or what coach Team Y is considering.

Of course, as I mentioned earlier, trailers are more than just speculation. They are intertwined with the movies they represent, yet the ones that are really good can be just as good as the movies themselves.

In some cases, the trailers are actually better!

Every movie trailer above was better than the actual movie, maybe with the exception of Drive.

But why wouldn’t trailers be better than the movies, generally speaking? Or why wouldn’t trailers be better than the video games?

They are the ambassadors and they must say/show the right thing.

Most of the time, they accomplish just that.