Sunday, February 22, 2015



Hello, my friends, and welcome to my 10th annual LIVE, moment-by-moment, stream-of-consciousness Oscar commentary! Yes, I’ve now been doing this shit for a full decade. Nowadays, everyone and their Great Aunt Tilly live-blogs and live-tweets every damn thing, but I’ve been doing this since before Twitter was even a glimmer in its daddy’s eye! My first live-blog was on MySpace, for God’s sake -- I’m one of the OGs, baby! Thank you for stopping by and I do hope you will stay a spell (or, even better, ALL NIGHT LONG!).

It’s going to be fun. I have seen every nominated film in every category except for two (Best Documentary contender THE SALT OF THE EARTH and Original Song nominee GLEN CAMPBELL: I’LL BE ME), so my guesses/rants/raves will be highly educated (haha). The biggest story of the night, of course, is the battle between BOYHOOD and BIRDMAN for Best Picture. Linklater’s 12-year opus was the favorite for the longest time, but Inarritu’s rollicking satire has caught fire lately. It could go either way. On a personal level, BOYHOOD was my #1 movie of 2014 so I am very much in its corner -- in fact, it would mark the first time that my #1 movie of the year has won Best Picture since THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF KING in 2004. Eleven years ago! I am priming myself for an epic celebration if that happens... or conflicted disappointment if it doesn’t (conflicted because I actually really like BIRDMAN, too -- it was also in my Top 10 of last year).

Truth be told, I like most of the nominees and I’m not sure we’ll see any real major upsets. Linklater vs. Inarritu for Best Director is another close race that could go either way. All signs point to Eddie Redmayne snagging Best Actor for his fantastic portrayal of Stephen Hawking -- but a Michael Keaton win would be particularly sweet. Julianne Moore is poised to win her long-overdue first Oscar, while J.K. Simmons and Patricia Arquette are veritable locks in the supporting categories. I hope to see the aesthetically-pleasing THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL pick up a few design awards -- but I’ll be ecstatic if it also wins for Original Screenplay and Score. HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2 is the favorite for Animated Feature, but could a little Irish gem called SONG OF THE SEA slay the beast -- or perhaps Disney and BIG HERO 6 will continue to ride the wave of its new Golden Age? Who will win between Martin Luther King, Jr. (“Glory”) and Legos (“Everything is Awesome”) in a Best Original Song battle for the ages? Is IDA necessarily a lock for Foreign Film thanks to its additional Cinematography nod, or can the gleefully deranged WILD TALES make a late surge? Will Steve Carell’s creepy fake nose win out over Dave Batista’s body paint for Best Makeup? Speaking of which, can the GUARDIANS conquer Visual Effects or will the night belong to Caesar and the APES? I’d be very pleased if A SINGLE LIFE, a tiny two-minute time-travel tale won Best Animated Short -- but which Documentary Short, all of which were utterly bleak, will take the gold (I’m rooting for JOANNA)? On the flip side, one thing that would really piss me off and cause the night to take a dark turn is if the vastly-overblown AMERICAN SNIPER rides its wave of box office success and flag-waving to some major wins. Finally, there’s little doubt that Neil Patrick Harris will be an awesome host, but just HOW awesome (or, dare I say it, LEGENDARY) will he be? And how much will we cry during what should be one of the longest & most devastating In Memoriam segments in recent memory (I’m legitimately scared to see it)? And perhaps most importantly, what will Lupita be wearing? So much intrigue!

My LIVE running commentary will begin with Red Carpet Madness at 7 p.m. EST sharp, followed by the 87th Academy Awards at 8:30. I’ll be updating this blog every few minutes with my play-by-play, observations, predictions, reactions, rants and musings. Please do bookmark this page and check back often... or keep your browser right here and click “refresh” constantly & obsessively. See you later! And by the way, please forget that I used the term “OG” before (to think, I haven’t even started drinking yet)....


7:00 – Aaaaaaand we’re off! I’m watching the pre-show on ABC because I don’t have cable and thus am without E! for the first time in forever. I already miss Giuliana Rancic and Kelly Osborne and Ryan Seacrest... just kidding! Then again, I have no idea who the ABC people are, so I can’t even properly make fun of them -- it’s hard to say which experience is preferable.

7:04 – Oh, Michael Strahan is one of the ABC Red Carpet hosts. I know who he is. No idea about the other people but they all seem kind of interchangeable. And the first celebs we see are John Legend and Common. “Glory” is a good song and will probably win gold tonight – but don’t count out THE LEGO MOVIE!

7:05 – Michael Keaton is here and seems a little manic, which reminds me of that one scene in BATMAN -- “You wanna get nuts?? Let’s get nuts!” God, I hope he wins.

7:07 – On Twitter, everyone is raving about Lupita and Zoe Saldana, which means I’m guessing they both appeared on the E! Red Carpet show. Dammit! Come on, ABC, get your shit together!

7:10 – Commercial break. Uhhhh, this live blog is off to a boring start, but it’s not my fault! Damn you, ABC!

7:11 – Oh, here we go. Rosamund Pike is here and she looks mighty nice in red with a healthy shot of leg. GONE GIRL is vastly underrepresented at the Oscars, and Rosamund doesn’t really stand a chance against the awesome (and deserved) might of Julianne Moore. But if there is going to be a shocking upset, I hope it’s her!

7:13 – Eddie Redmayne is very charming and was fantastic in THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING, which, on the surface, is a very Oscar-baity film but manages to transcend that stigma. If he wins Best Actor as expected, I will not be mad. But still rooting hard for Keaton. Also would’ve preferred Redmayne to hit the Red Carpet dressed up as his character from JUPITER ASCENDING.


7:19 – The ABC Red Carpet show is really pissing me off. They are terrible! I just sat through a retrospective of movie costumes, and now the nameless talking heads and talking amongst themselves about God knows what. SHOW ME THE DAMN CELEBRITIES. And now another commercial break?! Are you kidding me?!

7:20 – In happier news, my Indian food has arrived. And I’m just about ready for my second gin & tonic.

7:23 – Felicity Jones is pretty good. And pretty. Not sure her performance in THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING was necessarily Oscar-worthy but now that she is appearing on my TV screen, I have no complaints.

7:25 – Sigh, now ABC is plugging Jimmy Kimmel’s post-Oscar special and it is taking FOREVER. This is ridiculous and unfunny.

7:26 – I’ve never been happier to see Kevin Hart because at least he’s not one of these nameless ABC talking heads. Also, Kevin Hart’s popularity gives hope to funny short guys like me! (Well, short guys, anyway.)

7:31 – FINALLY, ABC shows a brief glimpse of Lupita... and just like that, she’s gone. She looked amazing, though. And speaking of amazing, here’s Julianne Moore! She makes everything better with her mere presence, and this ABC red carpet debacle is no exception. She is destined to win the first Oscar of her career tonight, which is crazy because she should have like 12 of them already.

7:34 – Melanie Griffith thinks it would be strange to watch her daughter Dakota in FIFTY SHADES OF GREY. That’s probably true... but then again, Melanie Griffith is kind of strange nowadays. Dakota was actually very good in that movie and she looks nice on the red carpet, wearing bright red and exactly ZERO shades of grey. (I’ll be here all night!)

7:36 – Marion Cotillard is a perfect specimen and she is on my TV screen. Seriously, she is a goddess. And she’s also one of the finest actresses on the planet. She will not win this year despite an amazing performance in TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT, but in another year, she might have had a good shot.

7:41 – Chris Pratt and Anna Farris! Best couple ever. Chris Pratt is about to become the biggest movie star on the planet and it’s gonna be awesome. “Well, we have a little toddler at home... so we’re not going home,” Anna Farris says. “Yeah, we’re not going home for a week!” Pratt adds. Love them.

7:42 – Benedict Cumberbatch says that it was “a bit squishy on the carpet” with the rain and all, and Cumberbitches everywhere swoon in unison. Still think he would make one hell of a Grand Admiral Thrawn.

7:46 – ABC briefly showed Lupita again and then segued to some segment about a young filmmakers program. Dammit, ABC! This is the Oscars! Aspiring young filmmakers and the future of movies have no business here!

7:49 – Ooh, ooh, I caught a brief glimpse of Cate Blanchett as ABC cut to yet another commercial break. (Sorry for all the bitching, but this is seriously the worst red carpet show ever.) Anyway, Cate looked great, naturally.

7:52 – Reese Witherspoon is here and looks adorable as always. Also, is Reese super-tiny? Or is this interviewer lady a half-giant? Anyway, Reese was fantastic in WILD and I was happy to see her snag a nomination. In another year, she might’ve been my pick! But not this year because Julianne Moore must (and will) win.

7:55 – Jennifer Lopez looks lovely and has arguably the greatest cleavage of all time, but I hope that somebody asks her how she’s enjoying her first-edition Iliad.

7:57 – I just saw Scarlett Johansson looking amazing in green with, I presume, electro-pop girl band hair, and now, finally, an interview with Lupita! Holy shit, what is her dress, entirely made out of pearls? She is a goddess of unrivaled proportions and needs to be worshipped accordingly. Added bonus: she is going to be in STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS!

8:00 – Okay, well, I’m gonna end this portion of the blog on a high note (I mean, there is none higher than a Scarlett-Lupita one-two punch). Also, I need to eat this Indian food and fix myself another G&T. I’ll be back at 8:30 for the big show! Stay tuned -- we’ve only just begun!


8:30 – Aaaaaaand it’s time for the Oscars! Here’s our host, NEIL PATRICK HARRIS! I’m hoping his performance falls somewhere between Awesome and LEGEN – wait for it – and I hope you’re not lactose intolerant because the second half of that word is DARY! “Tonight we honor Hollywood’s best and whitest – I mean brightest!” OOPS!

8:31 – Musical sequence! “No one’s drunk and bitter yet because no one has lost!” We’ll get there soon enough. He’s tracing the history of movies from Marilyn Monroe to Sharon Stone and the tension between Ben & Matt! Hehe. NPH is now making special guest appearances in such classics as THE WIZARD OF OZ and STAR WARS and more… and now here’s Anna Kendrick, also singing about moving pictures! And now Jack Black from the crowd, singing a version of the Witch’s bean song from INTO THE WOODS and now he’s rocking out TENACIOUS D-style!

8:35 – NPH stops Jack Black before things get out hand. He and Anna continue singing and the curtain rises and something crazy is going on behind them. I see Stormtroopers and brides and knights and not sure what else? This is both the greatest and wackiest Oscars opening number in a while and it’s awesome! “That whole thing, completely improvised,” he quips.

8:37 – Hmm, NPH continues with kind of a lame Oprah joke. Distant second to David Letterman’s Oprah/Uma joke once upon a time. And, hey, it’s time for an award already!

8:38 – The exquisite Lupita Nyong’o comes out to present the first award of the night for Best Supporting Actor. Aw, man, first Robin Williams mention of the night (tear). Not much excitement in this category because it’s all about JK Simmons. Robert Duvall was good, as he always is, in THE JUDGE, but the movie was really, really bad. Richard Linklater brings out the best in Ethan Hawke and BOYHOOD was no exception – plus he’s just cool. Edward Norton gave one of his best performances ever in BIRDMAN, as did Mark Ruffalo in the otherwise meh FOXCATCHER. But JK Simmons was an absolutely powerhouse presence in WHIPLASH and will not lose. “And the Actor goes to, er, the Oscar goes to...” aw, Lupita, adorable even when she botches her line... JK SIMMONS! And a standing ovation already! Fantastic and well-deserved. This is a guy who has been really good for a long time. Now get him back into the Spider-Man / Marvel universe as J. Jonah Jameson!

8:44 – “He won an Oscar, bum ba dum bum bum bum bum!” NPH quips along to the Farmers Insurance jingle. Hehe. And now a bit about NPH’s Oscar predictions that are locked in a briefcase on stage. Octavia Spencer is recruited to keep her eye on the case all night long! No snacks! Okay, this might get funny as the night goes on?

8:46 – Liam Neeson strides out to the theme of SCHINDLER’S LIST to introduce some of the Best Picture nominees. First, THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL, my #2 movie of last year and an all-around joyous, exhilarating movie-watching experience. It has a slew of noms tonight and I would not mind if it won most of them. And on the other side of the coin, vastly overrated AMERICAN SNIPER. God forbid it wins anything major.

8:48 – Dakota Johnson of FIFTY SHADES OF GREY takes the stage (wearing clothes, booo), and it looks like she is introducing Maroon 5 to perform “Lost Stars,” the nominated Original Song from BEGIN AGAIN. I liked that movie because it was written & directed by John Carney of ONCE fame. But this is not the song I would’ve chosen to nominate. Why not the song that Keira Knightley sings that entrances Mark Ruffalo and sets the stage for the whole movie? Oh well. It also doesn’t help that Adam Levine kinda sucks.

8:56 – “Welcome back to the Oscars, or as I like to call them, the Dependent Spirit Awards!” Hehe. NPH is doing well, though it’s going to be hard to top that opening musical number. And now, here’s J-Lo’s cleavage and Chris Pine to present the award for Best Costume Design. GRAND BUDAPEST looks amazing and already iconic, but I love the ‘70s aesthetic of INHERENT VICE. INTO THE WOODS and MALEFICENT have the fairy tale edge while MR. TURNER has the period piece edge, and the Oscar goes to THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL! Wow, I did not expect that! Could this signal a possible sweep for one of Wes Anderson’s best ever?

9:00 – “This next presenter is so lovely, you can eat her up WITH HER SPOON.” Nailed it, NPH. Cutie Reese comes out to present the award for Best Makeup. Hard to bet against Steve Carell’s gargantuan schnozz in FOXCATCHER, but I’m rooting for GUARDIANS here... or maybe BUDAPEST will grab another one? AND IT DOES. The Oscar goes to THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL! This is a shocker but not in a bad way! The more we get to hear that music, the happier I’ll be all night long (but maybe throw in some of that BOYHOOD music, too).

9:03 – Channing Tatum is here to talk more about the young filmmaker thing that took up way too much time during the ABC pre-show. Aw, look at them. They’re adorable with their ideals and dreams! Soon Hollywood will crush them.

9:09 – Using movie magic, Nicole Kidman will be playing Chiwetel Ejiofor tonight and Ejiofor will be playing Kidman. I dunno, NPH, who wrote these jokes? They are very hit-or-miss. Also not sure how I feel about the size of Nicole Kidman’s head – it looks like an orange on a toothpick. Ooh, Best Foreign Film, a really stacked category. IDA is the odds-on favorite, LEVIATHAN is a great Russian satire, TANGERINES, TIMBUKTU, both great, and my pick is the uproarious Argentinian anthology WILD TALES. And the Oscar goes to IDA. No surprise there and no disappointment – it is an incredible film. All of these nominees are worth checking out. Heh, ouch, the IDA guy is the first to get played off the stage. But he refuses to stop! He completely ignored the play-off music! This could set a dangerous precedent tonight, but you go, Polish dude!

9:12 – The great Shirley MacLaine comes out to introduce three more Best Picture nominees. First it’s BOYHOOD, the music of which fills me with instant feels. What a brilliant, moving piece of work – it is life-affirming as both a movie lover and a human being. Next up is THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING, a wonderful biopic that transcends your typical Oscar bait on pretty much every level. And now BIRDMAN, an expertly-crafted, brilliantly-acted slice of cinematic exhilaration. Three great movies, but you guys know where my heart is! #TeamBoyhood

9:16 – NPH is walking around talking to seat fillers! First Heidi, then Laura, and now Steve, who looks suspiciously like Steve Carell! It’s his first time here and he’s excited to see Ed Norton, who’s right over there! Heh. And now, one of nature’s finest achievements, Marion Cotillard, takes the stage. She’s introducing Tegan & Sara and The Lonely Island, who are performing “Everything is Awesome!” This is incredible! Oprah is thrilled that she got a Lego Oscar! The stage is candy colored and awesome! Batman is rocking out! Everything IS awesome! Please let this song win.

9:24 – I was in the other room making another G&T so I missed NPH’s joke but I did hear the SUPERMAN theme when the show came back from commercial. Jason Bateman and Kerry Washington are presenting Best Live Action Short Film! I’m rooting for the hilarious BOOGALOO AND GRAHAM here but I think AYA will win... and the Oscar goes to THE PHONE CALL. Oh, yeah, I guess that is more up Oscar’s alley. None of these nominees were particularly memorable. NEXT!

9:28 – Best Documentary Short is next. All five of these noms are BLEAK, BLEAK, BLEAK, BLEAK, BLEAK. And the Oscar goes to CRISIS HOTLINE: VETERANS PRESS 1, which is what I expected. It’s about people who work at a crisis hotline for suicidal veterans... and somehow it is the LEAST bleak of the bunch. I was “rooting” for JOANNA, a dying mother’s video farewell to her young son. Now excuse me as I pound this drink.

9:30 – “Takes a lot of balls to wear a dress like that,” NPH says about the crazy poof-ball dress that the Doc Short lady was wearing. (You had to be there.) And here’s the Viola Davis to talk about the Governor’s Awards. Miyazaki got an Honorary Award, as did Jean-Claude Carriere, and Harry Belafonte got the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. Congratulations, all. (P.S. Miyazaki, please don’t retire.)

9:33 – NPH is praising the glory of the British accent and focuses on David Oyelowo. “Oh, sure, now you like him!” NPH quips when the crowd applauds. Oyelowo reads something in his British accent and the whole bit kind of falls flat. NPH needs to start singing & dancing again, stat. And now here’s Gwyneth Paltrow with a flowery shoulder to introduce Tim McGraw, who is singing “I’m Not Gonna Miss You,” Glen Campbell’s nominated song, which was also one of the two nominated films I did not manage to see. Why couldn’t I find it anywhere?! Grrr. The song is okay, I guess.

9:41 – NPH is nowhere to be found as the show comes back from commercial and now we’re roaming the halls, and, oh, he has taken off his clothes, BIRDMAN style, but also possibly a desperation tactic to make up for all the lame jokes. He passes Miles Teller who’s wailing on the drums, and whoa, now he’s onstage in his tighty-whiteys. “Acting is a noble profession.” Hehe.

9:43 – Miles Teller and Margot Robbie’s full lips and plunging neckline are here to talk about the scientific & technical awards. Was Margot the requisite hottie that presents the awards to all the nyerds? Heh, yup, she was. And a random crowd shot of Lupita as we return to the live room – more of that please!

9:45 – Sienna Miller and Chris Evans come out to present the award for Best Sound Mixing, which should go to WHIPLASH but I think will go to AMERICAN SNIPER because ‘Murrica. But the Oscar goes to WHIPLASH! WOW! Make music not war! That final scene alone probably sealed the win. Awesome.

9:48 – Sound Editing now. I’m rooting for THE HOBBIT just for the heck of it, but AMERICAN SNIPER wins this one, which I expected, and can’t really argue with, because the sound WAS pretty intense. Still, hopefully this is the only award that movie wins.

9:50 – NPH calls himself a changed man after changing his clothes. Wow. I realize he probably didn’t write these jokes, but they are not doing him ANY favors. Jared Leto comes out to present Best Supporting Actress! Excellent Streep joke from the former Jordan Cattalano-turned-Jesus. Patricia Arquette was fantastic in BOYHOOD and is the odds-on favorite. I really loved Laura Dern in WILD, though – so happy that she got nominated. I’ve had an unreasonable crush on Keira Knightley for a long, long time and she was fine in THE IMITATION GAME. Emma Stone took her game to a whole new level in BIRDMAN and she is so gorgeous, it’s almost alien-like – haha, and she’s holding a Lego Oscar in the crowd. And finally, Meryl Streep, who fucking ruled in INTO THE WOODS – who knew she could sing like that?! Plus that soundtrack has been stuck in my head two the past two months. And the Oscar goes to… PATRICIA ARQUETTE! And we get to hear the feel-inducing strains of “Hero” for the first time tonight!

9:53 – Hehe, I think Patricia got bleeped as she took the mix and now she is emotional as she rattles off her speech. She is so deserving and this is a very happy moment! Oh snap, she’s going off with a speech about wage equality! And Meryl Streep stands up and points emphatically and gives her props! That was pretty epic. Go Patricia!

9:59 – Oh, I almost forgot about NPH’s briefcase bit. Octavia still has her eye on it. But Robert Duvall does not give a fuck. And now Josh Hutcherson introduces Rita Ora singing the nominated song from BEYOND THE LIGHTS, which was another movie that could’ve been a cheesy romance but transcended the material with great performances.

10:02 – Huh, NPH sort of brushes off Rita Ora’s performance with a flippant, “Well done,” and then introduces Ansel Engort and Chloe Grace-Moretz who are presenting the award for Visual Effects. Looks of good geekery in this category this year… I mean, even more than usual. THE WINTER SOLDIER. APES. GUARDIANS. INTERSTELLAR. DAYS OF FUTURE PAST. All good stuff! And the Oscar goes to INTERSTELLAR! How about that? I was rooting for GUARDIANS but thought APES would win. Surprising but not disappointing – INTERSTELLAR was a great film in its own right.

10:06 – Kevin Hart and Anna Kendrick come out to the DIRTY DANCING theme? Okay. “Best Animated Short… animated and short…” Anna says as she glances at Kevin. Heh. Really strong category here. I’m rooting for the two-minute gem A SINGLE LIFE but would have no problem with Disney’s FEAST taking home the gold… and the Oscar goes to FEAST! The new Golden Age of Disney continues!

10:09 – Damn, NPH’s jokes are actually kind of on the mean side tonight. Not a nice one about THE LEGO MOVIE’s Best Animated Feature snub. Zoe Saldana (who looks absolutely incredible) and The Rock step out to present the award. I’m rooting for the wonderful Irish gem SONG OF THE SEA but I think the Oscar will go to HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2. And the Oscar goes to BIG HERO 6?!?! WOWOWOW. This is the first full-fledged legit shocker of the night, but again, not in a bad way. BIG HERO 6 may not be an instant classic like FROZEN but it is fun and lovable as hell. HAIL DISNEY.

10:17 – The President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences comes out to a rousing ovation! Just kidding. Everyone is taking a bathroom break now. Even I’m gonna run into the kitchen and pop some corn. Be right back!

10:20 – There better be a good payoff to this running briefcase joke or it could signal the end of our ongoing love-fest with Neil Patrick Harris. Now here’s Felicity Jones and Chris Pratt to present Best Production Design. I’m excited for this award because I’m fairly certain BUDAPEST is going to win. Wes Anderson movies are all about production design and this one took it to another level of aesthetic pleasure. But INTO THE WOODS looked mighty nice, too… and the Oscar goes to THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL! Yes! “They’ve won so many tonight,” you can hear Felicity say into the still-live mic. And they might just win more! Awesome.

10:23 – Idris Elba and Jessica Chastain would make one hell of a Hollywood power couple. They are presenting the award for Cinematography, which I am fairly certain will go to BIRDMAN because of all those crazy long takes. But BUDAPEST did some nice things, too, and seems to be riding a wave. OR maybe it’s finally time for Roger Deakins to get his first-ever Oscar in 12 tries? Nope – the Oscar goes to BIRDMAN! This guy actually won last year for GRAVITY, too – he’s pretty good with that there camera thingie. Is this the first of more BIRDMAN gold to come? Maybe… but hopefully not too many!

10:30 – Meryl Streep comes out to a tune from INTO THE WOODS, and oh shit, I think she’s introducing the In Memoriam segment. Yes. This is going to be rough. “We will miss them with the same sadness with which we miss an old friend.” And here we go. Mickey Rooney. James Garner. Maya Angelou. This is very slow and somber, with what looks like photo-art of each person. James Rebhorn. The ever-lovely Anita Ekberg. Richard Attenborough… “Welcome to Jurassic Park”… okay, now I’m legit getting choked up. Ruby Dee. ROBIN WILLIAMS and here come the tears. Rod Taylor. Lauren freakin’ Bacall. Eli Wallach. God, this list is long, as I knew it would be. Gabriel Garcia Marquez? I don’t even remember that, but shit. Bob Hoskins! Mike Nichols, jesus. Wait, and now the stage is opening and something is happening. Jennifer Hudson steps out to sing a song for the dearly departed. No Philip Seymour Hoffman, but I guess he died before last year’s awards and they honored him then? I forget. Also, no Joan Rivers? Well, in any event, that was rough indeed. F this world.

10:42 – My good friend Jay just pointed out via text that they also snubbed RICHARD KIEL!? Hey Academy, YOUR BALL STRUCK MY FOOT. And now here’s Benedict Cumberbatch and Naomi Watts, who looks like the prettiest brick wall ever. Film Editing is next, which could be a key award. AMERICAN SNIPER, no. BOYHOOD, yes! Twelve years in the making! BUDAPEST, maybe. IMITATION GAME and WHIPLASH… and the Oscar goes to WHIPLASH. Well, that’s very interesting indeed as we inch closer to the big prize.

10:46 – Terrence Howard is here to introduce more Best Picture nominees. And, uh, he gets strangely emotional before talking about THE IMITATION GAME? And then there were some weird noises. I think there was a teleprompter problem for a second there and he thought he was going to be talking about SELMA. Anyway, WHIPLASH first, which is suddenly gaining some momentum. IMITATION GAME is an okay movie about an extraordinary life but not really a worthy Oscar nominee. And then there’s SELMA, which just an incredible film and really deserved a bigger presence here tonight.

10:49 – I think NPH just made another mean-spirited joke about Jennifer Aniston and David Oyelowo’s snubs? Not sure. They’re presenting Best Documentary Feature. This is CITIZENFOUR’s award to lose. The others are pretty good, though, but the Oscar goes to CITIZENFOUR, the Edward Snowden flick. Powerful, intense stuff. However, it is worth noting that LAST DAYS IN VIETNAM was produced by a guy named Keven McAlester. Keep the change, ya filthy animal!


10:58 – Octavia has given up her briefcase-watching duties to introduce John Legend and Common, who, of course, are performing “Glory” from SELMA. Octavia also talked about the time the Oscar telecast was cancelled because it was four days after MLK’s assassination, and you gotta figure it’d be kind of awkward to give the Best Song award to THE LEGO MOVIE now. “Glory” is a great song, though, and this set, which is designed to look like the Selma march, is incredible. One of the best moments of the show happening right now.

11:04 – Idina Menzel comes out and introduces her very dear friend, and makes up a funny name – Glom something – for John Travolta, who of course memorably mangled her name last year! Haha. And then he gets creepy and touches her face. Ew. They’re presenting Best Song, which pretty much HAS to go to SELMA now. And the Oscar goes to “Glory” from SELMA! Great song. Amazing movie – too bad it won’t likely win any more Oscars. Or will it? The live crowd is giving this movie a LOT of love. Is it possible that it could steal the big prize away from BOYHOOD, BIRDMAN and even WHIPLASH!? Nice speech by Common and John Legend, too. #SelmaIsNow

11:12 – Neil Patrick Harris looks sadly like a deer caught in the headlights at this point, and now here’s Scarlett Johansson, who looks off the charts amazing. Sounds like she’s introducing a SOUND OF MUSIC tribute for its 50th anniversary. A montage of clips from the movie for starters. I do enjoy a good montage. And now Lady Gaga takes the stage to sing a live medley. Is this really happening at 11:16 at night? There are 7 awards to go! This is going to be a really, really long night. That being said, Gaga does sound pretty good, and she got rid of those weird red rubber gloves from earlier in the evening.

11:20 – Gaga sort of kicked ass with that medley, unnecessary though it was. And hey, here’s Julie Andrews! “Dear Lady Gaga, thank you for that wonderful tribute.” Who ever would’ve guessed that we’d hear Mary Poppins say those words? She’s talking about the importance of music in film and even mentions Star Wars! Julie Andrews just said the words “Lady Gaga” and “Star Wars” in this segment. Mind blown. Oh, she’s also presenting the award for Best Score! I’m rooting hard for BUDAPEST here because it is a joyous romp, but I think THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING is the fronturnner. Other good stuff here, too. And the Oscar goes to… ALEXANDRE DESPLAT FOR THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL!!! I JUST SCREAMED “YES!” IN MY LIVING ROOM! My favorite win of the night so far! I’ve been listening to this soundtrack non-stop for months! Didn’t think it would actually win! So awesome!

11:29 – Eddie Murphy, whose career as a funny comedian is completely, officially dead following his dismal SNL40 appearance, is here to boringly present Best Original Screenplay. I’m hoping for another BUDAPEST win here – it would be Wes Anderson’s first! – but BIRDMAN has a distinct shot. This is a rare case where I’m not sure BOYHOOD should win due to the nature of the film, but of course, if it did, I’d be thrilled. And the Oscar goes to.. BIRDMAN. Fuck. Great movie and screenplay, but not a good sign of things to come tonight.

11:33 – Oprah comes out to present Best Adapted Screenplay. AMERICAN SNIPER, no. IMITATION GAME, no. INHERENT VICE, yes please. THEORY OF EVERYTHING, maybe. WHIPLASH, pretty sure it will win… but no, the Oscar goes to THE IMITATION GAME?! Well, now I don’t know what to think. “Thank you very much to the Academy and to… Oprah…” the guy says. Heh. He also kind of reminds me of George McFly. When you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything! “Stay weird,” he says. Moving speech. But it’s weird that this movie just won this award. Also, it’s worth mentioning that I am quite tipsy at this point AND I don’t have to work tomorrow – an excellent combo!

11:41 – Ugh, Neil, just cut your losses and get out of there already. This was not your night. Ben Affleck comes out to present Best Director. Oh my God. I’m slowly starting to resign myself to a likely BIRDMAN Best Picture win, but please let Richard Linklater win this! I would also accept Wes Anderson, but I really really really want Linklater to win. I’m nervous. And the Academy Award for Achievement in Directing goes to… Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu for BIRDMAN. Fuck. That’s it. Stick a fork in BOYHOOD and my dream of my #1 movie of the year winning Best Picture for the first time in 11 years. I’m so bummed, I can’t even appreciate Inarritu’s joke about wearing Michael Keaton’s tighty whiteys. Seems like a pretty good and humble speech. And yes, BIRDMAN was an expertly-crafted movie that was in my own top 10. But… argh. LINKLATER WAS ROBBED.

11:48 – Jesus, as if I wasn’t already depressed about Linklater’s loss, they were playing the song from TOY STORY 2 when they came back from commercial. And now it’s Best Actor time. Well, the one good thing about a BIRDMAN sweep would be if Keaton wins here -- I’ve been rooting for him from the get-go. Bradley Cooper has had Oscar nods in three straight years and is a potential dark horse. Or maybe Cumberbatch now that IMITATION GAME already has a prize under its belt. But Eddie Redmayne was the apparent favorite coming into the night. And Cate Blanchett tells us that the Oscar goes to EDDIE REDMAYNE. And he is so super excited that it actually brought a smile to my sad face! He’s legit giddy and it’s infectious. And let’s face it, he was damn good and deserves this award.

11:53 – Matthew McConaughey comes out to “Eye of the Tiger,” which makes some semblance of sense to my gin and beer-addled brain. “Good evening… alright.” Epic scraggly beard. He is presenting Best Actress, of course, and there is no chance in the world that Julianne Moore doesn’t win this. BUT if something crazy happens, I would not be adverse to a Rosamund Pike steal. And the Oscar goes to one of our greatest treasures, JULIANNE MOORE. Her first Oscar! Would’ve preferred to have seen her win for any number of superior films over the years, but I’ll take it! Yay!

12:00 – Sigh, NPH’s Oscar predictions / briefcase gag continues. Not a good night for our boy… but he’s still better than Seth MacFarland. So, now, let’s see what’s in the damn briefcase and it’d better be fucking good. Oh boy. It’s filled with “predictions” of various random moments that have happened throughout the night and it was… not good or funny at all. Wow. Poor Neil. Decidedly un-legen – wait for it – ah, forget it.

12:03 – Sean Penn comes out to present the final award for Best Picture. Pretty much a foregone conclusion that BIRDMAN is going to win, especially when you consider that Penn worked with Inarritu on the film 21 GRAMS some years ago. But until that envelope is opened, I am gonna cling to the last vestiges of hope for a BOYHOOD win! Here we go. I’m nervous. And the Oscar goes to........ BIRDMAN. Sigh. Though it is cool to see Michael Keaton standing up there accepting the award with the group. But arghhhh I’m so sad. #TeamBoyhood Forever!!!

Aaaaaand that’s a wrap. Definitely a mixed bag of a show tonight. The most shocking thing is how bad Neil Patrick Harris was, aside from the excellent opening musical number. It was all downhill from there, with bad jokes and bits and ugh. What the hell went wrong?? Hamstrung by bad material? Oh well. As for the awards… well, not so good. I only went 7/24 on my ballot – as always, I vote with my heart, and my heart has long proved that it has shit for brains. The early success of THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL provided some early excitement, culminating with its thrilling and surprising Best Score win. But once the BIRDMAN dominoes began to fall, the night took a sad turn for #TeamBoyhood. Only one win for the best movie of 2014, but at least Patricia Arquette made the most of her big moment. It was great to see Julianne Moore take home her first Oscar, and hey, how about not one but TWO awards for Walt Disney Animation? As always, I must list my loveliest ladies of the night (in no particular order): Lupita! Scarlett! Marion Cotillard! Zoe Saldana! Emma Stone! Rosamund Pike’s leg! And a special lifetime achievement award to J-Lo’s cleavage! Despite the fact that I am drunk and bummed right now, I had a blast live-blogging the proceedings for the 10th straight year, and if you swung by and joined the fun for any length of time, I salute you and love you from the bottom of my heart. Goodnight everybody!

Last-Minute Oscar Thoughts & Predictions

I usually write a big, long, in-depth overview of the Oscar nominees, along with my predictions from both the heart and the mind, and all sorts of pretty pictures and stuff -- but, well, I never got around to it this year. Sorry! But as I sit here thinking about the upcoming festivities on this wintry Oscars Eve, I decided to throw together a quick round-up. To my credit, I've seen EVERY nominee in EVERY category except for two! Here’s what I think...



At this point, it's all about #TeamBoyhood vs. #TeamBirdman. BOYHOOD was my #1 movie of 2014, so needless to say, I am squarely in the corner of Richard Linklater's grand opus. (If it wins, it will be the first time my #1 movie of the year has won Best Picture since THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING in 2004, so this is kind of a big deal.) It also seemed like the foregone winner for the longest time. However, BIRDMAN has been on a hot streak lately and may have forged slightly ahead. Granted, it was also pretty great, so if it wins, I would be very disappointed and indignant but it wouldn’t be a tragedy. If the two somehow cancel each other out, it is conceivable that SELMA could steal the big prize to make up for its acting & directing snubs. Actually, I enjoyed pretty much all of these nominees on some level -- except for the vastly overhyped, sort of mind-boggling box office juggernaut, AMERICAN SNIPER. If by chance it swoops in and steals the big prize, you can be sure that my live-blog will be filled with drunken expletives. But no... that can’t happen... GO BOYHOOD!

WILL PROBABLY WIN: Birdman, if its recent hot streak is any indication... but fingers crossed....

Steve Carell, FOXCATCHER
Benedict Cumberbatch, THE IMITATION GAME
Michael Keaton, BIRDMAN

Similarly, it's pretty much come down to Keaton vs. Redmayne here. It makes sense for Keaton to win, since his comeback is half of the appeal of BIRDMAN. But Redmayne has been winning awards all over the place and his performance as Stephen Hawking does transcend typical Oscar-bait. I suppose it's conceivable that Bradley Cooper (with his third consecutive Oscar nod, by the way... who would've guessed?) could steal it... but nah. Redmayne is the safe bet but hopefully the Academy will opt for the comeback story. (Still pissed about David Oyelowo's snub, though. Jake Gyllenhaal, too.)


Marion Cotillard, TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT
Julianne Moore, STILL ALICE
Rosamund Pike, GONE GIRL
Reese Witherspoon, WILD

No surprises here. This is Julianne Moore's award to lose, and rightly so. STILL ALICE is sort of a meh movie, but her performance is outstanding. Plus it's her fifth nomination and would, incredibly, be her first win. That being said, I loved Rosamund Pike in GONE GIRL, so if there is going to be a crazy upset, she is my pick.

I’M ROOTING FOR: Moore (and Pike)

Robert Duvall, THE JUDGE
Ethan Hawke, BOYHOOD
Edward Norton, BIRDMAN
Mark Ruffalo, FOXCATCHER
J.K. Simmons, WHIPLASH

Again, no surprises. J.K. Simmons wins easily and deservedly. (Also, for the record, THE JUDGE is one of the worst Oscar-nominated films I've ever seen. I know they need a requisite Old Timer nominee and Duvall is a legend, but jeez.)


Patricia Arquette, BOYHOOD
Laura Dern, WILD
Emma Stone, BIRDMAN
Meryl Streep, INTO THE WOODS

I love love love that Laura Dern got a nod here because she was the scene-stealing heart of WILD. Would've loved to see Uma Thurman get nominated for her unforgettable turn in NYMPHOMANIAC, but that was never going to happen. Patricia Arquette has been sweeping her way through awards season and Oscar night will be no exception -- she was indeed great in BOYHOOD and deserves the accolades.


Alejandro González Iñárritu, BIRDMAN
Richard Linklater, BOYHOOD
Bennett Miller, FOXCATCHER

Whether BOYHOOD wins Best Picture or not, I think Richard Linklater will win the gold here. The man is arguably the best American filmmaker working today and no one else could have made BOYHOOD happen, let alone made it work so miraculously. If anyone is gonna steal this award, though, it will be Iñárritu... but that would be a shame.

I’M ROOTING FOR: Linklater


This is where I think the Academy will finally honor Wes Anderson -- it's his third screenplay nod and would be his first win and would make me very happy because GRAND BUDAPEST was my #2 movie of the year. Sharp, crazy NIGHTCRAWLER is a potential dark horse. And BIRDMAN could win the event of a clean sweep, but hopefully not.

I’M ROOTING FOR: Grand Budapest


I think WHIPLASH is considered the favorite here, but I'm gonna put a stack of chips on Paul Thomas Anderson for adapting a seemingly-unadaptable book into a movie that may be flawed by his lofty standards, but is still batshit crazy and rich and fun. Not sure the Academy is so forward-thinking, but fortunately, WHIPLASH is pretty damn good, too. God forbid AMERICAN SNIPER pulls off a shocking upset.

I’M ROOTING FOR: Inherent Vice


A lot of people think THE LEGO MOVIE got snubbed here, but to them I ask: What the heck would you have left out? As fun as LEGO is, all of these movies are superior. HTTYD2 is the odds-on favorite, and one of the best animated sequels ever... and yet, it is still the least of this bunch of very strong nominees. Personally, I'd love to see Tomm Moore's wonderful SONG OF THE SEA (my #10 movie of the year) pull it out. And of course, I'm always rooting for Disney deep down.

I’M ROOTING FOR: Song of the Sea (or Big Hero 6)


I've seen all of these -- a rare feat! They are all extremely solid. LEVIATHAN was my favorite for a while, with its vodka-soaked Russian dark sociopolitical satire. But I just saw Argentina's WILD TALES tonight and was blown away by its gleefully deranged satire, and I am now fully on its bandwagon. Meanwhile, TIMBUKTU is a brilliant, beautiful, heartbreaking miracle of a film and TANGERINES offers an interesting perspective on war... but Poland's powerful, exquisitely-shot IDA has been the generally-accepted favorite for a while and will likely win.



BIRDMAN is almost certainly going to win here, thanks to its memorable long takes and bombast. Nice to see MR. TURNER included because it was a sumptuous visual experience. GRAND BUDAPEST looks great and has fun with aspect ratios and it all works. UNBROKEN will mark the umpteenth nomination and umpteenth loss for the great Roger Deakins... unless of course the Academy finally chooses to honor him for one of his more forgettable works... which, come to think of it, is exactly something they would do.

I’M ROOTING FOR: Grand Budapest


I think WHIPLASH is going to win solely for its final, thrilling, maniacally-edited sequence. But, like, BOYHOOD is pieced together from 12 freaking years of footage! That's gotta be hard! Nah, it'll be WHIPLASH. (Side note: When was the last time a movie won Best Picture without earning an Editing nod? I’ll tell you when: ORDINARY PEOPLE In 1981! Major side-eye to BIRDMAN right now....)



All of these movies looked very nice indeed. But GRAND BUDAPEST looked like an intricately-packaged box of candy inside an intricately-designed doll house inside a bigger intricately-designed box of candy. Gotta give it to Wes Anderson's unparalleled eye for mise-en-scene here.



All of these are pretty good, too. The '70s vibe of INHERENT VICE is the most awesome and my personal fav. However, Ralph Fiennes' uniform in BUDAPEST already feels iconic, and the movie looks so good, it might just sweep through all the design awards. However, MR. TURNER does have the period piece thing going for it, and Angelina Jolie looked great as MALEFICENT, and INTO THE WOODS is fantastic all-around.

I’M ROOTING FOR: Inherent Vice


FOXCATCHER probably wins this because they made Steve Carell look like a big-nosed freak and the Academy eats pieces of shit like that for breakfast. But come on, gotta give GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY some love! We are Groot!

I’M ROOTING FOR: Guardians!

Alexandre Desplat, THE IMITATION GAME
Gary Yershon, MR. TURNER

I love the BUDAPEST score so f’ing much and listen to it often, but my guess is that the two Desplat scores will cancel each other out (hate when that happens). Really wish UNDER THE SKIN would've gotten a nod because that shit is creepy. The buzz-o-meter and the Twitterverse and whatever else says that THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING will win, but I’ll be damned if I can hum a single note.

WILL PROBABLY WIN: Theory of Everything

“Everything Is Awesome” from THE LEGO MOVIE
“Glory” from SELMA
“Grateful” from BEYOND THE LIGHTS
“I’m Not Gonna Miss You” from GLEN CAMPBELL: I’LL BE ME
“Lost Stars” from BEGIN AGAIN

“Glory” is going to win here, if for no other reason than to ensure that SELMA gets an Oscar. However, “Everything is Awesome” SHOULD win, to ensure that THE LEGO MOVIE gets an Oscar. (Tough call, I know.) I also like the BEGIN AGAIN song, though it was not the song I would've chosen from that movie. “Grateful” is a good song from a very good, underrated movie. The Glen Campbell movie is one of the two Oscar nominated films that I haven't seen, so I haven't heard that song... I suppose I could just listen to it on that thing called the internet, but that seems like cheating (I'm a weirdo).

I’M ROOTING FOR: “Everything is Awesome”


The sound mix was a huge part of what made WHIPLASH so effective, and I think it should win. But along the same lines, it also helped make the battle scenes in AMERICAN SNIPER so effective... and in the end, war wins over music because 'Murrica.

WILL PROBABLY WIN: American Sniper


The safe money is on SNIPER here, too -- the guns are loud and shooty. But you know what? Fuck it, I'm going to root for THE HOBBIT one last time.



Visual effects is always a geeky category, but it seems extra geeky this year, which is pretty cool. I'll be rooting for GUARDIANS once again because I loved it, though INTERSTELLAR, for all its flaws, looked mighty good, too. However, I think DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES will win, because Jesus Christ, how is Caesar not an actual talking ape??

I’M ROOTING FOR: Guardians


THE SALT OF THE EARTH is the other nominee that I haven't seen... sadness. VIVIAN MAIER is a fascinating portrait and VIETNAM is interesting and informative. Didn't much care for VIRUNGA. Not that any of that matters because the intense and important CITIZENFOUR is a veritable lock, and rightly so.

I’M ROOTING FOR: Citizenfour

JOANNA (Poland)
OUR CURSE (Poland)

Okay, so, do you choose the one about the suicide hotline for military veterans... the one that serves as a dying mother's farewell to her young son... the one about kids aimlessly living in a desolate oil town... the one about how working in a slaughterhouse for 25 years has been sapping a man's will to live... or the one about the young couple and their baby who was born with a rare & incurable breathing disease? Personally, I choose a bullet to the head. Seriously, though, they're all bleak but very good. JOANNA is the best of the bunch, in my opinion, but CRISIS HOTLINE is the likely winner.


PARVANEH (Switzerland)
AYA (Israel & France)
BUTTER LAMP (France & China)

The weakest collection of live-action shorts in recent memory... none of these are particularly great. BOOGALOO AND GRAHAM, the story of two precocious British kids and their pet chickens, is the funniest and most memorable by far. But AYA, the story of woman who pretends to be a man's driver after an encounter at the airport, has a mix of emotion and quirk that could take the gold.

I’M ROOTING FOR: Boogaloo and Graham

A SINGLE LIFE (Netherlands)

I loved all of these!!! I wish they could all win and everyone should go find them online and watch them real quick. A SINGLE LIFE may be my fav -- it packs a lot of laughs and melancholy into a mere two minutes, and does more with the concept of time travel than most feature length films. I also enjoyed the quirky ME AND MY MOULTON very much. THE DAM KEEPER is the kind of lovely message film that makes Oscar cry... but in the end, I think Disney's FEAST will win, and I would not argue because it is a veritable feast of feels.

I’M ROOTING FOR: A Single Life (or Feast)

And there you have it. Mark your ballots accordingly and don't forget to cut me in for a slice of your Oscar pool winnings. We are now mere hours away from my 10th ANNUAL LIVE MOMENT-BY-MOMENT STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS OSCAR COMMENTARY -- yes, I've been doing this for a damn decade -- tomorrow night starting with the ABC pre-show and red carpet at 7:00 p.m. EST. Please do swing by and join the fun whether you are watching the big show or not. It’s gonna be fun AND informative! (Plus I’ll be drinking.)

‘Til later... GO BOYHOOD!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Ben’s Top 10 Movies of 2014 + Year in Review

14hoursen1wy5.jpg~original copy
Happy New Year, friends! Is it just me, or did 2014 come and go in the blink of an eye? Crazy. As a whole, the year was a mixed bag for me -- don’t worry, I won’t turn this into a therapy session (at least, not outwardly) -- but cinematically, it was very solid. I went to the movies 190 times in 2014. That’s actually down from my record-setting total of 209 in 2013, which means that (a) my movie-going tendencies have finally reached critical mass, or (b) I’m getting too old for this shit. Nevertheless, there was some tremendous quality to be found and compiling my Top 10 list was tricky. There were a few no-brainers, while some required serious soul-searching and maybe a coin flip -- but in the end, the common thread is that these ten films all affected me on deeply emotional, personal, visceral and/or fundamental levels (and/or flat-out entertained the shit out of me). And here they are....

songofthesea10. SONG OF THE SEA -- This slice of animated goodness from Tomm Moore is a beautiful film that feels fresh and modern yet instantly timeless. Drawing upon old-time Irish folklore and themes of family, fear, death and the limitless power of storytelling, it is the tale of two siblings, Ben & Saoirse, who live in a lighthouse at the top of a cliff with their father. Following a series of unfortunate events, the children eventually embark on a wondrous quest when it is revealed that the little girl may be the last of the mythical Selkies and a link to their late mother’s past. The animation is vibrant and rich, mixing fantastical images with real-life Irish countryside. The story is gloriously imaginative, overflowing with heart and tear-jerking emotion and characters that ring true (as a big brother, myself, I know from experience). With this and the Oscar-nominated THE SECRET OF KELLS under his belt, it may be safe to say that if Miyazaki is the Japanese Walt Disney, then Tomm Moore is the Irish Miyazaki. You heard it here first!

snowpiercer9. SNOWPIERCER -- 2014 was an excellent year all along the sci-fi spectrum, including such films as the creepy, introspective UNDER THE SKIN and the ambitious, epic INTERSTELLAR. But my favorite was Bong Joon-ho’s bat-shit crazy post-apocalyptic action thriller set entirely on a speeding train that contains the last vestiges of humanity as it hurtles along an Earth that became uninhabitable years before. When the poor folks in the back of the train (led by Captain America himself, Chris Evans) decide to reclaim their way of life, they must make their way to the front, laying waste to the selfish 1% along the way. As they pass through each car, they encounter a different societal class and a series of bizarre, colorful characters (including Tilda Swinton in one of her weirdest performances ever, which is saying something). The violence is insane and over-the-top, the humor is sharp, and the dystopia on display (while perhaps absurd on a practical level) is fully-realized and a welcome change of pace from the recent glut of boring YA carbon copies. It may be the craziest and most wildly entertaining cinematic video game / sociopolitical commentary of all time.

only_lovers_left_alive8. ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE -- Depending upon your feelings on Jim Jarmusch, it may be easy to write off this movie as “the one about hipster vampires.” I’ve never been a huge Jarmusch fan, myself, but there is something utterly intoxicating about this film, from the performances of Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton (not to mention Mia Wasikowska, one of the finest actors of her generation) to the introspection and romance that apparently goes along with the existential drudgery of immortality. There’s no real sense of urgency or even much of a plot -- it just kind of exists -- but it’s an intricately-detailed, worn-in world in which I could have happily languished for several more hours. Making a vampire movie is such a slippery slope in this post-TWILIGHT world, but here we have one of the best, most aesthetically-pleasing, and by far the coolest in recent memory.

gone_girl7. GONE GIRL -- Has there ever been a more perfect marriage of filmmaker and material than this? (Which, of course, is ironic considering the material is about a most imperfect marriage.) I read Gillian Flynn’s novel last summer and was blown away by (a) the crazy twistedness, and (b) the thought of David Fincher wallowing in such a fucked-up situation. Aside from Fincher’s precision filmmaking, you’ve got casting decisions ranging from pitch-perfect (Ben Affleck in the role he was born to play, except maybe for the douchebag at the Fashionable Male) to revelatory (Rosamund Pike, who knew!) to inspired (Neil Patrick Harris was NOT who I pictured while reading the book), another fitting score by Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross, and a sharp screenplay by Flynn herself. It all adds up to an expertly-crafted, deliciously diabolical and more than a little trashy (in a good way) tale that offers quite a bit of food for thought about men, women, relationships and everything in between.

birdman6. BIRDMAN or THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE -- Michael Keaton is a guy who has been great for a long time, but there’s no denying that his career has been overshadowed by his stint as a certain Caped Crusader in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Likewise, Riggan Thomson is haunted (figuratively and literally) by his most famous superhero alter-ego, Birdman, which he attempts to undo by writing, directing and starring in an ambitious Broadway production. What transpires is an offbeat character study and a satirical look at Hollywood, theatre, pop culture, celebrity, criticism, and maybe a few more things. There’s a lot going on and it’s all brilliant, funny, and since it’s directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, tinged with tragedy. It’s also impeccably acted -- Keaton is Oscar-worthy and Edward Norton is great, while Emma Stone raises her game to the next level -- not to mention beautifully-shot and featuring a memorable drum-based score. It’s a film that toes the lines between intimacy, lunacy and pure entertainment and nails it all.

babadook5. THE BABDOOK -- An erratically-behaving child, a single mother at the end of her rope, and the most terrifying pop-up storybook of all time... these are the ingredients in Jennifer Kent’s jaw-dropping slice of psychological horror, which is both her filmmaking debut and an instant genre masterpiece. On the surface, it sounds like a joke: What the heck is a Bababdook?? But I assure you, this is a terrifying creation that looks and feels like something half-remembered from a childhood nightmare. The film is a slow-boiler that relies heavily on atmosphere, imagination, meticulous world-building and the power of its two lead performances. The remarkable Essie Davis taps into the dark side of motherhood with unflinching rawness, while young Noah Wiseman is as sympathetic as he is chilling. This is a deeply unsettling film that burrows deep into the psyche while also delivering some of the most legitimately scary horror imagery of the past couple of decades. YOU CAN’T GET RID OF THE BABADOOK DOOK DOOK.

selma4. SELMA -- It’s hard to believe that Ava DuVernay’s masterful dramatization of the 1965 Alabama march is the first full-fledged mainstream biopic of Martin Luther King, Jr. It’s also hard to believe that it is just as relevant now, 15 years into the 21st century, as it would have been 50 years ago. Sigh. But even if we did live in a post-racial world, this would be a potent piece of cinema that paints a vivid portrait of an integral moment in history. David Oyelowo commands the screen with fiery passion -- he uncannily embodies everything that made MLK great, as well as what made him human. Tom Wilkinson and Tim Roth, as LBJ and George Wallace, respectively, are just as great, and their game of political cat-and-mouse is often shocking and infuriating. The film is unflinching in its portrayal of the violence of that fateful day, which makes it hard to watch at times, but overall this is a film that perfectly captures the mindset of its time and place. The most important film of the year and a must-see.

guardians_of_the_galaxy3. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY -- It’s almost as if Marvel is messing with us at this point, isn’t it? Like, someone got drunk at the holiday party and said, “Hey, let’s take this weird, lesser-known property about an intergalactic superhero team that includes a talking raccoon and a walking tree and turn it into a hit, y’know, just because we can!” Well, it worked, because as great as the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been so far, James Gunn may have given us the best of the bunch -- a thrilling space opera loaded with heart, wit, and most importantly, fun. Chris Pratt is now officially on the path to unfathomable superstardom. And wouldn’t you know it, the aforementioned tree is a more soulful character than most humans. And the raccoon is a hilariously disgruntled badass. And Dave Batista, of all people, delivers a perfectly deadpan (and purple) comic performance. And Zoe Saldana continues to assert herself as a sci-fi force to be reckoned with. And somehow, it may all tie into the Avengers and God knows what else?? Oh, Marvel -- just take my money now.

grand_budapest_hotel2. THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL -- Wes Anderson took his game to a new level with MOONRISE KINGDOM a couple of years ago, but he may have officially reached cinematic transcendence with this -- the most deliriously joyous movie-watching experience of the year. The visuals and sense of whimsy, of course, are on point, as is Anderson’s forte -- the movie looks and feels like a delicious & meticulously-organized box of candy within another box of candy. But there’s also a sense of wistfulness and depth of humanity that Anderson has never really tapped into before. Ralph Fiennes gives a perfectly nuanced, eminently quotable comic performance as M. Gustave, the proud concierge of one of the world’s premiere luxury hotels, the Grand Budapest, located in the fictional war-torn Republic of Zubrowka, somewhere in Europe, sometime between world wars. Along with his loyal lobby boy (Tony Revolori, a revelation), the pair embark upon a rapturous journey filled with intrigue and oddball characters (including such Anderson mainstays as Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman and Edward Norton -- and for the third time on this list, Tilda Swinton). Utilizing a nesting doll storytelling technique, complete with alternating aspect ratios depending upon the time period, and driven by an ebullient, relentless score by Alexandre Desplat, the film contains layers upon layers of historical fiction, romance, mystery and madcap zaniness -- it is by far Anderson’s richest film, and quite possibly his best.

...and finally....

boyhood1. BOYHOOD -- For the second year in a row, Richard Linklater tops my list -- an unprecedented achievement! What is there to say about this magnum opus, 12 years in the making, that hasn't already been said? The film is a perfect portrait of life, touching upon moments both trivial and profound, but no less important to the process of growing up. Bursting with nostalgia and authenticity, it's the kind of film that might elicit a different reaction from each individual viewer depending upon his or her own experiences. With the BEFORE Trilogy, Linklater has already proven himself to have an incredible grasp on the concept of time and how it relates to his characters and life in general. But in BOYHOOD, we're literally watching Mason (Ellar Coltrane) grow up before our eyes, seeing the nuances of his childhood and how they might contribute to the man he will become. We root for him and root for his family, however imperfect they may be at times, because there's something (even if it's a miniscule detail) in there that reminds us of ourselves. BOYHOOD is a remarkable cinematic achievement that required both incredible vision, skill, patience, and a whole lot of luck -- it is the culmination of Linklater’s genius, personally life-affirming as both a movie lover and a human being, and the very best movie 2014.


Other Noteworthy Titles (in alphabetical order):

Big Eyes. Big Hero 6. Begin Again. Calvary. Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Cheap Thrills. Chef. Citizenfour. Dear White People. Edge of Tomorrow. Enemy. Force Majeure. Foxcatcher. Frank. A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. The Homesman. Horns. How to Train Your Dragon 2. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1. Ida. Inherent Vice. Into the Woods. Interstellar. Kill the Messenger. The LEGO Movie. Locke. Love is Strange. Maidentrip. Mood Indigo. A Most Violent Year. Most Wanted Man. Indigo. Nightcrawler. Noah. Nymphomaniac. Obvious Child. The One I Love. The Skeleton Twins. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya. The Theory of Everything. Top Five. Tracks. The Trip to Italy. Two Days, One Night. Under the Skin. We Are the Best! Wetlands. What If. Whiplash. Wild. X-Men: Days of Future Past.


And now... the Bottom 10:

men_women_and_children10. MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN -- This is supposed to be cautionary tale about the sociological perils of the Internet, I guess, but it’s so damn stupid, awkward and misguided, it makes you wonder if Jason Reitman has ever turned on a computer in his life. How is this the same guy who made JUNO and UP IN THE AIR?! 
It’s been a long, sad decline for Johnny Depp over the past decade or so, but he may have finally bottomed out with this lame, empty LAWNMOWER MAN wannabe. This also  marks the directorial debut of famed cinematographer Wally Pfister, who might not want to quit his day job.
8. TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION -- It pains me to include this here, because I’m on record as an unabashed fan of the first three films. But this one tried even my patience, and for the first time, my inner 8-year-old was not entertained. Not a single stand-out moment. Mark Wahlberg actually made me miss LaBoeuf. And such an egregious misuse of the Dinobots! This should’ve been a slam-dunk guilty pleasure but Michael Bay fucked it up.
7. EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS -- A train wreck of biblical proportions that fails in just about every way a movie can fail (even aside from the questionable casting decisions, how do you screw up the parting of the Red Sea?!). Ridley Scott may have made some of the greatest movies of all time, but he’s also ended up in my Bottom 10 three times now (see also: ROBIN HOOD and KINGDOM OF HEAVEN)... I don’t know what to think anymore.
6. THE GIVER -- The book may be the granddaddy of the young adult sci-fi dystopia, but the movie is way too late to the party. There’s nothing here that we haven’t seen a hundred times over the past few years, and unfortunately it doesn’t do any of it particularly well. Dull, drab, uninteresting and a rare waste of Meryl Streep’s presence.
5. BLENDED -- Another year, another Adam Sandler movie in the Bottom 10. The only thing that saves this dreck from being ranked lower is the undeniable chemistry between Sandler & Drew Barrymore. But other than that, it is really, really bad and borderline racist. Nice work, AWESOM-O.
4. AS ABOVE, SO BELOW -- I actually had high hopes for this because, in theory, a horror movie set in the Paris Catacombs sounds perfect and long overdue. Unfortunately, this found-footage schlock wastes the innately creepy setting, relying primarily on a bunch of arbitrary, not-at-all-scary nonsense.
3. TAMMY -- I want to like Melissa McCarthy, I really do, but why is she making it so difficult? This is an absolutely brutal comedy... completely unfunny and embarrassing to watch. Surely McCarthy can do better than this? Or maybe she can’t. (Susan Sarandon should be ashamed of herself, too, but I suppose she’s earned the right to slum it.)
2. A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST -- I’m cheating a little here because I didn’t see this one in theatres, but it’s just that bad. Stunningly unfunny, tasteless (in a bad way) and a blight on the resumes of i_frankensteinall involved (really, Charlize?). Seth McFarlane continues to be a rancid hemorrhoid on the asshole of humanity and must be stopped.
1. I, FRANKENSTEIN -- There’s so much wrong with this movie, in which Frankenstein’s monster gets involved in an ancient war between gargoyles and demons, I hardly know where to begin. It’s like they just picked random plot details out of a hat and mashed them together while drunk. Awful dialogue, lousy effects, phoned-in performances from great actors (come on, Aaron Eckhart and Bill Nighy) and utterly devoid of a sense of humor... it is a dull, incoherent mess on every level. This is the kind of lazy, lowest-common-denominator bullshit that will hopefully serve as a prime example of how NOT to kick off a potential movie franchise. Oy, Frankenstein....


And now...

into_the_woodsA Few Titles That Just Missed the Top 10: Full disclosure: INTO THE WOODS was actually in my Top 10 for a brief time. I wrote the paragraph and everything! But ultimately swapped it out for SONG OF THE SEA. I may regret this, though, as Sondheim’s twisted fairy tale earworms continue to pervade my consciousness. A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT is the first-ever Iranian vampire western and another extraordinarily unique addition to the genre. Jonathan Glazer’s UNDER THE SKIN is haunting sci-fi in which Scarlett Johansson dominates the screen and the senses (and, oh yeah, gets nekkid). Jessica Chastain is a goddess and Oscar Isaac does his best Pacino impression in A MOST VIOLENT YEAR, or as I like to call it, BIZARRO GODFATHER II. John Lithgow and Alfred Molina are tremendous in LOVE IS STRANGE, an artful and authentic New York love story. NIGHTCRAWLER is a tremendously bleak send-up of modern journalism and Jake Gyllenhaal is as incredible as his character is loathsome. Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons clash in a mesmerizing battle of wits in the ultra-intense WHIPLASH. INTERSTELLAR may be flawed but it is nevertheless a fascinating and immersive sci-fi experience. With INHERENT VICE, Paul Thomas Anderson failed to three-peat as my #1 movie of the year, but still delivers the second-best L.A.-set offbeat stoner post-modern-detective noir of all time (but it’s no LEBOWSKI). And then there’s NYMPHOMANIAC, which actually clung to the Top 10 for some months before getting bumped out -- Lars von Trier, you are a madman.

winters_tale_ver4_xlgA Few Titles That Just Missed the Bottom 10: WINTER’S TALE is a hot mess that probably only came to fruition because everyone involved owed Akiva Goldsman a favor and he cashed in for his directorial debut. EARTH TO ECHO doesn't stir up nostalgia for E.T. and STAND BY ME so much as make you wish to God that you were watching those films instead. TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES managed to get the characters’ personalities right, but is an otherwise brainless, lifeless and useless reboot. OUIJA feels like it was made for a generation of kids who have never heard of a Ouija board, let alone played with one... which I suppose it is (God, I’m old). I literally forgot what THE OTHER WOMAN was when I saw it on my 2014 movie list, and then looked it up, and then remembered... it’s terrible. For a saucy story starring Elizabeth Olsen and Oscar Isaac, IN SECRET is remarkably dull. And the less said about the ROBOCOP remake, the better -- I would not even buy it for a dollar.

chef_xlgGuilty Pleasures: This category is always a bit of a misnomer because there are very few films that I actually feel guilty about enjoying. That being said, I can easily see HORNS becoming a movie that I devour from time when I’m in a gleefully nasty mood (see also: THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE). INTO THE WOODS is a damn near perfect musical but it may be slightly embarrassing to admit just how often I’ve listened to the soundtrack over the past couple of weeks. THE TRIP TO ITALY is nowhere near as brilliant (or quotable) as its predecessor, but give me Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon and their dueling Michael Caine impressions, and I’m a happy camper. MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT may be slight Woody Allen, but that’s better than no Woody Allen at all. Lastly and most deliciously, there’s Jon Favreau’s CHEF, a lovely, feel-good film that is the cinematic equivalent of comfort food. It might just find its way into my regular rotation so I can salivate over the New Orleans and Miami food porn on display... mmmm, beignets and Cubanos.

lego_movie_xlgPleasant Surprises: I don’t think there’s a person alive who didn’t immediately take a cynical stance when THE LEGO MOVIE was announced -- but somehow, Messrs. Lord & Miller not only found a way to make it work, they made one of the best animated movies of the year (and further evidence of Chris Pratt’s burgeoning superstardom). Tim Burton hadn’t made a good movie in over a decade but BIG EYES put an end to that streak, which made me very happy because I didn’t want to have to give up on him (probably no coincidence that Johnny Depp was nowhere to be found). And THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY PART 1 was approximately a billion times better than its source material -- those folks continue to wield some serious movie magic, turning a good-but-not-great trilogy of books into arguably the second-best young adult movie series after POTTER.

transformers_age_of_extinction_xlgSad Disappointments: Man, I am so annoyed about TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION. I’ve bent over backwards to support these films over the years, and all I wanted in return was some badass Dinobot action in this installment. But no... Michael Bay fucked that up in dismal fashion and has now officially lost my goodwill. Meanwhile, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 was a bloated mess that makes Raimi’s SPIDER-MAN 3 look like, well, Raimi’s SPIDER-MAN 2. Angelina Jolie nailed the role of MALEFICENT but the movie was yet another “reimagined fairy tale” misfire. Lastly, while I hate to talk trash about anything Muppet-related, there can no denying that while their 2011 cinematic revival was glorious, MUPPETS MOST WANTED was a disappointingly “meh” follow-up. Among other things, Jason Segel’s infectious enthusiasm was sorely missed!

begin_again_xlgUnderrated: There were a few films in 2014 that I liked a lot while the general public / critical community did not. First and foremost is BEGIN AGAIN, John Carney’s follow-up to ONCE. While it doesn’t quite live up to that lofty standard, it’s a lovely film, bursting with heart and sincerity and catchy tunes and likeable performances -- sure, it’s a little (okay, a lot) schmaltzy, but it still made me swoon hard and smile big. I also loved WHAT IF, a charming, snappy rom-com starring Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan and their irresistible chemistry. Haven’t heard much about KILL THE MESSENGER, a compelling and relevant journalistic cautionary tale featuring a great performance by Jeremy Renner. Jake Gyllenhaal pulls double-duty in ENEMY, a dose of mind-fuckery that stews in one’s psyche for a while. Bearded Tom Hardy commands the screen in LOCKE, a taut, fascinating one-man character study that came and went way too quickly. David Wain’s THEY CAME TOGETHER proves once again that of all the Paul Rudds in the world, Paul Rudd is the Paul Ruddiest. And lastly, can we please stop railing so hard on ANNIE? It’s not a good movie, but it’s sweetly cheesy and Quvenzhané Wallis has legit screen presence.

raid_two_berandal_ver3_xlgOverrated: Maybe I’m missing something, but THE RAID 2: BERANDAL has received some of the most mind-boggling praise I’ve seen all year. Yes, it’s fun, especially when it involves hammers and/or baseballs. But it’s also bloated and messy and at two and a half hours, long overstays its welcome, especially when compared to its lean, mean and far superior predecessor. Meanwhile, UNBROKEN is competently made and occasionally rousing, but overall, it’s surface-level, cliche-riddled fluff that never digs deep into its subject. I didn’t necessarily dislike the film, but I will feel very resentful when it inevitably scores a slew of Oscar nods. The same might be true for the tedious AMERICAN SNIPER, which does nothing to detract from the notion that Clint Eastwood is the most boring director working today. Lastly, I’m going to include THE INTERVIEW in this section, because it’s an amusing but ultimately forgettable comedy that got blown waaaaaaaaay out of proportion.

hobbit_the_battle_of_the_five_armies_ver2_xlgOne Last Time: Now I'm going to talk a little about THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES and this trilogy in general. Look, I fully acknowledge that these are flawed films that don't come close to the glory and grandeur of THE LORD OF THE RINGS. In some ways, they teeter closely on the edge of fan fiction that tries too hard to connect the two trilogies. But guess what? I DON’T CARE. Throw me into any incarnation of Peter Jackson's Middle-earth for a few hours and I will wrap it around me like the comfiest cinematic snuggie and revel in its warmth. This final installment is actually the most streamlined and focused of the HOBBIT films (indeed, it clocks in at a relatively brisk 2:24). Legolas finally gets a legit awesome moment that justifies his presence in the trilogy. There's at least one serious geekgasm moment when a particular triumvirate of badassery lay the smackdown on a particular team of nine. The titular battle is huge and epic and peppered with just enough emotional oomph. And of course, the filmmakers and actors all treat the material with Shakespearean reverence, which definitely helps. If Peter Jackson announced tomorrow that he came to terms with the Tolkien estate and was going to make THE SILMARILLION or THE CHILDREN OF HURIN or expand the story of Isildur or delve into Galadriel’s backstory or any number of random Unfinished Tales, I would do fucking cartwheels. But if this is indeed the end, it is a fitting end indeed -- and I, for one, look forward to a six-film, 24-hour Middle-earth extended edition marathon sometime in the near future.

big_hero_six_ver2_xlgAnimated Goodness: In a Pixar-less year, anything goes in the animation world, and the other guys all stepped in to fill the void. SONG OF THE SEA, as discussed, is my favorite of the bunch. The new Golden Age of Walt Disney Animation continues with the wonderful, cuddly and fun BIG HERO 6 -- I want to live in San Fransokyo more than anything in life. HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2 may be one of the best animated sequels ever -- a thrilling, harrowing adventure packed with emotional depth. THE LEGO MOVIE proves that, indeed, everything IS awesome. THE TALE OF PRINCE KAGUYA is yet another exquisite triumph from Studio Ghibli. And the stop-motion geniuses at Laika gave us the gorgeous and very enjoyable THE BOXTROLLS. (Unfortunately, I did not see THE BOOK OF LIFE at press time but I’ve heard good things....)

girl_walks_home_alone_at_night_xlgForeign Correspondent: As always, I didn’t see nearly as many foreign language films as I should have, but the ones I did see were almost all worthwhile. First and foremost is the aforementioned Iranian vampire western, A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT -- a gorgeous, haunting and wildly entertaining debut from director Ana Lily Amripour. MOOD INDIGO combines Michel Gondry’s whimsy with Audrey Tautou’s cuteness with delightfully weird results. Sweden’s FORCE MAJEURE is a deeply uncomfortable yet awkwardly funny look at men, women, traditional gender roles and the frailty of the human spirit. The Daredenne Bros. join forces with Marion Cotillard to deliver a compelling morality tale about perseverance, selfishness and sacrifice in TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT. HONEY is an Italian, dreamily-shot observation on the topic of assisted suicide (starring the gorgeous Jasmine Trinca). THE BLUE ROOM is a very effective French murder mystery with multiple levels of intrigue. WETLANDS, the story of a German girl obsessed with bodily fluids, lives up to its billing as the grossest movie of the year (but also one of the funniest and certainly the most German). WE ARE THE BEST! is a brilliant celebration of friendship between three young '80s Swedish punk rock girls (the exclamation point is well earned). Francois Ozon delivers a simmering tale of sexual awakening in YOUNG & BEAUTIFUL. Lastly, Cédric Klapisch completes his excellent Trilogy of Xavier in satisfying fashion with CHINESE PUZZLE.

citizenfour_xlgWhat’s Up, Docs?: I’m going to have a lot of work do when the Oscar nominations are announced because my uninformed ass did not see many docs this year. Of the ones I did see, CITIZENFOUR, a startling account of the Edward Snowden situation, is by the far the best and most important. LIFE ITSELF celebrates the life and legacy of the late, great Roger Ebert and serves as a reminder of how much we miss him and always will (actually, maybe that’s more important). ART AND CRAFT is the portrait of Mark Landis, one of the greatest art forgers of all time and an all-around weird character. And FINDING VIVIEN MAIER is a fine introduction to a fascinating artist and even more intriguing attempt to connect the dots of her mysterious life. (I’ll be better next year and see more docs in theatres, I promise....)

horns_ver3_xlgHorror Haven: I’ve already talked at length about THE BABADOOK and A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT, by far the two best horror films of the year (and both written & directed by women making their feature debuts, which is pretty cool). I love Joe Hill’s HORNS and was a little worried about how the twistedness and dark humor would translate to the big screen; fortunately, Alexandre Aja and Daniel Radcliffe knock it out of the park. OCULUS is surprisingly effective, with lots of atmosphere and twisty-turny goodness. CHEAP THRILLS is a nasty, disturbing, hilarious piece of work about desperation and degradation. THE PURGE: ANARCHY is bloody and fast-paced with just enough satire to be effective. Unfortunately, ANNABELLE fails to live up to standard set by THE CONJURING despite some fab production design and built-in iconography. PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE MARKED ONES is not very good but does some crazy things with the series mythology to the point where I still find myself looking forward to more. And I will mention OUIJA and AS ABOVE, SO BELOW one more time just to remind you to avoid them at all costs.

one_i_love_xlgObscure-ish (or not) Indies: THE ONE I LOVE is a weird, provocative, Charlie Kaufman-esque look at love and marriage starring Mark Duplass and Elizabeth Moss. THE SKELETON TWINS is a funny, emotional, smart sibling dramedy but the fine-tuned chemistry between Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig makes it truly irresistible. Bloody yet understated, BLUE RUIN is more than your average revenge thriller. Jason Schwartzman portrays one of the year’s most fantastic assholes in LISTEN UP PHILIP, a fine film with an even better ‘70s aesthetic. BEFORE I DISAPPEAR is a feature-length adaptation of the Oscar-winning short film CURFEW; it’s somewhat darker and less magical than the source material but still worth seeking out (or maybe I’m biased because I’d love to go on an AFTER HOURS-esque NYC adventure with my own niece). Jenny Slate tackles life's awkward messiness with raunchiness, honesty, poignancy and lots of laughs in OBVIOUS CHILD. FRANK is a supremely quirky but no less endearing story of artistic genius and frustration (featuring Michael Fassbender in his most unlikely role). DEAR WHITE PEOPLE may not be the second coming of DO THE RIGHT THING but it is a funny, sharp, sensitive satire on race relations and identity in general. Brendan Gleeson towers over a motley crew of memorable characters in CALVARY, a bleak parable of faith & fate. And who would’ve guessed that Woody Allen and John Turturro would have such great chemistry? Well, they do, and FADING GIGOLO is highly entertaining as a result.

noah_xlgA Tale of Two Biblical Epics: 2014 was the year when a couple of big-name filmmakers decided to try their hands the good old fashioned Biblical epic... and the results were, er, mixed at best. I’ve already discussed EXODUS: GODS & KINGS, a misfire on just about every level and one of the great failures of Ridley Scott’s career. Which leaves Darren Aronofsky’s NOAH as the winner by default -- but actually, it’s not half bad. In fact, I liked it a lot. It’s audacious, ludicrous, earnest and visually-impressive. Plus Russell Crowe sports a badass beard. And since it co-stars Emma Watson and Logan Lerman, it’s fun to think of it as a prequel to THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER... or maybe that’s just me.

john_wick_ver3_xlgTestosterone-Driven Action: There were quite a few of these in 2014 and some of them were actually good! Surprisingly, the best of the bunch is JOHN WICK, an extravaganza of blood and vengeance (and humor) set in a nifty, stylized NYC underworld -- an unexpected return to form for Keanu Reeves. I actually enjoyed POMPEII, wherein Jon Snow romances Emily Browning and does battle with the most infamous of all volcanic eruptions (let’s face it, sometimes you just need a cheesy disaster flick). THE EXPENDABLES 3 brings the goods and improves upon the last installment, thanks in no small part to an extra-maniacal Mel Gibson. FURY is highly effective war porn in which Brad Pitts snarls his way through war-torn Germany in a tank. It’s not likely, but Andy Serkis is certainly worthy of the first-ever mo-cap Oscar nod for DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, a smart, intense, entertaining sequel. I didn’t love Gareth Edwards’ GODZILLA because it needed more Godzilla, but there were flashes of the great monster movie it could have been. INTO THE STORM has paper-thin characters and plot but the disaster porn on display is absolutely on point. HERCULES doesn’t take itself seriously at all, which helps -- plus the Rock is always cool and the film really pushes the boundaries of the PG-13 rating. Lastly, Liam Neeson brings the right amount of gravitas to A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES, a film that weirdly revels in its ‘90s setting (and was partially shot in my neck of the woods in upper Manhattan!).

sin_city_a_dame_to_kill_for_ver10_xlgEva Green is a Perfect Specimen: She really, really is. Neither 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE nor SIN CITY: A DAMN TO KILL FOR is particularly good, but Eva’s fierce, flawless presence (and, let’s be honest, frequent lack of clothing) makes both memorable. So much so, in fact, that the SIN CITY poster was forced to be edited after it was determined that you could almost, kinda, maybe see the vague shadow of areola. That, my friends, is power. (Note: Eva was also in movies called THE SALVATION and WHITE BIRD IN A BLIZZARD in 2014, which I have not yet seen, but will be added to my Netflix post-haste.)

edge_of_tomorrow_ver4_xlgScintillating Sci-Fi: Lots of good sci-fi in 2014. SNOWPIERCER leads the pack in terms of intelligence, insanity and sheer entertainment value. I really liked EDGE OF TOMORROW, a surprisingly well-crafted, clever and fast-paced adventure with a sense of humor -- Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt kick ass and have tremendous chemistry. Scarlett Johansson completes her own sci-fi trilogy (which began in 2013 with HER) with the kick-ass LUCY and mind-bending UNDER THE SKIN. Brit Marling and Mike Cahill join forces again in I ORIGINS, a wobbly but thoughtful treatise on life, love, science and faith. THE ZERO THEOREM is a bit all over the place but full of manic, dystopian, visually-stimulating Terry Gilliam goodness (plus: Tilda Swinton raps!). Also, it occurs to me that I haven’t mentioned CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER and X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST anywhere in this explosion of words, so I’m just going to throw them in here -- they’re both awesome additions to their respective cinematic universes.

hunger_games_mockingjay__part_one_xlgYoung Adult Dystopian Overload: This shit is getting out of hand. THE HUNGER GAMES remains the crème de la crème of the genre (and MOCKINGJAY PART 1 is arguably the best franchise sequel of the year), but once you get past that, the pickins are slim at best. I love Shailene Woodley, but DIVERGENT is a movie that I could easily forget if there wasn’t another one coming next year. (Woodley actually pulled YA double-duty in 2014, also starring in THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, which of course is not sci-fi but pretty meh in its own right.) I already mentioned THE GIVER, which may have been a groundbreaking book in 1993 but made a shitty movie in 2014. THE MAZE RUNNER is actually relatively solid in execution but still more of the same impractical dystopian nonsense -- and they’re making another one of those next year, too! They’re really churning these sons of bitches out... and who knows how many more potential franchises are waiting in the wings? MAKE IT STOP.

foxcatcher_ver3_xlgA Gaggle of Great Performances: Sometimes it happens that there are truly great performances that overshadow the movies in which they appear. FOXCATCHER, for example, is a good movie that features outstanding work from Mark Ruffalo, Channing Tatum and especially Steve Carell as a creepy, grotesque megalomaniac. STILL ALICE feels like a glorified Lifetime movie at best -- but Julianne Moore is unbelievably good and probably deserving of an Oscar nomination. Eddie Redmayne is nothing short of brilliant in THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING and single-handedly turns a serviceable biopic into a great one. Marion Cotillard is fantastic in the Dardennes’ TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT (a great film), but arguably just as good in THE IMMIGRANT (not a great film). Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz graciously help Tim Burton snap his shitty-movie streak with their great work in BIG EYES. Bill Murray is so good in ST. VINCENT, it’s easy to overlook all the hokey indie cliches. When Hilary Swank is on her game and the material is good, she's as commanding as any actress alive -- THE HOMESMAN is no exception. If GET ON UP  had been released in December, Chadwick Boseman would be a surefire Oscar contender for his electric portrayal of James Brown. And oh, what I wouldn’t give to see Uma Thurman snag a Best Supporting Actress nod for her brief but insanely memorable appearance in NYMPHOMANIAC!

MaidenTrip-posterWomen Embarking on Epic, Treacherous Solo Journeys of Self-Discovery: This was a surprisingly prolific sub-genre in 2014. The highest-profile entry is WILD, which is a wonderful and absorbing experience and perhaps the best work of Reese Witherspoon’s career (though it’s Laura Dern who really steals the show). However, there were two much smaller kindred spirits that should not be overlooked. First, there’s TRACKS, in which Mia Wasikowska journeys through the Australian desert at a leisurely but enthralling pace. And then perhaps my favorite, MAIDENTRIP, a documentary about 14-year-old Laura Dekker and her quest to sail around the world by herself -- it’s both an epic adventure and an intimate portrait of a real-life badass.

thumb1The Year of...: You could argue that 2014 was the year of Tilda Swinton with her work in three of my Top 10 films: ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE, SNOWPIERCER and THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (not to mention THE ZERO THEOREM). Or maybe perennial workhorse Jessica Chastain, who lit up the screen in INTERSTELLAR, A MOST VIOLENT YEAR and THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ELEANOR RIGBY. But no... I’m gonna give the title to none other than the great NY1 morning news anchor, Pat Kiernan, who randomly appeared in JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT, NON-STOP, ANNIE and THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 -- the latter of which is the most fascinating because Kiernan also appeared in THE AVENGERS and IRON MAN 3, thus making him the only true link between the Disney and Sony Marvel Cinematic Universes!

under_the_skin_xlgScores & Soundtracks: I’ve already mentioned that I am borderline obsessed with the INTO THE WOODS soundtrack -- it feels like I’ve had a different tune stuck in my head every day since I saw the movie the day after Christmas (at this very moment, it’s “Your Fault”). Howard Shore paints the perfect musical portrait of Middle-earth one last time in THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES. Mica Levi’s UNDER THE SKIN score is as creepy and unsettling as the movie itself. Alexander Desplat is the most prolific composer on the planet but delivers arguably his best work in THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL -- another one that has gotten steady play on my iPod. The BIRDMAN score is literally all drums, which is cool, but also adds a layer of anxiety that fits the material. Deplat is at it again in THE IMITATION GAME, nicely capturing the film’s intrigue. Lastly, we were given a couple of great mix-tapes: GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY’s Awesome Mix: Volume 1 is an inspired collection of tunes ranging from “Hooked on a Feeling” to “Cherry Bomb.” And BOYHOOD’s Black Album -- a gift from Ethan Hawke to Ellar Coltrane in the film (and before that, from Hawke to his daughter in real life) -- is a perfect compilation of the Beatles’ solo years that is also thematically relevant.

king_kong_ver2Repertory Revelations: Palace: My New Year’s Resolution last year was to see more repertory cinema and I made good on that vow! The United Palace in Washington Heights had a fantastic New York-themed film series that included MUPPETS TAKE MANHATTAN, GHOSTBUSTERS, THE WARRIORS, MANHATTAN, THE FISHER KING (RIP Robin Williams) and the original KING KONG. I was a card-carrying member of the Museum of the Moving Image for much of the year, which enabled me to see such classics as NETWORK, LOST IN TRANSLATION (oh, that opening shot in all its 35mm splendor), REQUIEM FOR A DREAM (my first time seeing it since 2000 -- it has lost none of amelie_ver1its potency), THE ABYSS (also in 35mm), LABYRINTH, THE EXORCIST, POLTERGEIST (on Halloween night!) and perhaps best of all, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY in a glorious 70mm presentation. I made several treks to the Alamo Drafthouse in Yonkers and enjoyed alcoholic beverages and movies such as CASINO, TRON, E.T. (tears were jerked out of my face, as always), and one of my all-time most beloved movies, AMELIE. Plus a bunch of random classics here and there, including A HARD DAY’S NIGHT (on my birthday!), VERTIGO, THE PRINCESS BRIDE, THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, ON THE WATERFRONT and Linklater’s BEFORE trilogy. Not too shabby!

Aaaaand there you have it, folks. Thoughts? Questions? Criticisms? Over-the-top scorn in the form of my own personal Devin Faraci-style hate hashtag (might I suggest #BenSucksCoxNDix)? I can take it! Seriously, though... discuss!