Thoughts on… 2016 Academy Awards

The 2016 Oscars have come and gone, taking plenty of surprises, great moments, and diversity jokes with it. Here is our reaction to last night’s awards.

LEO!

All it took was getting attacked by a bear and eating bison liver for Leonardo DiCaprio to finally get that Oscar. He earned it, and hopefully we’ll see him win another one in the future.

Mad Max Dominates

Mad Max: Fury Road was one of the winners of the night, taking home six awards and (virtually) sweeping the technical awards, only losing out to Ex Machina in visual effects and The Revenant in cinematography.

#OscarsSoWhite

I thought Chris Rock’s opening monologue was very funny and appropriately shed light on the diversity issue. Unfortunately, he decided to beat the topic to death. All the parodies, all the jokes, EVERYTHING was about the lack of black actors at the Oscars. I’m a non-white male, but even I know that the omission of black nominees was due to the lack of good black performances. Will Smith over who, exactly? There definitely needs to be more opportunity for minority actors, but no one got snubbed for their race this year.

 

The Revenant Pulls Through

Emmanuel Lubezki has now won three straight years, first for Gravity, then Birdman, now The Revenant.  It is an incredible feat and one that has sadly flown under the radar. Alejandro G. Iñarritu has now won twice in a row, and of course Leo won Best Actor. The Revenant did very well for itself.

Lady Gaga snubbed

Lady Gaga, moments after delivering an incredibly powerful performance singing “Till It Happens to You”, lost to Sam Smith for “Writing on the Wall”, two hours after he dropped the ball with an awful performance. What a shame.

Surprises!

There were a trio of surprises outside of the Gaga upset, in my opinion. The first was Ex Machina winning Best Visual Effects, which I thought was awesome. Vikander looked great, solely because of the visuals. The second was Mark Rylance taking home Best Supporting Actor. He was the early favorite but faded out, though was obviously good enough to win Best Supporting Actor. He was really good, so I can’t complain, even though Tom Hardy winning would have been awesome. The third was…

The spotlight is on Spotlight

Mad Max and The Revenant were the stories of the night, but Spotlight ended up with the big money. I didn’t see this coming because of how momentum pointed towards The Revenant, but I was thrilled when it happened. Spotlight was a fantastic film, powerful, enlightening, and probably the most important film of the year. I am ecstatic, albeit surprised, that Spotlight was able to pull off the shocker, even though it was the favorite for a long time, and take home Best Picture.

Advertisements

Thoughts on… 2015 Best Picture Films

With the Oscars are right around the corner, here are our rankings of the eight films up for the best picture Oscar. For more in depth analysis on all of these films, you can read the full in depth reviews on this website for each one. Now on with the list…

Number 8

I’ve already said it: Bridge of Spies was probably the film that disappointed me the most this year, which is hard to do with Tom Hanks starring, Steven Spielberg directing, and the Coen Brothers writing. I mean, it was on my most anticipated films of 2015 list! How much more exciting does it get. Unfortunately for me, it failed to live up to the hype. There was some solid acting and the production quality was great, but other than that it just fell flat. The film’s two acts were very disjointed and felt like two TV episodes poorly weaved together. There were no stakes and no tension, which resulted in a very mundane climax. I guess it could have been worse.
Now, let me be clear: the eight best film in this category is not necessarily a bad movie. This cold war thriller starring Tom Hanks is a really well directed movie by the one and only Steve Spielberg with an incredible performance by Mark Rylance. But I did feel that the film is clumsily split into two parts, where I found the first to be much more captivating than the second. It also has a very schmaltzy ending that Spielberg is infamous for. With a disappointing script by the Coen Brothers, the film didn’t grab me as much as I wanted it to, and so is the lowest on the list.
 

Number 7

Brooklyn

This was the nominated film this year that I really expected not to like, but ultimately did. Saoirse Ronan is great, and Emory Cohen and Domhnall Gleeson are both rock solid in support of her. That being said, it’s a cutesie romantic drama and nothing more, paling in comparison to the heavy hitters (Spotlight, Revenant). The film had the same fatal flaw as Bridge of Spies did; a lack of an interesting, high pressure climax. An entire hour and a half worth of build up led to absolutely nothing, and poor writing led to a very anticlimactic ending. Other than that, it is a cute film that will be remembered as Ronan’s coming out party.

Brooklyn

Brooklyn has been highly regarded for its central lead performance by Saoirse Ronan as an Irish Immigrant coming to New York in the 1950s as well as its script by Nick Hornby. And both are deserving of this praise, giving this character a subtle yet powerful arc that you do not realize how strong she has become until the end. With that being said, the direction is very standard and a bit cliched at points (despite selling the 1950s look thoroughly) as well as its central female characters over dependence on men. But despite these flaws, including a performance by Emory Cohen that set me off at points, Brooklyn is a sweet and charming period piece.

 

Number 6

I was not nearly as high on this film as many others, including my counterpart Seth. I thought Larson and Tremblay were both fantastic, providing two of the year’s finest performances and probably giving Larson the Best Actress award. The reason I have it at 6th is because of my issues with the film’s second half. It began dragging as soon as they left the ‘Room’, as I felt that the urgency and tension dropped immediately. That being said, Room is a great look at what it takes to move on from tragedy and how people do it. It isn’t cute and flowery, but it’s emotional density and poignancy makes this one of the better films of the year.
The Revenant, the story of a man in 1800s west going on a revenge plot, has been gaining much momentum from others awards and is now the favorite to take home the best picture Oscar with its dramatic and much talked about central performance by Leonardo Dicaprio, who should finally be getting that Oscar, and its use of natural light. Seeing the film and hearing about the horrors of production, I must praise the work of director Alejandro G. Inarritu and cinematographer Emanuel Lubeski, both who took home Oscars for last years Birdman, for making it as engrossing as it is with long takes and wide shots. The film does have issues in its existential message with flashbacks and there simply being too much of its brutal nature , but is a truly ambitious project with fantastic acting, both by Dicaprio and Tom Hardy, and sensational cinematography
 

Number 5

The Martian is probably one of the more unexpected movies on this list. Basically a comedic, quippy version of Gravity with more than just Sandra Bullock floating through space, what I like about The Martian is that it does not take itself too seriously. Sure it’s unrealistic how chipper Damon’s character is, and I do think one of the major flaws is the one-sided nature of his character, but the lightheartedness of the movie is what gives it the distinction of being a breath of fresh air. Damon getting a Best Actor nomination for this may seem a little bit extreme for such a silly role, but I think he’s a huge part in making this movie such a commercial and critical success. I don’t think The Martian has much of a shot at Best Picture or any of the other major awards, but I think it’ll be one of the more memorable films in the long term.
Walking into The Big Short, I had very low expectations. I was prepared to get considerably bored watching a film that deals with the housing crisis in 2008 and the people that saw it coming, based off the book by Michael Lewis. So I was shocked when I felt myself engaged and enjoying a lot of The Big Short. And that is a credit to the script and the direction by Adam McKay, who has done comedies such as Anchorman and The Other Guys. McKay is able to make the whole situation digestible, with fun descriptions of economic theories with popular stars like Margot Robbie and Selena Gomez. The film is also very funny in how screwed up the system was until you realize that people actually suffered from it, anchored by excellent performances by Christian Bale and Steve Carell amongst a great ensemble cast. McKay does make some choices that get on my nerves and point and get in the way of telling the story, but his bold direction and ability to make it investing is what makes The Big Short really work.
.

Number 4

As I re-watched this film the other day, the only thing I was thinking was “How the hell was this movie nominated for Best Picture?”. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love that it was, but it just defies logic. Is it one of the ten best films this year? Absolutely. But does it fit the bill of a typical Best Picture film? Absolutely not. That being said, the production value is incredible, the costume & makeup design is stellar, the motifs regarding feminism and isolation are very well executed, and to wrap it all up into a giant car chase results in a movie like no other. Mad Max: Fury Road, while very confusing and at times mind boggling, is a ton of fun and easily one of the best films of the year.
I walked out of The Martian the first time a little bit disappointed because I had expected a tension filled, dour survival tale of Matt Damon stuck on Mars. But I actually loved it the second time, realizing that it was more of a lighthearted adventure with just enough moments of pressure to keep you on invested in the story, especially after I read the novel it was based off of. The film switches back between Damon in Mars figuring out how to survive and at NASA trying to figure out how to get him home, and each is surprisingly just as interesting. The film is incredibly smart with each piece fitting to another in its mission as well as its great look of Mars due to the excellent direction of Sci­Fi veteran Ridley Scott. It is an incredibly fun ride with fantastic visuals.
 

Number 3

The Big Short

This film kind of came out of nowhere for me, or so it seemed. I did not anticipate that The Big Short, a film that is kind of the middle ground between Inside Job and Wolf of Wall Street, would be as exciting and riveting as it was, mainly because of its subject matter. That being said, the stellar trio of Christian Bale, Steve Carell, and Ryan Gosling give the film a really strong ensemble, each of whom deliver great performances as men discovering the financial crisis in separate situations. What makes the film so good, however, is not just the performances, but Adam McKay’s stellar direction. He recognizes the fact that the terminology of the financial world is almost impossible for an everyday audience to understand, and uses this to make the film interesting. He interrupts the flow of the story by breaking the fourth wall to actually explain these terms, even using celebrities to do so. The overarching message of the film is that the reason this crisis occurred in the first place is because of the ignorance of the general public no one understood what was going on. That message is mirrored in the film as the audience has no idea what is going on due to the complex nature of finance. It is easily one of the best films of the year, even if it is one of the more confusing.

Spotlight

Spotlight is one of the most subtle and restrained Oscar contender movies I have seen in years, and it is successful because of it. It tells the true story of a number of journalists at the Boston Globe uncovering multiple cases of sexual assault of minors by catholic priests. I say it’s restrained because it doesn’t hit you with a bunch of Oscar­bait, dramatic moments but solely relies on its story, giving every piece of the journalists encounters and not dumbing it down to the audience. This is the power of its screenplay by director Tim McCarthy and Josh Singer, which is a shoe in for the best original screenplay Oscar. It’s direction by McCarthy is also held back until a poignant montage at the end that is so earned that is incredibly effective. And finally, the cast of journalists is what keeps you so invested in the story. Rachel McAdams, Michael Keaton, and Liev Schreiber amongst others are all great, but it is Mark Ruffalo’s performance that I was most struck by, playing the savvy journalist that does everything to find all of the parts of this story, seeing the passion behind his eyes. So go check out Spotlight already; it is an important film that will most likely leave you affected afterward. It is also the only film besides The Revenant that I would say has a chance at the best picture Oscar.

 

Number 2

When it comes to these last two spots, they are kind of interchangeable. The Revenant is Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s second straight masterpiece, taking the real life story of frontiersman Hugh Glass and making it into one of the most intriguing, exciting stories of the entire year. Leonardo DiCaprio is incredible, and it looks like he’ll finally get that first Best Actor award. He ate freaking bison liver as part of the role. Tom Hardy and Domhnall Gleeson are fantastic in supporting roles as well, Hardy getting a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his effort. The opening scene is reminiscent of Saving Private Ryan, setting the tone for a gritty, violent, and enthralling adventure through 1820s Midwest territory. Iñárritu is at the top of his game and could very easily pick up his second straight Best Director award, using his signature style to prolong the brutality of the film, seen specifically in scenes like the bear mauling. Leo will win Best Actor without contention and I would not be surprised if The Revenant won Best Picture, though I’m hesitant because of Alejandro G.’s outstanding success last year with Birdman.
I walked into Room with very little knowledge of the movie, and walked out of it absolutely floored. All that I will tell you is that it’s about a mother and her son and their involvement with this room. Early on, the film grabbed me with its tension in the first half, and then grabbed me emotionally in the second half. Making both settings of the film equally engaging is a credit to director Lenny Abrahamson and screenwriter Emma Donahue, who also wrote the novel it’s based off of. And the chemistry that the mother and son have is what makes you so emotionally invested in the characters, due to the performances by Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay. Larson, who is the favorite for the best actress Oscar, is truly great, trying to remain calm to her son while at the same time being bold enough to deal with both situations. But for Larsons greatness, 9 year old Tremblay is what really struck me. He appears to be delivering a real performance instead of just following the directors orders, like most child actors. His voiceovers really add to the film as well. Room is not always an easy watch, but is a truly moving performance for almost all viewers.
 

Number 1

Like I said Spotlight and The Revenant are basically interchangeable in the 1 and 2 spots, as I loved them both, but what put Spotlight in the number one spot was how it resonated with me and is undoubtedly the film made this year that will stick with me the longest. None of the actors– Ruffalo and McAdams were both nominated– will be winning any of the major acting awards and I don’t think McCarthy has much of a chance at Best Director either. But the script is so well written, building up tension with each scene as a group of reporters work to reveal the true nature of the Catholic church in Boston as they unveil covered up allegations of pedofilia to the public’s eye. Spotlight makes you question faith, religion, and most of all the institutions. Without trying to make this a regurgitation of my review, the journalistic aspect of this helped to continually build the stakes and keep the audience on edge. In the end, Spotlight is a film that forces you to reflect on everything you believe in, and that’s why it was my favorite Best Actor nominee of the year. We’ll see how it fares at the Oscars, but for now it’s one of the year’s top films and has a great shot at Best Picture.
~Vig
Mad Max: Fury Road was my favorite movie of 2015. I knew it when I walked out of the theatre in mid May and I knew it at the end of the year. Being the fourth film in a franchise that hasn’t been alive in thirty years, Fury Road appeared to be another cash grab for a dead franchise. But it ended up to be the most exhilarating film of the year in my opinion, all dealing in the simplicity of its plot. It is about a truck that has Tom Hardy’s Max, Charlize Theron’s Furiosa, and a bunch of stolen wives that try to escape the rule of tyrannical Immortan Joe. That’s it. But in its simplicity, it has complexity in amazing car action sequences. Director George Miller did an incredible job in his ingenuity of these set pieces, which include spot on editing and a great mix of cgi AND practical effects, a rarity in today’s film. But it isn’t just soulless action, the film has incredible characters that have just enough backstory that you care about. Charlize Theron’s Furiosa is simply incredible and her as well as the wives’ toughness proves to be some of the best female action stars in recent memory, a great empowerment of women in a genre where they are so commonly neglected. I cared about the characters in Fury Road more than other films that just dealt with character motivation, which is incredible considering how fast the film goes. The film is so well executed that even the drama heavy academy had to reward it with ten nominations. I usually go to the movies for art or entertainment; in Mad Max: Fury Road, I get both
~Seth
 

Thoughts on… Golden Globes 2016

And here we are, post-Golden Globes, trying to digest the night. Ricky Gervais hosted again, and was “tastefully controversial’ as Zach put it and The Revenant stole the show. There’s a lot to talk about, so we’re just going to jump right into it.

Lady Gaga: Actor?

Yes, she is an actor, and apparently she is pretty good at it. I did not watch this season of American Horror Story (I stopped after the third season), but I personally find it pretty cool she was able to transition to the silver screen so faultlessly. Well done, Gaga.

The Martian: Mission Accomplished

Matt Damon won Best Actor, and the film won Best Picture: Musical or Comedy (though I don’t really agree with it being categorized as a comedy). Ridley Scott did not get Best Director, which would have only sweetened the pot, but regardless, fans of the film cannot help be anything but thrilled. You can check out our review of the film here.

Yo Adrian! I won a Golden Globe!

The surprise of the night for me was Sylvester Stallone winning Best Supporting Actor for Creed. Stallone keeps up the “tough guy” demeanor yet shines most when he flexes his character’s vulnerabilities, making this victory well deserved, but still surprising since I pegged Mark Rylance to win. This could make for a very interesting Oscar race.

Denzel wins the night

Denzel Washington was honored for his life long work with the prestigious Cecil B. DeMille Award. He’s won two Golden Globes and been nominated for seven, making this is award very well deserved. Denzel is a boss and don’t you forget it.

Jamie Foxx throws shade…

…when he announced Straight Out of Compton as the winner for Best Original Score (someone’s obviously mad it wasn’t nominated) and then apologized for pulling a Steve Harvey. Oof. It was pretty funny though.

The Revenant takes home the gold

Winning Best Actor, Best Director, and Best Picture: Drama, The Revenant absolutely dominated this year and deservedly so. It was a fantastic film, an absolutely visceral experience if you will. That being said, I was very surprised at what happened, largely due to…

The spotlight being stolen from Spotlight

This was the movie everyone was expecting to take control of the evening. I thought it would win Best Director (Tom McCarthy), Best Screenplay (McCarthy), and Best Picture, but ended up losing to Iñarritu, Aaron Sorkin for Jobs, and The Revenant, respectively. This was my favorite movie of the year, so hopefully it can pick up momentum going into the Oscars.

 

Thoughts on… Worst Oscar Snubs

The Oscars have crowned 87 films as the “Best Pictures” of their respective years. Some years have been incredibly strong and others relatively weak – 1975 features classics One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Jaws, while 2000’s main attraction was the less-than-stellar Gladiator – which means that the Best Picture label isn’t always indicative of cinematic quality. The Best Picture from one year may be wholly inferior to the second or even third best film of another year, and in many cases that’s true. There are also glaring inconsistencies and mistakes even within single years. Films with old, white people shedding racism or phobias or stuffy period dramas play to the Oscar voters and rake in the votes sometimes over superior films that might just be too edgy or critical for voters. We have some personal examples of poor Best Picture decisions (Silver Linings Playbook was better than Argo, Wolf of Wall Street was better than 12 Years a Slave, and The Dark Knight was better than Slumdog Millionaire to name a few) but those are relatively close and Vig is limiting me to just 5 cases and an honorable mention. So, here are Vig’s and my top 5 examples of when the Academy Award for Best Picture did not go to the best movie. ~Will

Honorable Mention

Citizen Kane loses to How Green Was My Valley 

Goodfellas loses to Dances with Wolves

Taxi Driver loses to Rocky

Apocalypse Now loses to Kramer vs Kramer

Number 5

Star Wars loses to Annie Hall

Star Wars is one of the most beloved, iconic films of all time. The upcoming sequel is the most heavily anticipated movie since the last installment in the Harry Potter series. It may be the most anticipated film of all time, sequel or not. My point is, the Star Wars series is so beloved because the original is awesome. It would be a deserving Best Picture film most years, including 1977. That being said, I am a huge Annie Hall film. It pains me to include this film on the list. I find the movie hilarious, charming, and straight-up entertaining. However, for the love of what is good and true, I couldn’t ignore this snub, as much as it hurts me to say so. Love both films, but it’s clear to anyone with some good sense that Star Wars is superior.

Pan’s Labyrinth loses to The Departed

I love The Departed. It’s one of my favorite movies, and in many other years it would deserve Best Picture. It’s gritty, dark, thrilling, and features great performances from a fantastic cast including Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Jack Nicholson. It also has a killer soundtrack, as many Scorsese movies do. Pan’s Labyrinth, though, is better. It’s spellbinding, innovative, gloriously creative, and also reflective of a period of upheaval and suffering in Spain. It contrasts childhood imagination with tyranny in what is one of my absolute favorite movies of all time. I can’t fathom the fact that it wasn’t even nominated. The only silver lining is that The Departed, another great movie, won.

Number 4

Apocalypse Now loses to Kramer vs Kramer

Francis Ford Coppola is legendary director, one of the greatest of all time, no doubt about it. Apocalypse Now was the 4th and final film in a string of masterpieces that he put together. It’s also, in my opinion, the most moving. It has so much depth, a beautifully crafted story, and stunning acting by Marlin Brando and Martin Sheen (even if Brando was apparently a huge pain to work with). Kramer vs Kramer, on the other hand, is a very good film and features Meryl Streep and Dustin Hoffman at their very best, a combination that is tough to beat. That being said, it is no where near as poignant and well-crafted as Apocalypse Now, which is about a good a film as you’ll ever see. 

The Shawshank Redemption Should Have Beaten Forrest Gump

Forrest Gump is widely cherished, especially by many of my friends. Every time I say I dislike it they chastise me for it and insult my movie tastes. Forrest Gump took one of the most complicated, complex, and important periods in American history and boiled it down to single-take shenanigans and the idea that everyone, with just the right amount of belief, can achieve anything! How marvelous! Meanwhile, The Shawshank Redemption uses actual drama and character work to create inspiration. I’m not the world’s biggest Pulp Fiction fan, but I would gladly have seen it beat Forrest Gump as well. Tom Hanks shouldn’t have won Best Actor either. Let the hate commence.

Number 3

Fargo loses to The English Patient

This is my favorite Coen Brothers film, and its not even close. It is darkly comical and super interesting. The universe has an incredibly realistic feel to it all, but is perfectly countered with a surreal plotline. Frances McDormand, William H. Macy, and Steve Buscemi are all awesome, giving the movie a trio of very different, but interesting characters. On the other hand, The English Patient is… boring. It’s dangerously drury, to put it simply. Ralph Fiennes is pretty good, but besides that, The English Patient isn’t even comparable to Fargo. I guess putting a human being through a wood-chipper is too much for the notoriously conservative Academy voters.

Goodfellas Should Have Beaten Dances With Wolves

Martin Scorsese’s films are on this list three times. Twice his films were robbed, and once, with The Departed, he lucked out. Goodfellas is one of my favorite movies of all time, and rightly so. It’s thrilling, despite its long run-time, and it features great performances from Ray Liotta, Joe Pesci, and Robert De Niro. Dances With Wolves, on the other hand, is insipid, dry, and bloated. It’s another Oscar movie where white people shed their prejudices. Yay! Frankly, the two movies aren’t even in the same league. Dances with Wolves is playing tee-ball while Goodfellas is playing ball in October.

Number 2

Taxi Driver loses to Rocky

Rocky is an iconic film, don’t get me wrong. It is the ultimate underdog film, and so many of its scenes, lines, and moments have been etched in movie history. That being said, it is not even close to being the best film that year. In fact, its probably the third best film, Network being the second best. Taxi Driver, on the other hand, is one of the greatest films of all time. It is probably my favorite Scorsese film. It is gritty, intriguing, and strikingly original. Robert DeNiro delivers one of his best performances, an electric albeit haunting turn as a psychopath taxi driver. Not only is this film entertaining, but it’s symbolic. A lot more than Rocky, in my humble opinion.

Saving Private Ryan loses to Shakespeare in Love

Seriously? Shakespeare in Love is so melodramatic. Maybe I’m not “sophisticated enough to understand its significance” as I’ve been told a number of times. In my opinion, I’m not pretentious and enough to care. The first 20 minutes alone of Saving Private Ryan are more than enough to trounce Shakespeare in Love and send it back to the pompous place whence it came (see, I can write like with histrionics too!). Saving Private Ryan is the ultimate war film, detailing the emotional and physical toll of battle while still developing its memorable and complex cast of characters.

Number 1

Saving Private Ryan loses to Shakespeare in Love

Oh man, don’t even get me started on this one. This is the most atrocious snub in the history of the academy. I don’t know how the hell the Academy screwed this one up, especially considering that this film fits perfectly within the Best Picture mold. And unlike a lot of winners, it’s actually good too! It is Spielberg at his best, Hanks at his best, and Damon at his best. Saving Private Ryan is emotional, realistic, and perhaps the greatest war film ever– and that’s saying something. Shakespeare in Love on the other hand is cute, but that’s about the most praise I can give it. It’s a sappy romance that is not even in the same realm of excellence. Congrats, Shakespeare in Love, you’re the most undeserving Oscar winner in history.

Star Wars loses to Annie Hall

It’s not that I hate Woody Allen. Sure, I’m skeeved out by some of the things he’s done in his personal life, but I actually quite like Midnight in Paris, another Allen film that stars Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, and Marion Cotillard. No, it’s not that I don’t like Woody Allen. It’s just that I don’t like Annie Hall. It’s boring, pretentious, and frankly annoying. Diane Keaton is great, and I like her character, but any scene with Woody Allen just grates on my nerves. Star Wars, on the other hand, is the space epic that spawned possibly the biggest entertainment franchise in the world. As a singular movie, which is how it was being judged by the Academy, it is vastly superior to Annie Hall. Star Wars is epic, entertaining, emotional, and innovative, four things that Annie Hall only pretends to be.

Thoughts on… Pixar

Hello all! After the recent release of Inside Out, Pixar’s latest feature film, we are taking this opportunity to rank all 15 of Pixar’s feature films.

Number 15

Cars 2
What a train wreck. Cars 2 is, in essence, a sequel to a film that didn’t need a sequel. The first one had some redeemable traits, but Cars 2… It was a spy film. Need I say anything more?

Cars 2
Pixar was unstoppable before this. They were ready to conquer the world practically and what do they cough up? A sequel….to their weakest film at the time. Oh, and it’s a spy movie for some reason.

Number 14

Monsters University
Off to a good start with the sequels, I see. Monsters University really wasn’t a bad film, but it lacked the charm that its vastly superior predecessor had. plus, why did we have to know Sully was a bully? Automatic childhood ruiner. 

Brave
Cars 2 made us question whether a decline of Pixar was imminent and Brave kind of proved us wrong, I guess. There’s some real heart there at least; they weren’t just peddling out a clunky sequel a la early Dreamworks.

Number 13

A Bug’s Life
The problem with Bug’s Life is that it’s more forgettable than anything else. Nothing is bad, but nothing is great either. The characters are solid, the story is solid, the plot is solid, but nothing is outstanding. 

Monsters University
Monsters U was fun in the moment but then somebody had to point out its gaping flaw to me: it’s an 80’s college movie. A pretty predictable one. Why? Was there not enough digging left in the world of infinitely unique and colorful monsters?

Number 12

Brave
Brave temporarily put the whole Pixar-collapse panic to a pause. I’ll emphasize temporarily. Again, it was a solid entry for a company that has had a number of outstanding films, which is why it was ranked so low, but there isn’t anything fundamentally wrong with Brave. It’s a meaningful, enjoyable film, but lacks the depth of Pixar’s more successful feature films. 

Cars
This one has a nostalgia boost going for it (I owned all of the little toy cars of the characters) but I definitely see most of its flaws now. It’s predictable and kind of half baked. It feels like they wanted to make a world of cars but could only find a few good visual gags and a half a plot along the way. Aside from that though, the animation’s pretty nice and so is the acting so it’s certainly not unwatchable.

Number 11

Cars
And onto the last of what I feel are the second tier of Pixar films. Cars has sentiment and a good message. Mix that with the fact that there are talking cars, it has become one of Pixar’s most marketable films. Doesn’t make it it’s best… No, Mater kind of prevents that from happening. 

A Bug’s Life
Yet another nostalgia boost here (it was my first Pixar movie ever) but it’s actually creative and bolstered by its great animation. Aside from that, yeah, it visits the usual “liar revealed” checkpoints that are pretty tired. But the characters are memorable and the world is fun enough in its own right.

Number 10

Ratatouille
I was extremely surprised when I saw myself ranking this at number 10. It really is an astounding film. The animation is great, the story is charming, and the characters are very likeable. Remy the rat is one of my all time favorite Pixar characters. I guess it just ends up so low because, well, Pixar is great.  

Wall-E
The first half of Wall-E (The mostly silent one) is excellent; the second half is pretty good. I fell in love the creativity of the film and it has a really strong but silent lead. The second half has an environmentalist message that comes off a little hamfisted but certainly doesn’t ruin anything.

Number 9

Toy Story 2
Toy Story 2 was a incredibly solid film- it touched the heart equally as much as both its predecessor and its sequel. It introduced some great characters and had an intriguing plot finished with a great finish. That being said, it just wasn’t quite as memorable as either the first of the third, in my opinion. Still a great film. 

Toy Story
People were stunned by this when it first came out and rightfully so. In hindsight, it was the first movie of its kind and it still really stands up. The characters bounce off eachother nicely, the plot is original and there’s just enough emotion injected throughout. What more could you ask for from our friends at Pixar?

Number 8

Monsters Inc
I have a weird relationship with Monsters Inc. It’s probably the Pixar film I’ve seen the most, which has contributed to it being a bit stale. But then again, it’s Monsters Inc., and it’s freaking awesome. Mike Wazowski = God

Monsters Inc.
I was tempted to switch this with the first Toy Story a few times but a few factors led me not to: John Goodman and Billy Crystal. And Steve Buscemi. I rest my case with no regret.

Number 7

Finding Nemo
You would be lying if you said that you didn’t cry during Finding Nemo. Not only is it emotional, its charming and full of great moments. The thing about Finding Nemo is that it is probably the story that is most universally applicable, which makes it so memorable. That and “just keep swimming!” have made this film one of Pixar’s most popular films.

Finding Nemo
Finding Nemo was the most emotional Pixar feature until Toy Story 3 arrived and it still is one of the most effective for me. It’s simply about a dad, his son and all of the fish in between and that works for me. Nemo is also one of the installments that neatly displays Pixar’s talent with research and realism when it comes to its animation. Go to an aquarium and you’ll still hear a kid shout “Dory!” or “Nemo!”.

Number 6

WALL-E
WALL-E is an interesting film. I was rather turned off by the silence for the first half of the film, which put me in a bad mood for the rest of the film. That being said, I was younger and less appreciative of film in general. I can acknowledge that WALL-E has strong characters, great animation, and actually a really important message. Most people would rank it as Pixar’s best, but for now I’m putting it at 6. I should really re-watch this movie… 

Toy Story 3
Most would put this at the top of the list and I definitely see why. It’s hard-hitting, it’s real and it’s the experience of seeing the characters you saw over a decade ago come back to life perfectly. That’s all amazing but my gut still finds this threequel to be a tad too hard to watch. The daycare’s a little too mean of a place for me and there’s less humor to balance all the darker things out. However, I still loved this one and yes, that ending did me in too. You have no heart if it doesn’t do the same to you as well.

Number 5

Inside Out
Seeing this film was such a relief for me. It meant that Pixar was truly just going through a rough patch (though now that I think about it, we both are kind of exaggerating. It was only like two years). Anyhow, this film is incredibly entertaining, very creative, and delivers a poignant family message that may or may not have made me cry. 

Inside Out
Yay! Pixar’s back! I was so relieved when I saw the reviews rush in for this one. Inside Out has the makings of a classic Pixar film with really memorable characters, a pitch perfect balance of emotions (tee-hee) and a lot of fun. Sequel worthy? Maybe. I’d like a few more go-arounds with this one before I give a definitive answer though.

Number 4

Toy Story
Pixar’s first film is also one of its greatest. It was innovative, being that it had such incredible animation in a time where animation wasn’t huge. It was interesting, thanks to the characters mixing so well (Tim Allen and Tom Hanks are awesome). Toy Story was the start of something great for Pixar. Fun fact: it’s on the AFI Top 100 films list, which is pretty cool. 

Ratatouille
Ratatouille is great to me. I’m no Francophile and I’ve never been to Paris but it’s such a perfect backdrop for the story. The research shines through once more, the actors give it their all and Pixar works magic again with its animation. The critic’s speech towards the end and the accompanying montage? Yeah, that cemented its place on this list and several other more important ones probably.

Number 3

Up
I feel like Up is one of the most talked about Pixar films. Probably because its relatively new, having been released in 2009. And probably because it’s pretty awesome. The first ten minutes are maybe the saddest ten minutes of a film I’ve ever seen, but also some of the best. However, its not all sad; there is some great humor and adventure that makes Up a nearly perfect film.  

Up
This is where we get into “perfect movie” territory. No more complaints. The first ten minutes of Up could stand alone as its own film and wreck the Academy Awards. The remainder is just a rollercoaster of emotions and an imaginative story that really does convince me that adventure is, indeed, out there.

Number 2

Toy Story 3
There is much debate about which Toy Story film is the best one, and in my mind, there is no doubt that it is the third one. Maybe it is a little bit dark, but that doesn’t mean it lacks the charm and sentimentality that its predecessors does. I think it’s an incredible accomplishment to be able to release a sequel almost a decade later and not even skip a beat, and maybe even improve. I was 10 years older and able to appreciate how good it really is, putting it at number 2 on my list. 

The Incredibles
The Incredibles isn’t just a great animated superhero film, it’s a great superhero film. Arguably, one of the best. This is probably the most fun you can have at a Pixar movie. There’s a great villain, all-star set of heros and, in an era of participation medals and consolation prizes, a solid message on letting your talents flourish. Objectivist? Maybe, a little, yes. Whether you’re a Rand fan or not though, The Incredibles is one enjoyable ride.

Number 1

The Incredibles
Here we are, the number one spot on our list. The Incredibles is indubitably Pixar’s best film. It is a family drama, an action thriller, a superhero movie, a comedy, all mixed up in one. There’s great conflict, both inner and outer. Great protagonists. Great universe. If The Dark Knight wasn’t around, then I would say The Incredibles was the best superhero movie of all time. Plus it has Samuel L. Jackson

Toy Story 2
Toy Story 2 is Pixar. It is the Pixar film. It flawlessly probes into some deeper, darker waters but doesn’t forget to entertain and amuse a little. It expanded the universe of Pixar and just what it could delve into and how emotional it could get through, well, toys and how they felt about their future. In other words (forgive me here), it took it to infinity and beyond.

Thoughts on… Top Movie Franchises

Hey there readers! After a long hiatus due to the the dearth of interesting films in March, we are back! With the recent release of Furious 7 (tune in next week for our review of that) and the highly anticipated Avengers 2: Age of Ultron right around the corner, we decided to look at our top five favorite movie franchises of all time.

Number 5

James Bond

James Bond is by far the longest running series on this list, with 23 feature films already released and a 24th in the latter stages of development. Like most franchises, it has had its ups (Goldfinger) and its downs (Quantum of Solace), but the series has somehow maintained its vitality across multiple generations and even multiple iterations of the titular character by Sean Connery, David Niven, Sean Connery again, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, and now Daniel Craig. Sure, maybe the Bond films have morphed into popcorn action movies rather than slick sleuth movies in recent years, but with the throwback at the end of Skyfall and the history of the titular criminal organization in Spectre, we could very well be returning to the golden age of Bond with this next installment.

Lord of the Rings

Few trilogies can claim they get better as they go along: Peter Jackson’s series of epics definitely can. 

In fact, it’s actively hard not to admire three massive movies that were produced concurrently, stayed true to their source material and also managed to swipe more than a few Oscars along the way. Put simply, Lord of the Rings, if I was writing this based off of sheer gravity and mass, would probably sweep this list. With all the heavy hitters out there in this sequel-obsessed age, that’s pretty darn impressive.

Number 4

Lord of the Rings

Lord of the Rings is a remarkable franchise for a number of reasons. For one, it enticed mass numbers of movie goers (all three original films grossed over $300 million) to sit through three and a half hour epics, that, frankly, did have a tendency to drag. It is also remarkable because it is perhaps the only big-budget sci-fi fantasy film to ever win Best Picture (it won 11 Oscars in total, by the way). Even Star Wars couldn’t win Best Picture. Visually, LORT is stunning. The locations and set pieces in LOTR are so vividly imagined and shot, and the special effects (with the exception of Legolas jumping those few times) are top notch. It features incredible motion capture performances from Andy Serkis as Gollum, and a well-acted cast of supporting characters. The only reason it isn’t higher on this list is that, well, the movies are way too long, even for a LOTR fan. The pacing is usually poor and at times abysmal. Sure, the pay-off is some epic battles, but I think we could all do without all of that walking.

Star Wars

If I hadn’t been for a few infamous prequels, this one could have been a little higher on this list but that’s ok. Four isn’t half bad. I’m still convinced, in fact, that with a few modifications the prequels could’ve stood equal to their parent trilogy. 

Alas, they didn’t. But Star Wars still stands as a prime example of sci-fi (or fantasy, depending on who you ask) on the silver screen. I honestly can’t think of any film that preceded it that was quite like it. Maybe a few good decisions on Mr. J.J. Abrams’s over the next few years can undo some bad ones from the last few decades.

Number 3

Harry Potter

Harry Potter is perhaps my personal favorite on this list, not necessarily because it’s the highest quality, but because it’s the only one where I watched the individual installments as they came out. I’ve watched only the last three Bonds in theater, and haven’t even seen all of them. I saw all of the Lord of the Rings movies within the past year. I didn’t watch Batman Begins until I had already watched The Dark Knight. And Star Wars came out in the 70s. But Harry Potter was something I grew up with. I read the books and watched the movies, and I watched the last few all in theaters, anxiously awaiting their arrivals. Even based on pure quality, it’s a winner. It has an epic story, top-notch special effects, and iconic roles from the likes of Alan Rickman, Helena Bonham Carter, Ralph Fiennes, and of course from the young trio of wizards. I think all of us at one point or another have wished that we could go to school at Hogwarts.

Star Trek

Star Trek isn’t quite as popular as it used to be but I felt as though it’d be a crime against humanity to leave it out. Over three solid T.V. shows, over five good films and one concrete, loyal fanbase? I’m no mathematician like the reviewer next to me but that adds up to a very, very memorable franchise.

Star Trek’s universe spelled out that it was expand-able since episode one. What with all the great different universes, species and races, there were about a billion opportunities to to make stories ranging from campy or downright comedic to dramatic and resonant. Either way, usually, Star Trek conquers.

Number 2

The Dark Knight

This series is carried by perhaps my favorite movie of all time, The Dark Knight. Sure, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight Rises have their individual merits, and both are still exceptionally entertaining and star-studded films, but The Dark Knight is heads and shoulders above the other two movies. It features a chilling performance from Heath Ledger as the Joker, for which he won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Not enough can be said about his portrayal as a man spiraling into madness and dragging down the rest of Gotham with him (Plus, that scene with him and Batman in the interrogation room is pretty killer). But even beyond Ledger, The Dark Knight is perhaps the only superhero movie to have merits outside the superhero genre. It is as much a superhero flick as The Avengers but as much a thrilling crime drama as The Departed.

Harry Potter
There’s no one series (besides the first trilogy on this list) where you can make a case for any of the installments being the best that I can think of other than Harry Potter. Whenever there’s a lull in conversation with friends or I just need to shift the topic, I’ll just ask what everyone’s favorite HP film is and watch the debate ensue.

There’s certainly a reason why this happens: they’re all just great adaptations. Good at condensing the material and capturing the universe. Even better at tuning the visuals, music and acting to what the story needs. All of the choices were pretty much perfect and, as a result, my answer always changes every time you ask me what my exact favorite Potter installment is.

Number 1

Star Wars

Star Wars is the quintessential epic. It is a space opera on a massive scale, with a scope not replicated since its release. It feautres perhaps some of the most iconic characters in all of film, with Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia, Yoda, and Chewy. It’s special effects were far ahead of its time and even hold up relatively well in the modern era. It’s score, composed by John Williams, is immediately recognizable, with such classics as the Imperial March and the Star Wars theme. It spawned a number of television shows, my favorite videogame of all time (Battlefront) and an endless supply of Legos. Even an entirely lackluster trilogy of prequels could not tarnish the sterling reputation of the original three masterpieces. Here’s to hoping that Star Wars can reclaim even a shadow of its former glory with the upcoming The Force Awakens.

 

Marvel Cinematic Universe

Maybe it’s because I’m currently mobilizing for Avengers 2 or maybe it’s because Winter Soldier was on Starz last night or maybe it’s because Guardians of the Galaxy is still in memory but I’m just currently enamored with the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The MCU is everything a franchise should be: it’s loyal to its fans, it’s incredibly well-planned and coordinated and it’s incredibly aware of its own mistakes and is always eager to correct them. Until either D.C. or Sony gets this, the MCU will remain unmatched.

Are we being suffocated with superhero movies too much? Eh, probably but I won’t get tired until the Marvel Universe does.

Thoughts on… 2014 Best Picture Films

This year we have seen plenty of fantastic films come out, but only eight were nominated for the prestigious Best Picture Award. Here, Will and Vig rank the eight films from worst to best.

Number 8

The Imitation Game
In a year of great biopics, The Imitation Game was definitely one of the better ones. However, there’s something missing. It really doesn’t do anything to make itself unique in its story telling. It’s just another linear narration, and probably something I won’t remember in a few years. That being said, Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley are both really good, the latter shooting himself into complete stardom with this one role. As Will said, the ending leaves a bit to be desired, but its a solid film nonetheless. It just fails to be as unique as the films it is competing it, ultimately making it the ‘worst’ Best Picture nominee from the 2015 Oscars (Nightcrawler and Gone Girl were so much better).
The Theory of Everything
The Theory of Everything is a very good movie. It is incredibly well acted, with Felicity Jones scoring a Best Actress nomination and Eddie Redmayne as a co-favorite for Best Actor, and very well directed. It also depicts the real life relationship between renowned physicist Stephen Hawking and his first wife Jane Wilde, from their romantic beginnings through the progression of Hawking’s affliction with ALS. And as we’ve seen in years past, the Academy has a predilection for classy biopics (Argo, The King’s Speech). The problem is, it’s a good movie in a year of great movies and is, in my opinion, the clear-cut lowest quality Best Picture nominee.

Number 7

The Theory of Everything

I like to lump together The Theory of Everything with The Imitation Game because they are both biopics about English geniuses and they both lack a defining feature that makes them unique. However, what makes Theory of Everything a step above The Imitation Game, is that Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones are not just great, they are superhuman. The emotional value of the film has so much depth, but ultimately, it’s just not nearly as good as the films ranked above it on this list. 

The Imitation Game

If you’ve read my review of this film, which I’m sure most of the world has, then you know that I have some major beef with The Imitation Game. The ending is wrong, rushed, and jarring, with the end of Alan Turing’s story and the real biting irony of it relegated to aimless epilogue text. Still, save for the final 5 minutes, it is riveting, solidly acted, and historically intriguing. It’s the better of the two British biopics, but it still left a lot on the table, including a shot at some major Oscar hardware.

Number 6

Selma
I was kinda surprised myself when I found that I ranked Selma so lowly on this list. It’s a really, really great movie. It has more emotional depth than most of the nominees this year, and its message and performances are among the most powerful I’ve seen in a long while. David Oyelowo and Ava Duvernay got absolutely snubbed at the Oscars, the former of which gives the first realistic, successful portrayal of Martin Luther King Jr. in his entirety. I probably could have and should have ranked this above Budapest… but something prevented me from doing so. Selma was just too forceful in its approach, I think. 
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Visually striking, deftly comical, and delightfully odd, The Grand Budapest Hotel is the real oddity in this group of 8 films. The Academy has typically shunned director Wes Anderson and his new age, quirky films, opting instead for more typical and traditional films. This year, though, voters really went for it and gave the film 9 nominations. It might edge out the rest of the nominees in terms of creativity and visuals, and it definitely should have scored an acting nomination for Ralph Fiennes, but while it certainly has many though-provoking layers, but it lacks the significance that propels other films to the front of the pack.

Number 5

The Grand Budapest Hotel
I first saw The Grand Budapest Hotel on a plane, and you know, it was not a fantastic experience for me. It was good, but I couldn’t see what everyone was buzzing about. Then, it came on HBO one day and I was able to sit down and concentrate and really appreciate how masterful it is. It is so unique in its style, extremely entertaining and pretty memorable. Not only is the Grand Budapest Hotel one of the most unique films of the year, it is, in my opinion, Wes Anderson’s best film, especially upon re-watching it. 
American Sniper
Watching American Sniper is an intense and visceral experience; Eastwood and Cooper do not shy away from the horrors of war that soldiers must face on the battlefield and the ghosts that follow them back home. Controversy over the whitewashing of Kyle’s story and their unqualified depiction of him as an American hero have somewhat overshadowed Sniper’s merits as a work of film-making (Seth Rogen compared it to the Nazi propaganda film from Inglorious Basterds), but in my opinion American Sniper remains an illuminating and shocking movie.

Number 4

American Sniper
It pains me to rank this in the fourth spot. It just feels SO much better. But when looking at the three films ranked above it, you can probably understand why it is placed where it is. American Sniper is probably the most emotional and powerful film of the year. From beginning to end, it is able to grab your attention and keep it. With all the controversy clouding the film, its hard to remember that American Sniper, just as a straight up film, is pretty remarkable. I don’t really care about the inaccuracies in the story as long as the movie is good, and that’s what it is. It’s genuinely a memorable, enjoyable film.
Selma
As I wrote in my review (which, again, I’m sure was read by millions), Selma is very much the movie of the moment. It comes at a time when racial tensions in this country are at its peak, a fact that merely underscores the inherent lack of diversity in the Academy’s membership and 2015 nominees. It boasts great performances from David Oyelowo and Carmen Ejogo, as Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King, and is largely a musing on race and inequalities in 1960s and modern America. In other years, the moving Selma might just be top dog, but 2015 is one of the strongest years for movies in recent memory.

Number 3

Boyhood

I agree with Will when saying that the next three movies are virtually inseparable (though I would most likely include American Sniper in that group). Boyhood is probably the most heartwarming of the three, and the most unique. The story of its production is incredible, and the final product is a movie that will be remembered for years to come. It never fails to be entertaining, and is an incredibly crafted story. However, it has moments of really odd dialogue and pitiful acting (ugh, the scene where the boys are drinking kills me every time). Still a really great film though. 

Boyhood

These next three movies are virtually inseparable. I would be satisfied if any of the three won Best Picture next week, for each is incredibly deserving and would definitely win in weaker years. In fact, I would put all three above 12 Years a Slave and Argo, the last two Best Picture winners. Boyhood is of course an inventive movie, having been shot with the same cast over the course of 12 years. It follows Mason, played by Ellar Coltrane, as he matures and experiences all the heights and pitfalls of childhood. It is incredibly moving and equally confounding. I just wished it was better acted.

Number 2

Birdman
Being a self-proclaimed theater kid, I really connected with this film. The feeling of creating something with artistic value is incredible. And Birdman takes that idea and satirizes it, while still creating something moving and entertaining, despite how cynical and dark the movie tends to be. Michael Keaton, essentially playing himself, is absolutely tremendous and is definitely my pick to win Best Actor. Emma Stone and Edward Norton have also been overshadowed with all the talk of Keaton winning Best Actor. Innovative, technically brilliant, and entertaining, both with its drama and its hilariously written comedy, Birdman is definitely one of the better movies I’ve seen in a while.
Whiplash
Whiplash was a bit of a surprise nominee. Vig and I had hoped that it would snag a nomination, but it seemed to be lacking the requisite buzz for a last minute push. What a happy surprise! It is incredibly intense, with each scene topping the next and each actor pushing the others. Of course, JK Simmons is the biggest draw here, and he is the favorite to take home the Best Supporting Actor award next week. He is undoubtedly the most deserving, and his performance as Terence Fletcher is one of the best I’ve ever seen. Oh, and the soundtrack is pretty killer too. Unfortunately, Whiplash doesn’t have a shot in hell to take the prize, even though Vig and I both agree that it has as much merit as anything else.

Number 1

Whiplash
And here we are. My number 1 movie of this year is Whiplash, a movie that was stunning both visually and audibly. The music was utterly fantastic, combining with visceral camera work to make it so engaging. Then there’s J.K. Simmons, who will win Best Supporting Actor without question and deserves it more than anyone else does. His intensity is top-notch. The delivery of his lines are perfect. Everything about his performance is perfect. Miles Teller is also really good too, in case anyone forgot. Unfortunately, Whiplash has a 0% chance of winning the Best Picture, which is a real shame because it is the most intense and entertaining film of 2015, which is saying something considering what a great year this was for films. GO SEE WHIPLASH!!
~Vig
Birdman
Yes! Birdman is my favorite movie of the year. It is biting, ironic, dark, and yet often very comical. Michael Keaton gives a career-reviving performance as Riggan Thompson, an actor struggling to shed his reputation as a sell out superhero actor while trying to create something with artistic value and meaning. I’d vote for him as Best Actor and Emma Stone as Best Supporting Actress, and the interplay between the two, with their generational gaps and differing backgrounds exploited for comedic and dramatic effect, drives much of the movie. Of course, Birdman boats a certain meta quality, with Keaton and Thompson sharing certain central qualities and characteristics. Genre-bending, innovative, and brilliantly written, Birdman is simply put the best movie of the 2015 Oscars.
~Will