Friday, January 30, 2015

2014 Year End Report: Worst Films of 2014

I really do try and avoid the worst of the worst in a given year. So the fact that Ride Along, Let’s Be Cops, Dracula Untold, No Good Deed, Ouija, Blended, Horrible Bosses 2, The Best of Me, The Awkward Moment, The November Man, Endless Love, I Frankenstein, A Haunted House 2, And So It Goes, America, Left Behind, Saving Christmas, Winter’s Tale, Vampire Academy or probably countless others do not feature on the below list is not an endorsement of those films – but simply an acknowledgement that I really had zero interest in seeing any of them.

But there were still many other bad films I did see this year. Ones that could have made my worst 10 list, but didn’t include: Divergent (Neil Burger) which took a mediocre YA book and turned it into an awful movie (I shudder to think of the next movie – as the books get far worse as the series progressed). The Expendables 3 (Patrick Hughes) was the worst of the series, which still hasn’t figured out that fans of the 1980s/90s action stars may want to see action filmed the same way as it was back then. A Field in England (Ben Wheatley) was a ridiculous, incoherent movie from the extremely talented British director. A Million Ways to the Die in the West (Seth Macfarlane) was painfully unfunny – like the worst family guy episode which dragged on for more than two hours. Mood Indigo (Michel Gondry) was Gondry at his absolute worst – all cuteness, no content. Need for Speed (Scott Waugh) had no story, but still managed to run for more than 2 hours of loud action. Pompeii (Paul W.S. Anderson) was another horrible film by the less talented Paul Anderson. The Quiet Ones (John Pogue) was a dull, unscary horror movie, which went nowhere and did so slowly. Sabotage (David Ayer) had a good premise, but devolved into nothing but action, rather than storytelling – and not good action at that. Serena (Susanne Bier) was a soap opera that took itself way too seriously, and wasted its two very talented leads. Sex Tape (Jake Kasdan) should have made an entertaining sex comedy, but instead was simply boring. Tusk (Kevin Smith) has a bizarro premise which Smith somehow completely screws up. Wish I Was Here (Zach Braff) was indulgent in the extreme – a vanity project in the worse sense of the word.

Bottom 10

10. Third Person (Paul Haggis)
Paul Haggis’ Third Person is, like his Oscar-winning Crash, a film that hopes between multiple stories lines, connected by a uniting theme – this time about love, both romantic and parent-child. But unlike Crash, which in spite of what its biggest detractors will tell you is not an awful film (merely a mediocre one); Third Person is really, really bad. The storylines don’t make much sense together – and strain credibility at every turn, stranding talented actors like Mila Kunis, Adrien Brody, James Franco, Olivia Wilde, Maria Bellow and Liam Neeson with nothing to do. And when you get to the “big twist ending”, it’s simply ludicrous. 90% of Third Person is a bad movie – the last 10 minutes or so are simply god-awful, which is why it earns a spot on this list.

9. Are You Here (Matthew Weiner)
How does a guy as talented as Matthew Weiner – who has guided Mad Men from the beginning – make a film as tone deaf as Are You Here? The film is supposed to be a comedy about two overgrown men-children who eventually grow up – but it isn’t funny, and the man children don’t really grow up, simply get duller. Owen Wilson and Zach Galifiankis are better than they are given a chance to do here. Even worse are the two main female characters – one of whom is a clichéd nagging bitch, and the other gives herself, sexually, to the various men in the movie as a “reward” on a number of occasions. For a man who has helped to create some great female characters on Mad Men to make a movie that could easily be called misogynistic is mind boggling. That he could make a film that shows such horrible levels of acting, directing and writing is unthinkable. But he did.

8. Dumb and Dumber To (Peter & Bobby Farrelly)
I wasn’t the biggest fan of the original Dumb and Dumber – but I will admit that it makes me laugh out loud several times every time I come across it on TV. The 20 years in the making follow-up is just as dumb as the original – which isn’t really an insult, given its title – but doesn’t contain a single laugh out loud moment – or even one that produced as much as a giggle from me. The Farrellys and Jim Carrey seem to trying way too hard to make the film work, and Jeff Daniels seems to not be trying at all – and the less said about the supporting cast, the better. The film is quite simply, a pain to sit through.

7. The Other Woman (Nick Cassavetes)
It’s a shame it is that Hollywood doesn’t make more films starring women – and it’s even worse that when they do, they make something as wretched as The Other Woman. Here is a film where the three main characters are women – played by Cameron Diaz, Leslie Mann and Kate Upton – and yet it still may not even pass the Bechdel Test, since all these three do is talk about the man who is screwing them all over. It’s an even bigger shame that the movie saddles talented comedic actresses like Diaz and Mann with such clichéd, misogynistic roles (Upton is also saddled with one of those – but I’m not sure how talented she is). Nick Cassavetes is the son of John Cassavetes, who in films like A Woman Under the Influence (1974), Opening Night (1977) and Love Streams (1984) featured his wife (and Nick’s mother) Gena Rowlands with complex, brilliantly written role to play. And his son makes this crap. It’s just sad.

6. Moebius (Kim Ki-Duk)
For reasons that even I do not understand, I keep watching the films of Korean director Kim Ki-Duk, despite the fact that every single one of them are horrible. Here, he has made a movie about the most screwed up family of the year – where the mother, after finding out her husband is cheating on her, decides to cut off his penis – and when he runs away, cuts off her sons penis instead – and that is far from the only penis removal in the film. The film has no dialogue, and almost plays like a gleeful exploitation film (which would have better, even if not by much), but Kim seems to also think he has something real to say about sexuality and masculinity. He has nothing interesting to say about women though – the two main ones are played by the same actress, who is there just to serve the male characters, either by cutting off their penises, or being raped or otherwise being sexually exploited. Misogyny has been a running theme so far on this worst of list, and Moebius certainly fits the bill.

5. Devil’s Knot (Atom Egoyan)
How sad is it that Atom Egoyan, who could once be counted on to deliver a fine film every time out, has sunk as low as Devils Knot. This is the first of two (and the far worse) or his two films this year, a feature based on the infamous West Memphis Three murder case that finds nothing interesting or new to say about it. Oddly, it focuses on Colin Firths investigator – shunting everyone else off into the background. Poor Reese Witherspoon is given nothing to but looked shocked or saddened (or both) in every scene, Alessandro Nivola pretty much twirls his mustache as a bad guy, and the two most interesting characters – played by Kevin Durand and Mirelle Enos are barely given any screen time. Then he goes ahead and wastes the talents of Bruce Greenwood, Elias Koteas, Amy Ryan and everyone else by giving them nothing to do. Worst of all, Devils Knot is just plain boring and dull from beginning to end. Egoyan is capable of WAY better than this. I just don’t know if he`ll ever be as good as he can be again.

4. Big Bad Wolves (Aharon Keshales & Navot Papushado)
For reasons that I do not understand, somehow this Israeli thriller, which Quentin Tarantino inexplicably named the best film of 2013, got mostly good reviews. It is a revenge thriller, about an insane man who kidnaps the person he believes killed his child, and tortures him into confessing. The film is violent, to say the least, but that wasn’t my problem with it – it’s that it has nothing interesting to say about all the torture is displays – but certainly thinks it does. In fact, it almost justifies what is being done onscreen. It’s a vile little movie, one that I didn’t find entertaining or interesting on any level.

3. God’s Not Dead (Harold Cronk)
I understand that Christians think that Hollywood doesn’t make films aimed at them – I really do. But is there a reason why when those Christians go out and make their own movies, they have to be as poorly conceived and executed on every level as Gods Not Dead. The film takes as its premise that a University Professor (played with evil glee by Kevin Sorbo) tries to convince his philosophy class that God is Dead – and the one brave Christian who stands up and argues that he isn’t. That could, conceivably anyway, make an interesting movie – but Gods Not Dead is not that movie. It such broad, condescending preaching from beginning to end – with actors who cannot act, and a director who cannot direct, whose argue is infantile. I would love to see more movies that took religion seriously, even if I am an atheist – but Gods Not Dead doesn’t take religion seriously at all. That’s a shame.

2. Child of God (James Franco)
James Franco certainly has good taste in source material – Cormac McCarthy is one of the best living writers in the world right now. Child of God is one of his simpler stories, but seeing as it is about a man who has sex with dead bodies, it had to be approached in the right way if it was to work as a movie – and Franco messes that up. Part of the problem is the horrible overacting of leading man Scott Haze – who you can barely understand what the hell he’s saying. Part of it is that Franco doesn’t figure out a way to translate all that dead body sex onto the screen without making it unintentionally funny. And part of it is that Franco doesn’t seem to know how to translate the rest of the novel to the screen either – the movie literally has text from the McCarthy novel appear onscreen. The movie is a painful sit, because Franco never has any idea how to make the movie. Franco also directed a demo reel for McCarthy's masterpiece Blood Meridian to try and get that directing job. Thanks but no thanks James.

1. Transformers: Age of Extinction (Michael Bay)
Michael Bay's fourth Transformers movie is probably the most movie I have seen this year. The film runs nearly three hours, but never has a coherent plot. It’s all just loud, metallic clanging, fast cut editing and giant robots fighting each other in one incoherent action sequence after another. The film is headache inducing in the extreme – as Bay doesn’t seem to find anything worthy of being cut, so he simply throws everything at the screen. I could go on about the misogyny in this movie as well – the creepy control Mark Wahlberg wants to have over his daughters sex life, or how the romantic leading man carries around a paper that proves that technically he is not a stator rapist, or how the camera leers at young Nicola Peltz throughout (and why, by the way, do all women in a Bay movie glisten that way). The saddest thing about a movie like this is that as maligned as he is, Bay is actually a talented director – I quite liked his film from last year, Pain & Gain, and two of the previous Transformers movie had awe inspiring action sequences (the second one is almost as abysmal as this one though). But Bay simply doesn’t know when enough is enough – either in terms of making Transformers films in the first place, or while directing and editing this film either. There was no worse movie going experience this year than this monstrosity.

2014 Year End Report: Most Disappointing Films

The following is not a list of the worst films of the year – that will come next – but rather the ones I had high hopes for that simply didn’t deliver. Some of them are decent – perhaps even good – but are nowhere near as good as they should have been. That can almost be worse than a really bad film – but there is such missed opportunity in these films.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (Marc Webb) was enjoyable, for the most part, but still didn’t make a case for why we needed a fifth Spider-Man film in 12 years. Bad Words (Jason Bateman) should have been the next Bad Santa, but Bateman as both director and actor, never quite brings it – leaving it as a rather unfunny and dull movie about swearing at children. Big Eyes (Tim Burton) was perhaps the directors attempt to do something more serious – but the film seemed even more hollow than most of his films. Dumb and Dumber To (Peter & Bobby Farrelly) had zero laughs, which considering how funny the original one still is, made this particularly disappointing. Exodus: Gods and Kings (Ridley Scott) gets some of the big moments right, but everything else, really, really wrong. Lucy (Luc Besson) had a ton of ambition, and a great setup, but reveals Besson’s lack of imagination as it moves towards its action climax.  Magic in the Moonlight (Woody Allen) once again had Allen follow-up one of his best recent efforts, with one that he seems to have phoned in – not even the ever charming Colin Firth and Emma Stone could save this one. A Million Ways to the Die in the West (Seth Macfarlane) marked a huge step backward for Macfarlane, after the rather good Ted, which shows him indulging in the same immature storytelling as he does on TV. Neighbors (Nicholas Stoller) should have been a can’t miss comedy, but other the Rose Bryne, didn’t have much to recommend it. Tom at the Farm (Xavier Dolan) had a great setup, but no payoff at all, which for a thriller just won’t do., Transcendence (Wally Pfister) showed that a great cinematographer doesn’t always make a great director – and once again showed that Johnny Depp needs to play a normal fucking human again at some point. Tusk (Kevin Smith) has some decent moments, which makes the rest of the awful movie so frustrating, since it could have been a bizarre, strange entertainment.

Top 10

10. Serena (Susanne Bier)
Serena was the oft-delayed film, that we first heard about after Silver Linings Playbook two years ago and it finally limped into Canadian theaters this December (apparently, it’s going straight to VOD in American early next year). Yes, like most oft-delayed films it is bad. I had held out hope that perhaps this was going to be a return to form for Bier – who hasn’t made a good film in a while, after a string of very good films in the early to mid-2000s. But this is actually her worst film to date – and it completely wastes the talents of Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence – two actors who are capable of being as charming and charismatic as anyone out there. The film is a soap opera, but one that takes itself far too seriously. The plot is ridiculous, and the actors seem to be asleep, despite how insane the goings on get. Bier is a talented director – and I hope she regains her top form soon. But this one was a massive letdown.

9. Mood Indigo (Michel Gondry)
Michel Gondry is a director who handles low-key special effects as good as anyone – a director of endless visually imagination. But, with the exception of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – a masterpiece that would make my top 10 list for the decade of the 2000s – he has never had a screenplay to match that inventiveness. Even given that, he has made a series of entertaining little films in the decade since Eternal Sunshine. But Mood Indigo is almost insufferably cute – a movie about the idle upper class whose world comes crashing down around them because of illness. But even though the underlying subject is rather dark, Gondry never really digs deep enough – keeping things on the cutesy, whimsical surface. I saw the European cut – which runs a half hour longer than the one released in American theaters, and it was endlessly cloying for well over two hours. Gondry has talent – and Mood Indigo has some nice visual touches. But I’m not sure he knows what his own movie is about here.

8. Jimmy P. (Arnaud Desplechin)
Desplechin's last two films – Kings and Queen and A Christmas Tale – are both large, messy ensemble pieces that also happen to be masterpieces. He works rather infrequently – meaning that I hope his every film is as good as those, and so I was looking forward to his latest – which debuted at Cannes in 2013. But his film, about a Native American (Benicio Del Toro) with a brain injury who seeks out treatment from an eccentric French doctor (Mathieu Amalric) is really rather dull. What’s more, it never really delves in very deep into the material – the two lead performances are fine, but the film drags on and on and on, and doesn’t really have much to say about psychotherapy. I still think Desplechin is a great filmmaker – but Jimmy P. is a definite disappointment.

7. The Giver (Philip Noyce)
There have been a lot of YA dystopian adaptations in recent years, so I guess it makes sense that studios would eventually get to one of the best the genre has to the offer – Lois Lowry's The Giver. It seems like it has a good cast – with Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep among others, and I liked the choice by director Philip Noyce to start in black and white and slowly turns things to color. However, the film seems to strip away everything that made the book so special in the first place, and replace it with needless action sequences, villains. Basically, they want to make The Giver into another Divergent – and that’s the last thing the movie should be. This should have been one of the highlights of the year – but it ended up being another forgettable YA film.

6. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (Robert Rodriguez & Frank Miller)
It has been 9 years since Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller first adapted Milles graphic novel series to the screen. After numerous false starts and cancellations, the sequel finally landed this summer – and it landed with a thud. What once seemed novel and original has been copied by many other films since. Even worse, the stories adapted this time just are not very good; most of the cast (Eva Green being the exception) sleepwalk through their roles. The segment that gives the movie its subtitle is probably the best – it is the one with Green after all – but the others, especially the one involving Jessica Alba and her revenge fantasy, is almost unwatchable. Sometimes, you have to strike when the iron is hot – which in this case was about 7 years ago.

5. Men, Women & Children (Jason Reitman)
Jason Reitman's first four films each got increasingly better – culminating with the brilliant, darkly hilarious and disturbing Young Adult, featuring the best performance of Charlize Theron's career. But since then, he seems to have lost his way a little bit. He tried to do a soapy melodrama last year, with Labor Day, which even the collective talent of Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin could not save. With Men, Women and Children his problems started with picking horrible source material (the novel the film is based on is WAY worse than the movie). He does have some good scenes in the movie – he gets one of the best performances anyone has ever gotten out of Adam Sandler (his final scene is actually close to brilliant), but is weighed down under so much crap that good just cannot compete. Reitman remains a tremendously talented director, but he needs a comeback vehicle – and fast. Maybe he should team up with Diablo Cody again – Young Adult showed she could write more mature material than she is given credit for after all.

4. The Zero Theorem (Terry Gilliam)
Perhaps I should stop expecting so much from the films of Terry Gilliam. His last film, 2009’s The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus was his best in quite some time, and it was still just average. He really hasn’t made a great film since 1998’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. But Gilliam is such a talented director, better at building cinematic worlds than just about anyone else, so I still look forward to each and every one. The Zero Theorem stars Christoph Waltz as a man who is seeking to find out why human exist – and perhaps disapprove the existence of God, but he’s constantly being undermined by management (represented by Matt Damon). The film gives you a lot to look at in pretty much every frame – it is as visually inventive as anything Gilliam has done. But the storytelling is once again muddled, the performances never really connect, and the film limps along until it mercifully ends. Gilliam still has talent – and I still won`t give up hope that there is another great film in him – but once again, he delivered a disappointment.

3. A Field in England (Ben Wheatley)
I was a big fan of Wheatley`s last two films – Kill List, which continued to twist and change genres as it went along, and Sightseers, a delirious black comedy, so I was looking forward to his black and white, surreal comedy A Field in England. Unfortunately, the film was a major miss for me. The film literally goes around in circles throughout, has some horrible toilet humor, and then takes a very strange turn in the final minutes. The film still shows Wheatley`s talent – and his willingness to experiment at every step along the way. But A Field in England was a miss for me – a chore to sit through, which strikes me as a step back for the talented young Brit. I still want to see what he does next – I just hope it’s better than this.

2. Are You Here (Matthew Weiner)
Going into TIFF 2013, Are You Here was on many critics Must See list for the festival – and the word coming out was that it was a massive bomb. People could not believe that the man responsible for Mad Men made something this tone deaf. But sometimes, festivals act as echo chambers, and when seen outside of a festival setting, movies that initially got bad reviews look better (and vice versa). But in this case, the advance word was correct. Are You Here is unbelievably bad – it feels like a movie written and directed by someone who has no idea what he`s doing – and we know that isn’t Weiner, who has shown his ability in both in Mad Men. Perhaps he was just trying to do too much – as if he wanted to cram an entire series of TV shoehorned into a two hour package. Whatever the reason, after Are You Here, I have to wish that Weiner just concentrates on TV from here on out – and leave the movies to those who know how to make them.

1. The Captive/Devil’s Knot (Atom Egoyan)
Egoyan was once one of the best directors working, not just in my country of Canada, but in the world. He peaked with 1994s Exotica and 1997s The Sweet Hereafter, but his films after that – Felcia's Journey, Ararat, Where the Truth Lies and Adoration all had many things to recommend them on. But ever since 2009s Chloe, Egoyan seems to have lost his way a little bit. That was a rather lame erotic thriller, which was neither erotic nor thrilling. It took him 4 years to follow that up with Devils Knot – an terrible film about the West Memphis Three, which I saw at TIFF last year, and made its way to theaters this year, and then he comes right back with The Captive – which is undeniably better than either of the previous films, but still plays like a direct to DVD thriller, made by a director who thinks he’s much cleverer than he really is. What the hell has happened to Egoyan? I don’t know, but I don’t like it.

2014 Year End Report: Personal Oscar Ballot

Below is my personal Oscar ballot – basically what this year’s nominees (and winners) would look like if I got to choose such things. I have ranked them in each category, and will offer a few thoughts as to why I choose what I did.

Best Picture
1.     The Grand Budapest Hotel
2.     Inherent Vice
3.     Boyhood
4.     Gone Girl
5.     Foxcatcher
6.     Only Lovers Left Alive
7.     Nightcrawler
8.     Selma

Apparently every year, AMC theaters in America does a marathon of all the best picture nominees in one day. I would do that with this group of films. Start with Wes Anderson’s enormously entertaining comedy about the importance of not letting the barbarians wins with an idealistic hero, move into Paul Thomas Anderson’s movie about a specific moment in American history, when idealism faded into cynicism, Richard Linklater’s films brings you back to earth a little bit its portrait of the everyday, then David Fincher’s Gone Girl goes over the top and insane, before Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher is cold an subdued, then chill a little with a couple of cool vampires in Jim Jarmursch’s Only Lovers Left Alive, before moving to a portrait of a capitalist sociopath in Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler, before be challenged and inspired by Ava DuVernay’s Selma. These 8 films capture why you I go to the movies – and I can think of no better way to spend an entire day watching all 8 back to back.

1.     Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
2.     Paul Thomas Anderson, Inherent Vice
3.     Richard Linklater, Boyhood
4.     David Fincher, Gone Girl
5.     Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher

The two Anderson’s are clearly the best directing efforts of the year for me – they control everything, even when they seem fairly loose. Linklater’s command in Boyhood is looser, yet just as confident – having to do it over a 12 year span. David Fincher goes both darker and more comedic than normal even for him – and produces the most talked about film of the year. Bennett Miller’s complete command of every frame, every moment is mesmerizing. I really do wish I had more room in the top – especially for Jarmusch for Only Lovers Left Alive and DuVernay for Selma – but I just cannot find a spot for either.

Best Actor

1.     Ralph Fiennes, The Grand Budapest Hotel
2.     Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler
3.     Joaquin Phoenix, Inherent Vice
4.     David Oyelowo, Selma
5.     Channing Tatum, Foxcatcher

For the first time since I can remember, none of my top five became Oscar nominees this year – though I still think I’m right. Ralph Fiennes’ concierge, Jake Gyllenhaal’s sociopath, Joaquin Phoenix’s stoner, David Oyelowo’s leader, and Channing Tatum’s repressed wrestler were the best performances I saw in this category this year. I wish the Academy had realized what these actors did this year.

Best Actress

1.     Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
2.     Luminita Gheorghiu, Child’s Pose
3.     Anne Dorval, Mommy
4.     Tilda Swinton, Only Lovers Left Alive
5.     Scarlett Johansson, Under the Skin

Once again, my opinion clearly didn’t match up with the Academy this year - 1 for 5 (although, to be fair, I have not had a chance to see Julianne Moore in Still Alice yet). Pike’s performance is the best – but she is pushed by two unsung foreign performances as flawed mothers, Luminita Gheorghiu in Child’s Pose and Anne Dorval in Mommy. Tilda Swinton is all cool intelligence in Only Lovers Left Alive – a warm, humane presence in the film. Scarlett Johansson does a brilliant job with an inhuman character. The Oscar nominated performances are actually quite good – these are better.

Best Supporting Actor
1.     J.K. Simmons, Whiplash
2.     Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
3.     Josh Brolin, Inherent Vice
4.     Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
5.     Edward Norton, Birdman

I make up for the fact that I barely had any overlap between me and the Academy in the lead categories with having 4 out of 5 here. Simmons has dominated this category all year for a reason – he dominates the film in a supporting role. Ruffalo is in many ways his opposite – very quiet, but in some ways he dominates the other characters as much as Simmons does. The lone non-nominee for me is Josh Brolin – who brilliantly goes over the top in Inherent Vice – before bringing it back in later scenes. Ethan Hawke is as natural as he has ever been in Boyhood. And finally, one of the only things I liked as much about Birdman as its biggest supporters is Edward Norton’s brilliant, hilarious performance as a full of himself, method actor (or basically what everyone thinks Edward Norton is really like).

Supporting Actor
1.     Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
2.     Katherine Waterston, Inherent Vice
3.     Uma Thurman, Nymphomaniac Volume I
4.     Rene Russo, Nightcrawler
5.     Carmen Ejogo, Selma

After agreeing (mostly) with the Academy on supporting actor category, I go back to not seeing eye-to-eye with them once again. Patricia Arquette is clearly the best in Boyhood – but after that are four mainly unsung performances. Katherine Waterston only has a few scenes in Inherent Vice – but they are the crux to the movie. Uma Thurman delivers a one scene wonder in Nymphomaniac. Rene Russo did get some buzz – but sadly, she didn’t get in for her great work. Finally, Carmen Ejogo’s performance was perhaps too subtle for Academy members to notice in Selma – but it is truly great,

Best Original Screenplay
1.     The Grand Budapest Hotel – Wes Anderson & Hugo Guinness
2.     Boyhood – Richard Linklater
3.     Nightcrawler – Dan Gilroy
4.     Foxcatcher – Dan Futterman & E. Max Frye
5.     Winter Sleep – Ebru Ceylon & Nuri Bilge Ceylon

This was the stronger of the two screenplay categories this year – yet still, The Grand Budapest Hotel was the best by quite a bit. Linklater’s Boyhood is fine work – built scene at a time, for 12 years. Nightcrawler has a great screenplay – the one area the Academy recognized the great movie for. The screenplay for Foxcatcher takes a true story, and makes it something wholly different. Finally, there is Winter Sleep, which builds its portrait of a self-delusional asshole, scene by scene, for three hours – including two great conversations at their heart.

Best Adapted Screenplay
1.     Inherent Vice – Paul Thomas Anderson
2.     Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn
3.     Enemy – Javier Gullon
4.     A Most Wanted Man – Andrew Bovell
5.     Whiplash – Damien Chazelle

A much weaker category than usual this year – but the top two screenplays are as good as they get – the first where Anderson took a nearly unadaptable book and turning it into a great movie, and Flynn brilliantly adapting her own novel for the screen. The other three are still strong work – adapting a Pulitzer Prize winner brilliantly, a complicated LeCarre novel, and apparently a writers own short film. They just aren’t as strong as normal this year.

Best Documentary
1.     Life Itself
2.     The Last of the Unjust
3.     Citizenfour
4.     20,000 Days on Earth
5.     Rich Hill

I still need to see quite a few docs – so my ultimate opinion may change here – but these five docs are the best of the 40 I saw this year. Still not sure how the Academy could overlook Steve James (AGAIN), especially since his doc is about a beloved figure in movie history. I also don’t understand why Claude Lanzmann’s 4 hour companion piece to Shoah didn’t get more praise. Citizenfour gives a fascinating peak at Edward Snowden, although not quite the one the filmmakers think they are giving. I would love to see more celebrity docs like 20,000 Days on Earth about Nick Cave. Finally, Rich Hill gives a humane, beautiful portrait of the type of people you don’t see in movies often enough.

Best Animated Film

1.    The Lego Movie
2.    Song of the Sea
3.    The Tale of the Princess Kaguya
4.    The Boxtrolls
5.    Big Hero 6

The more I think about it, the stronger this category seems to me – hell, I didn’t even have room for How to Train Your Dragon 2 – and I really liked that movie. However, The Lego Movie was clearly the best of the year – and its Oscar snub is kind of embarrassing. Still, I love the two more unconventional picks – Song of the Sea and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya – they made, which are among the most beautiful animated films in recent years. Finally, I had more fun at The Boxtrolls and Big Hero 6 then perhaps I should have – both are amazingly well made.

Best Foreign Language Film
1.     Winter Sleep – Turkey
2.     Leviathan - Russia
3.     Force Majeure – Sweden
4.     Two Days, One Night - Belgium
5.     Mommy – Canada

Honestly, this category was a little weaker than in recent years – yet I still do love all five of these movies – this could have been their lineup, had as all four were actually selected by their country for this year – but they only choose Leviathan.

Best Cinematography
1.     The Grand Budapest Hotel – Robert D. Yeoman
2.     Mr. Turner – Dick Pope
3.     Inherent Vice – Robert Elswit
4.     Birdman – Emmanuel Lubezki
5.     Gone Girl – Jeff Cronenweth
This was an impossibly strong category this year. I think Yeoman`s work, on film and in different aspect ratios, in The Grand Budapest Hotel is the best of the year easily – but a case can be made for Dick Popes painterly images in Mr. Turner, or Robert Elswit's ever roaming L.A. camera work in Inherent Vice (and he could have easily been here for Nightcrawler as well). Emmanuel Lubezki's brilliant work in Birdman is as amazing as anything he has ever done. Finally, Jeff Cronenweth does so much sickeningly good work in Gone Girl it’s unbelievable. This doesn’t even mention great work by Bradford Young on Selma, or the black and white work on Ida, the great landscapes and dark interiors of Winter Sleep – and on and on and on.


1.     Boyhood
2.     Whiplash
3.     The Grand Budapest Hotel
4.     Gone Girl
5.     Selma
Boyhood really does deserve the Oscar here – editing together 12 years’ worth of footage to make one coherent narrative must have been a mammoth undertaking. The editing on Whiplash is brilliant – creating the visceral experience that it sorely needs. The Grand Budapest Hotel has a complex structure, and some great set pieces. Gone Girl creates a sickening atmosphere. Finally, Selma does great work – both on the larger set pieces and the more intimate moments.


1.     Gone Girl – Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
2.     The Grand Budapest Hotel – Alexandre Desplat
3.     Under the Skin – Mica Levi
4.     The Guest – Steve Moore
5.     Inherent Vice – Jonny Greenwood

To me, there is no better pair doing music in movies than Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross when they collaborate with David Fincher their work in Gone Girl is key to the whole movie, setting the atmosphere perfectly. Alexandre Desplat’s work on The Grand Budapest Hotel is more traditional – but brilliantly quirky, like the film itself. There may not be more original, ear splittingly brilliant work than that of Mica Levi on Under the Skin – the type of score that needs to be heard to be believed. Steve Moore’s score for The Guest is a brilliant play on the scores of John Carpenter – energetic, electronic, pulsating brilliance. Finally, Jonny Greenwood’s score for Inherent Vice may not quite be as original or memorable as his two previous ones for Anderson – but it’s just as brilliant, a play1970s style score.


1.     The Lego Movie – Everything is Awesome
2.     Beyond the Lights - Masterpiece
3.     Begin Again – Lost Stars
4.     Selma – Glory
5.     Boyhood – Ryan’s Song

It’s nearly a year later, and Everything is Awesome is still stuck in my head – and I don’t mind. The studio didn’t submit Masterpiece from Beyond the Lights, instead opting instead for the dull Grateful – but I much prefer this one. Begin Again is full of great songs, but I’ll take the conventional choice (as long as it’s not performed by Adam Levine). Glory is a powerful song from a powerful movie. Finally, Ethan Hawke’s quiet song is devastating.

Production Design

1.     The Grand Budapest Hotel
2.     Snowpiercer
3.     Mr. Turner
4.     Inherent Vice
5.     Only Lovers Left Alive

Nothing can compare to the great work done on The Grand Budapest Hotel, which is some of the best work I have ever seen. Snowpiercer creates one memorable train car after another. Mr. Turner is great, period work – as is Inherent Vice, in a much different era. Finally, Only Lovers Left Alive has brilliant work – and no one seemed to notice.

Costume Design

1.     The Grand Budapest Hotel
2.     Inherent Vice
3.     Mr. Turner
4.     Snowpiercer
5.     Into the Woods

Once again, the work on The Grand Budapest Hotel is in a class by itself. But the work on Inherent Vice comes fairly close. Mr. Turner’s period work is excellent as well. Snowpiercer had many original designs that suit the characters perfectly. Finally, aside from the embarrassing work done by Johnny Depp, you cannot fault the costumes in Into the Woods at all.

Make-Up & Hair Styling

1.     The Grand Budapest Hotel
2.     Foxcatcher
3.     Inherent Vice

I’m starting to feel like a broken record, but The Grand Budapest Hotel is in a class by itself – it could win for Tilda Swinton alone and there’s a lot of great work throughout. Foxcatcher gets in for Steve Carrel – but there is more work. Finally, since they specifically mention hairstyling, how do you not go with Inherent Vice.

Sound Mixing

1.     Under the Skin
2.     Godzilla
3.     Whiplash
4.     American Sniper
5.     Fury

I don’t think any film had as complex a sound design as Under the Skin this year – which makes it one of the most brilliant works of the year. Godzilla had amazing work as well – when the monster in onscreen, and perhaps even more so when he’s not. Whiplash propulsive work is as good as that type gets. Finally, two war movies did a great job this year – American Sniper and Fury.

Sound Editing

1.     Godzilla
2.     Fury
3.     Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
4.     Interstellar
5.     American Sniper

How the Academy overlooked both Godzilla and Fury this year mystifies me a little bit. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is almost as great, and Interstellar gets this part of the sound just right. Finally, American Sniper depended on its sound editing a lot – especially in that dusty battle scene near the end.

Visual Effects
1.     Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
2.     Interstellar
3.     Godzilla
4.     Under the Skin
5.     Snowpiercer

Blockbusters always dominate this category – and for good reason. The work on Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the best this year – but I think both Interstellar and Godzilla come very close as well. Finally, two smaller movies had great work – but are the type that will never break through. And that’s too bad.