10. Interstellar – Space objects careen, attached to cameras blinded by blots of starlight in a ribbed musical ballet. These scenes alone would be enough reason to see Christopher Nolan’s distro of the rare space epic. But Interstellar also scrubs indulgently at those obsessive musings on ourselves, our world, time, death, life, and that perfect platonic fantasy formscape into which we so often drag one of our most practical emotions: love. I welcome any excuse to revisit the unsolvable riddles of our physical existence in an inscrutably humbling universe, even when the thinking is done for me. Yes, that means at times dialogue here is overly expository and not exactly delivered with smiles and cheers, but most of the actors are nonetheless having fun with Interstellar’s Big Ideas. It’s a testament to that “what if” sort of fun that I enjoyed the film so much when I’m certain some of the chrono-astrophysical math doesn’t work and the “free” interpretation of science that threatened to dislodge my interest toward the end of the film didn’t quite manage that.
9. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (Kaguyahime no monogatari) – This release from famed Japanese animation house Studio Ghibli uses its childish animation and a twisting, sophisticated narrative to undercut the bludgeoning charm of its characters. Beware. Random heartbreak can strike at any time—whenever it is you realize that one or another dreams has already been missed, pushed into a queue for later in deference to more defensible pursuits of happiness. In so many ways, this is not the princess tale you expect, neither for good nor ill.
8. Dear White People – I’m a sucker for smart characters talking to each other on screen. Especially when they (or at least the filmmakers) also have a sense of humor. Dear White People had me on the merits of that predilection alone. What starts as an amusing college tale of finding a place to fit in, though, through clever story weaving, builds into a sort of State of the Union on the identities we cultivate and those we foist on others. Filmmaker Justin Simien starts with a diverse ensemble of racial and philosophical approaches to issues of identity. Then, he mixes and matches in scene after scene, coming up with new combinations of his cast for each one. And, they just talk to each other—each one with a unique voice and perspective that becomes clearer while simultaneously shifting as the story progresses. Even the douchey, privileged white character clearly flagged as an antagonist in his first scene later shows unexpected insight, and without any silly forgiveness/redemption/reconciliation/ep
7. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) – This mold of experiment in filmmaking is often labeled as a gimmick or indulgent. A camera wanders around and through a Broadway theater as a has-been Hollywood actor and his cast of egos prepare to open a narcissistic midlife-crisis type of play in a bid for artistic legitimacy. Just imagine Robert Altman, Christopher Guest, and Charlie Kaufman had a beatnik baby. When something of this ambition does come together though, it’s easy to see why people fall for it. Unexpectedly insightful lines and dark humor worm their way through something of a crescendo in plot. While I respect the decision to go for broke, I didn’t personally care for some of the heavier magical realism touches that ultimately held me back a little with their artificial layering of “interpretation” on the events of the story. I really enjoyed the cast though and did laugh out loud quite a bit.
6. Selma – A biopic this is not, which is probably why I liked it. It does not attempt to “explain” Martin Luther King, Jr. or even—I would argue—focus on him. Instead this aptly-named film highlights the importance of the Alabama voting rights marches of 1965 and the bravery of all those involved and affected by the events. If you were an ignorant, public school, “post-racial” kid like me, you might actually learn a great deal from this picture. Like Lincoln from a few years ago, the film shapes a historical event into a plot by focusing on the behind-the-scenes political machinations that wound their way to watershed significance. I found this approach much more engaging than the typical parade of milestones presented in historical event movies. It certainly has those too, but they feel earned, paid for by the wrangling and strategizing of a whole cast of Civil Rights activists. The only niggle I can level at this movie is that even though it tries to show the less savory aspects of its heroes’ lives in order to humanize them (and presumably for its own historical credibility), they still, especially in those moments, feel more like the public characters that have become part of our national fabric and less like real people. I guess that’s just the problem of dealing with legends. Excellent performances all around as well.
5. Under the Skin – Apparently not much of the sci-fi from Michael Faber’s novel, Under the Skin, survived Jonathan Glazer’s film adaptation. There are no lasers, space travel, time travel, futuristic surveillance equipment, inscrutable monoliths, androids, or even hoverboards. There are aliens. And hungry, viscous, black goo. And a lot of Scarlett Johansson driving around in an old car talking to random men. Many of these were real men picked up on real streets by Johansson, men who only found out later that the candidly shot footage might be used in a film. No, they apparently didn’t recognize her (this is Glasgow, I suppose). The mysterious fate of these men certainly at least doesn’t look pleasant. That’s all the very bizarre plot and process of the film, and we are kept at just that distance from it. Because we are never allowed to fully understand the aliens, it is easier to see how they have so much trouble understanding us. Where this movie really shines is when we start to break through that enigma and she, perhaps, connects a little bit with humanity. I am thinking of a brilliant conversation where there is something basic about a particular man that she is just failing to understand in a way that actually causes a lot of confusion, pain, and guarded desire. It’s rare that we get to see aliens who are so thoroughly alien on screen. Usually they embody some aspect of humanity, or long to be more like us. In Under the Skin, their foreignness cause us to see ourselves in a flash frame of gooey darkness, however briefly.
4. Locke – Yes, it is what might be considered an experimental film. You get to sit in a car driving down the M6 at night with construction foreman Ivan Locke (played by Tom Hardy) while he makes calls on a two-hour trip from Birmingham to London. That’s it. He talks on the phone and drives. But it feels so natural, the style was not chosen for its own sake. In fact, despite how it sounds, I never once questioned the claustrophobia or found myself wanting to see the voices on the other end of that hands-free, or to (gasp!) flash back and catch a bit of Locke in “real life,” before this self-imposed purgatory. Instead, I was riveted by the tides of professional and personal crises that Locke must manage by hanging on, with increasing difficulty, to his ethos. Keep calm, and do the right thing, no matter the cost. Be a good man. The warm and cold lights of other cars and passing lamps only frame Locke’s increasing isolation through this literal and metaphorical journey. Like a great play, though simple in concept and execution, there is a lot to unpack here. A lot of metaphors, parallels, and natural dialogue kind of beg a second viewing. And Hardy is superb here, convincingly managing some kind of foreign accent and squeezing tighter as his perfect control over his life threatens to unravel. I was caught off-guard by Locke. What sounded on paper like a boring, look-at-me art film gimmick turns out to be the vehicle for one hell of an interesting character portrait.
3. Gone Girl – Gone Girl is great because it manages to be several movies in one. It’s a mystery, a thriller, a satire, a love story, a pitch-black comedy, and a horror film—and all of them played with ease by the filmmakers and cast. Arriving just when we were all in the mood to poke fun at our own media circus news cycle pop culture (which is always), Gone Girl does just that, without forgetting to tell an actual story—to not proselytize too hard from the pulpit of cynicism. Oh make no mistake, this is one of the most cynical movies you will see this year. You will snidely judge characters as they transform by their own weedy expectations and finally cocoon by our sensationalist lusts into something else entirely. Laid out like that, the journey seems a bit obvious, but moment-to-moment, this film does a superb job of leading us with a single candle through a dark room, bumping us with surprises along way. While you may see some of the more memorable big moments in this narrative coming, others you surely will not. Gone Girl is also full of humor, with a Coen-esque eye for characters beset by ridiculous circumstances. But none of this explains why I liked the movie so much. I liked it because I actually found myself rooting for this disfigured American dream on some level, rooting for the grotesque and irredeemable. Gone Girl did just what it set out to do—to play public opinion like so many piano keys. Damned if I didn’t love the tune.
2. The Lego Movie – Let’s put aside all the Oscar stuff. It really doesn’t matter. In twenty years, Big Hero 6 will be lucky to be a trivia question at a pub quiz in Boise, while The Lego Movie will still be popping up on TBS, new parents delightedly plopping their children down to share in a childhood classic. Hyperbole? I think not. In the movie theater last February, I watched the birth of something wondrous, truly funny and truly creative. And it was all about creativity, using a creative toy as a central metaphor in a creative script and very creative third act that was all so formalistically meta. I am a little envious of those who got to see this for the first time at five or ten years old. They’ll remember it as fondly as I do something like Gremlins. The Lego Movie replaces some of the hokiness inherent to movies from my childhood with bursts of jokes running over top of each other to match the almost shorthand editing. As is the way in the story of film though, what we see now as insane cutting will someday be outpaced into quaintness by even zanier films, but the fact that I’m inclined to talk about this movie in this historical context betrays my surety in its lasting appeal. Adult or kid, see it and thank me later.
1. Boyhood – If you’ve heard of Richard Linklater’s latest experiment in lifegazing, chances are you’ve already seen it or want to do so. I’m therefore not sure what else I can really contribute except to say it was the most remarkable movie experience of 2014, absolutely. Boyhood will go to work on you slowly, building with snapshot after snapshot that will remora on your own memories and ride them back into feelings and mindsets and complete worldviews that were once yours—that were once you—and that you had forgotten utterly. No other recent film so grasps that implacable procession of growing up, each year the most important of your life. At the same time, Boyhood is smart enough to not focus on the “big” moments, reminding us that most of life, and most of what we remember and do is in fact mundane to the point of boring. While this narrative decision slyly asks the question “What do we matter?” it reassuringly responds by letting us hang out with fun and occasionally introspective characters despite their boring lives. Maybe this is “all there is,” to answer a poignant, pleading question that Patricia Arquette voices toward the film’s climax. And for its nearly three-hour running time, it’s enough.
22 Jump Street – Had a few funny moments, but overall skippable. Fine for a sequel.
300: Rise of an Empire – WARNING: will make you feel soft and physically inadequate. All of the dumbness of the original without the little glimmers of character that made it worth seeing. Still, Eva Green has always been reason enough for me.
American Sniper – What? This was a best picture nominee? Were we supposed to like or empathize with the willfully ignorant washed-up jock at the heart of this picture? The kind of guy who thinks it’s a good idea to marry a girl he just met right before shipping off to war? To be fair, Bradley Cooper does a fair job with the script he has, playing the definition of a Socratic unexamined-life nightmare. Director Clint Eastwood gives us in this version of Chris Kyle one of the most contrived complexities of the year, with perfunctory boxes ticked for family issues ü, alcohol issues ü, moral denial ü, and don’t even get me started on the “PTSD” ü that tucks conveniently into about 10 minutes of screen time before Kyle just shrugs it off like a hangover. Add in a bunch of silly movie conveniences like phone calls to his wife that just happen to take place around important firefights out in the field and some kind of dueling snipers thing that would be more at home in TF2. Oh, and even if you liked this brand of “Yay America” I can’t imagine anyone on planet Earth cared for the sticky-tacked-on ending. Yuck. American Sniper is a gross, stupid movie with halfhearted attempts at moral ambiguity that insult the intelligence of its audience and the lives of the people it portrays and I feel embarrassed that people from other countries will watch it and draw some unfortunately correct conclusions about our culture.
The Babadook – Ba-ba-dook-dook-dook! I liked the atmosphere (always important for a horror film) and the pacing. Similarly to Rosemary’s Baby, it has the dual horrors of the supernatural and the domestic going on too. It’s the best horror film I saw this year, so if that’s your thing then check it out.
Big Hero 6 – A perfectly fine, even enjoyable new kids film franchise that combines the ever-popular superhero and inventor types. Deserves kudos for being unafraid to deal with some real trauma situations, but not as emotionally affecting as something like The Iron Giant.
Blue Ruin – Great debut from Jeremy Saulnier. A darkly cynical take on murder, revenge, and righteousness. Yeah, you’ve seen it before, but not with quite this bumbling realism.
Calvary – I loved this little Irish film about a big figure in a little Irish town. Brenden Gleeson and the supporting cast are brilliant at bringing to life the often-funny, sometimes-self-aware lost souls trying to pull each other into what pathetic gravities they can muster.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier – Which one was this? I think I liked it better than the first one (though that’s no feat). Decent action and story arch, but full of forehead-smacking lines and the annoying feeling of incompleteness that comes with any Marvel film these days.
Citizenfour – Most assuredly one-sided, but I did learn a lot about the cultural specter we call Snowden—partly because I didn’t follow the developments incredibly closely at the time and partly because we haven’t really seen him as much of a real person before this.
The Congress – A cartoon acid trip through future post-humanity with real-life actress Robin Wright. From Ari Folman, who made the much more serious but equally unique Waltz with Bashir.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – I loved this excellent sequel with obvious parallels to a certain Shakespeare play. Of course, that stuff stays well under the surface and we get to just sit back and enjoy a very inventive fictional world of relatable apes and very clever action. Didn’t feel as much for the human characters and would have to see it again to evaluate the conclusions of the ending, but this is definitely a movie worth seeing, along with 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes.
The Double – Could have been called Brazil 2. It captures with frustrating accuracy the spirit of Dostoevsky (at least as I understand it). Very well crafted.
Edge of Tomorrow – I was surprised to find myself really enjoying this woefully named high-concept sci-fi film starring Tom Cruise. It doesn’t hurt that, yes, it is in fact basically Groundhog Day in war, but even on a scene-by-scene level this film mostly delivers. If you’re looking for sci-fi action, you could do much, much worse.
Force Majeure (Turist) – This film is all in the tone. You could tell someone it’s about a family’s journey through the aftermath of a faux pas during a ski-resort avalanche, but that would be missing everything that makes it so good. You would have to then recount most of the squirming, awkward conversations between families and couples, but also describe the static cameras that give us enough distance to chuckle at the teetering heights of seriousness with which the characters take it all. Somehow, we don’t quite. An amazingly deft breakout from director Ruben Östlund. It’s all about the narratives that we must construct—those that determine what we are supposed to be, those that describe ourselves, those that justify, and those that fester. How flimsy it all is.
Foxcatcher – I’m having trouble articulating my feelings for this movie because, well, I don’t think I felt much at all for it. It’s not a bad film by any means. The socially jarring John du Pont’s obsession with wresting and the Schultz brothers is ably handled. Perhaps a bit more ham-handed is the handling of his obsession with familial acceptance. Good performances though and worth seeing.
Frank – Michael Fassbender stars in this film about the ultimate underground indie music weirdo and those who steer him for good or gain. Legitimately funny and affecting by the “I Love All of You” coda. See it.
Godzilla – I could have easily skipped this long and poorly-written monster rehash. This guy is where? And then where? And he survived this crash? And then this other one? And oh of course he has a family to find and live for, cause you know, family guys. Blech.
Guardians of the Galaxy – Let’s just say I’m out of step with you on this one. I found it okay. Enjoyable for a single viewing perhaps. Amusing and ultimately forgettable. I don’t think I laughed out loud at all because even though the characters were fun, just about every joke is telegraphed from a parsec out, including the prominent use of source music. Dave Bautista’s acting was also bad enough to dislodge me from any scene he was in, and there were some pretty dumb plot moments. (Like when they first attack the big ship in the climactic battle and one of the good guy ships has to fight its way across the battlefield to the other one and the objective…they are following a plan…why didn’t they just start the battle alongside the other ship? I forgot some of the other plot holes but suffice it to say I could see the screenwriting team moving pieces around for awesome dramatic “beats” without really thinking about their characters or the audience’s intelligence.) Still, didn’t hate it at all. I’m just a little puzzled by the gushing love for it.
The Grand Budapest Hotel – Another film I enjoyed in an amused way, but didn’t love like the rest of the world. Ralph Fienne’s amazing performance is the reason to mine the quirk of Wes Anderson’s universe this time, and thanks to him this movie’s modulating plot hangs together.
How to Train Your Dragon 2 – A not-as-memorable sequel to a pretty good kids film. I like the decision to set this movie well after the first one, but retconning some of the backstory of the first one with a certain discovery in this movie was sort of lame and takes away from it.
Ida – A classic European-style slow burn about two women dealing with a traumatic family past in opposite ways, and what happens when they must come together for a time. It’s an interesting pressure cooker, but not in an over-the-top exploding kind of way.
The Imitation Game – I’m having a hard time articulating to myself what makes this biopic better than so many others when it certainly carries the hallmarks of the genre—namely trying to “explain” someone’s life—what makes him tick. It comes replete with flashbacks, a framing device, and a tragic downfall, so I’m stumped. Perhaps it was just better-made. And perhaps that stuff largely fades into the background as we mostly concentrate on the day-to-day and year-to-year operations of a fascinating secret British intelligence project during World War II and the decidedly non-James-Bond lives its players lead.
The Immigrant – There’s nothing flashy in the way this straightforward period piece is told. It’s instead reminiscent of the novels of the early 20th century, in which it is set. Marion Cotillard’s Ewa arrives in a land populated by pimps and performers and must, despite the objections of her past, survive. Excellently acted by Cotillard and costar Joaquin Phoenix. The problem is that her character is not someone you want to be trapped with—she’s just a boring person. Granted, abject poverty can have that effect, but I didn’t have a lot of fun hanging out with her.
Inherent Vice – A winding sendup of hardboiled noir (and even neo-noir) that owes a lot to films like The Long Goodbye and the dark ‘90s indie film boom. Don’t bother trying to follow the plot. Much like The Big Lebowski, the pleasure in this movie comes from watching absurd characters struggle with more absurd circumstances that make even them feel out of their depth. Nice performances.
The Interview – Of course I had to see it, after the international incidents that it caused. It would have been one for the ages if it had been a great movie to boot, but unfortunately what we get here is a decent, otherwise forgettable out of control comedy. If you like Seth Rogan humor anyway, go ahead and see it.
Joe – Solid performances from Nicholas Cage (gasp!) and rising star Tye Sheridan elevate a very grounded film about people who have nothing to cling to except their inflated macho senses of anger and perceived slights to self-coddled egos. It’s worth seeing for sure.
John Wick – Dumb action based around a dumb premise that shouldn’t (and really doesn’t fully) work, but a sense of style and directness make for a decent night of mental deactivation.
Life Itself – A very nice documentary that follows the last days and the story of industry icon Roger Ebert. It uses his autobiography of the same name as a jumping-off point, but as Ebert died during its filming, it really serves to continue that story to a profound denouement. Even if you know nothing of the guy apart from his thumb and don’t care about the history of popular film criticism, it’s a very good watch.
Listen Up Philip – Like a Woody Allen or Noah Baumbach movie, this one treats the lives of self-involved artists and intellectuals in New York City. Jason Schwartzman’s titular character is a black hole of self-pity and entitlement, but the film does a wonderful job filling in the people around him to the point where his hideous gravitational borders become clear. I admired the film’s willingness to get me close to some people that I would never, ever want to hang around in real life.
Mistaken for Strangers – Excellent road music semi-documentary that follows indie band The National on an album tour. Takes a turn into the recursive by lensing in on the lead singer’s brother and roadie Tom, who also happens to be the filmmaker here. It’s a few parts tame, indie rock Spinal Tap and another few parts meta-doc American Movie. Highly recommended.
Mr. Turner – I thoroughly enjoyed this slow biopic about nineteenth-century landscape painter J. M. W. Turner. Respected filmmaker Mike Leigh directs gruff character actor Timothy Spall as the star of a vivacious take on the things that make life worth living. Glorious cinematography rounds out the off-kilter lustiness of a very worth-seeing picture.
Neighbors – Like The Interview, you should already know whether you might enjoy this style of humor. That being said, it’s a far superior movie to that one and if you are a fan, I’m sure you’ll like it.
Nightcrawler – A fascinating look at the world of siren-chasing freelance news gatherers and the slimy personalities that are able to feed the obsession it takes to succeed therein. Jake Gyllenhaal and cast pull out some captivating lines of dialogue along the way and he inhabits his character so well you may need a shower afterward.
Nymphomaniac: Vols. 1 & 2 – This is the movie that Fifty Shades of Grey would never have the balls to be. A journey through a woman’s sexual obsession in the pounding, over-the-top way that only Lars von Trier would have the crust to try. Two parts. Two hours each. Kink, depravity, obsession/love, casual encounters, a strange erudite framing device that continually compares sex to various objects and art—it’s a lot to take in, but if you’re open, you’ll be treated to some real gem moments and some unforgettable characters. If only they didn’t all sound so depressed all the time....
The One I Love – It was nice to see some fantastical elements married into the mumblecore family. I might be reaching for that connection. After all Mark Duplass just stars in the film (alongside Elisabeth Moss); the writer and director are relative newcomers. But it certainly shares that movement’s kitchen sink chattiness and snappy, cutting characters. It also goes to some strange magical doppelganger places to examine what keeps this particular couple together (or not) over the changing years.
Only Lovers Left Alive – Very cool vampire film that digs into the boredom and the mastery that a hundreds-of-years existence might provoke. It’s the same problem of existential meaning we all face, stretched to a grander scale. I found myself relating to Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston’s ageless duo. Is love enough to sooth the blistering light of eternity?
Ride Along – If you saw the trailer you have seen the movie. If you didn’t see the trailer, don’t bother.
The Rover – A second good performance from Robert Pattinson. Shock! Following 2012’s Cosmopolis, in which he was supposed to be kind of a stilted, uptight guy, here he really gets a chance to try something different, and while he may stretch it a bit too far sometimes, Guy Pierce is there to reel everything back. I enjoyed this slow, gritty post-apocalyptic tale of loners at odds of survival. It’s a less campy, more somber version of Mad Max.
Snowpiercer – Director Bong Joon Ho and company juggle many disparate wacky ideas in increasingly high arcs to a beautiful finale that actually makes a lot of sense in context and feels … right. (There’s a perpetual-motion train, rigid class stratification, protein blocks, clairvoyance, and a very silly Tilda Swinton, among other oddities.) Good action too.
Starred Up – Performance powerhouse prison film. Aside from stalwarts like Ben Mendelsohn we are treated to up-and-comer Jack O’Connell in a breakout role as a perpetually incarcerated 19-year-old. I’m not spoiling anything to say that he winds up on the same block as Mendelsohn, who plays his long-imprisoned father. What ensues as Jack flops around to find his place here is somewhat reminiscent of Bronson from a few years ago, alongside a look at the unrestrained posturing and delicate ego complexes that dominate prison life. It is, of course, quite a serious film, and one that thankfully steers shy of pat assurances.
Still Alice – I must admit that I saw this movie as more of a chore than anything—something I would have to sit through because Julianne Moore would likely win Best Actress for her portrayal of a New York linguistics professor with early-onset Alzheimer’s. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I’m just tired of watching actors slowly die / struggle with diseases for awards season (not that they choose when the films come out). And this one was just about what you’d expect. By the end of film she’s struggling to even remember who she and her family are. I was pleased, though, by the friendly, mostly anti-dramatic family surrounding her and solid performances from Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart, and Kate Bosworth. You’ll do fine with this if Lifetime-style pictures are your thing.
The Theory of Everything – And this, my friends is Exhibit A in the bad, all too average biopic. Namely, that it is boring. I’ve used this phrase before but this is what I call paint-by-numbers filmmaking. It simply ticks all the boxes of any story you would expect to see based on the life of famed theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking. And oh yes, it does indeed try to explain the man’s life—despite the warnings against that folly argued by Citizen Kane over half a century ago. It doesn’t help that we all know exactly what is going to happen to him. Let me spoil it: he ends up in a wheelchair and he can’t talk. Even the title is audaciously profound, straining to touch our lives where it matters. The only bit of new, interesting information in the film was that in spite of the sappily-depicted romance between a young Hawking and his future wife, things don’t go exactly traditional for them. Skip it. Instead, watch any number of better documentaries about his life and work.
The Trip to Italy – While it’s not necessary to have seen 2010’s The Trip, in which a pair of middle-aged actors hit the road for a travelogue magazine article, I would recommend it. This sequel takes the ego-bumping dynamics of the first one, in which Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon play self-deprecating versions of themselves, and flips the settled and the seeking, trades one midlife crisis moment for another. I don’t think it’s quite as funny as the first one, but the Italian countryside is lovely and lovingly filmed, and a soft hand at story makes for a pleasant and relaxing two hours.
Two Days, One Night (Deux jours, une nuit) – While the performance of star Marion Cotillard is great, I was not much taken in by the kitchen-sink drama of a woman trying to save her job from the chopping block by convincing enough coworkers to vote against their own bonuses. It’s a great idea for a small film, and certainly some scenes stand out, but I didn’t enjoy spending time with a woman who all too often tried to sabotage herself. Maybe they were justified in wanting to let her go? I understand how depression works but that doesn’t make for a fun time watching it happen realistically. Interesting to see a slice-of-life blue-collar Europe though.
Virunga – One of the few docs I saw this year, about the park rangers and the gorillas they are trying to protect in the midst of a civil war in Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Important because this is where the world’s last groups of wild mountain gorillas reside.
Whiplash – Yes, as one of my friends pointed out, J.K. Simmons’ bigoted, berating, R. Lee Ermey of a music instructor would have been fired for his antics long before Miles Teller’s young drummer would have the chance to endure his tutelage, but that doesn’t stop those antics from being pretty amusing. One school of drama says to push your characters to hyper realism, and if you are fine with that you will likely be entertained by this Petri dish of the obsession necessary for greatness. We also haven’t had such an amazing doesn’t-even-matter-if-you-see-it-coming musical finale since Napoleon Dynamite.
Wild – A meditative, metaphorical journey along the Pacific Crest Trail with a woman seeking to set her life back on some kind of … trail. A bit predictable and a little too flashbacky for my tastes, but Reese Witherspoon makes her character both real and pretty lively to hang out with. I also liked watching her accrue knowledge of hiking, becoming a weathered veteran of the trail and picking up a lot of weariness along the way.
The Wind Rises (Kaze tachinu) – As every review will tell you, this is supposedly the last film from legendary animation genius Hayao Miyazaki. So soak it in. Honestly, I found the movie to drag a bit in the domestic drama department, but I really liked following the professional career of aviation engineer Jiro Horikoshi and the at-odds moral pondering that comes from building war machines. A lot of loving detail went into both aspects of this story though. Recommended.
X-Men: Days of Future Past – One of the better X-Men features of the past few years. In this one, we get both the old cast (Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen) and the new (James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender). But this is really Wolverine’s movie, which is okay because he seems to be everyone’s wisecracking favorite anyway. There are a lot of engaging scenes here as the film plays with contrasts between the mature Professor X and Magneto that we all know and their younger selves; the 1970s, today, and the future; and an alt history festooned with the social commentary inherent to the series. What could have been an unwieldy global time-hopping plot is brought under rein by director Bryan Singer and the writers. My favorite superhero movie of the year.
That's it. Happy filmgoing in the rest of 2015 and hopefully see you on time next year!