Top 15 Films of 2014, No. 11 – Fury

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Fury is a film written and directed by David Ayer. Fury takes place during the final days in the European Theatre of World War II, and it follows Sergeant “Wardaddy” (Brad Pitt) and his five-man crew as they journey behind enemy lines in their Sherman tank, nicknamed “Fury.” The men of “Fury” are thrust into dangerous circumstances with fatal odds, and they must fight heroically to destroy Nazi Germany.

Fury3I have been excited to write about Fury since I saw it on its opening weekend in theaters. Because amazing classics like The Thin Red Line and Saving Private Ryan have set the bar high in regards to what is expected from a “great” WWII film, most attempts at depicting the horror of the Second World War have fallen flat. In my opinion, Fury is not one of those failures. David Ayer, the Fury visionary, has created a story with an incredible sense of realism. And that realism not only speaks to the actual fighting parts of war, but it also depicts “brotherhood” in a way that everyone (not only veterans) can relate to. Ayer is no stranger in the industry, having penned Training Day and written and directed 2012’s End of Watch, and the latter film provides the foundation for Fury’s pragmatism. End of Watch was one of the best films from 2012, and in that film, Ayer perfected the “comradeship” concept as it followed two police officers. When I watched End of Watch, I felt as if I were an invisible third member of the law enforcement duo, and I was able to fully encompass the characters’ brotherly love for one another. The same is true for Fury. Yes, the film includes some great “war” scenes, but its best parts are the scenes in which the characters engage in extended dialogue with each other. In those scenes, Ayer’s hardnosed screenplay is given life in a way that delineates the unique relationships between brothers in combat, and it makes you empathize with those men throughout the film’s most brutal moments and laugh with them in the moments of joy.

Now, let’s talk about the film’s combat. I have already discussed Ayer’s ability to revolve some of his best scenes in a WWII film around dialogue. But do not be mistaken—the movie excels tremendously in the scenes depicting combat. Ayer went to extreme ends to ensure that the film would be as realistic as possible in the war scenes, and it pays significant dividends. Fury 7Ten actual Sherman tanks were used to depict the ones used by the allied forces, and instead of using a prop tank to represent the Germans’ Tiger tanks,  Ayer acquired the only working Tiger tank in the world to use (pictured to the left; the tank belongs to the Bovington Tank Museum in England). The combat scenes were incredibly stunning thanks to Ayer’s depiction of the tracers that were actually used in the war. Tracer ammunition is used in every fifth round, and its pyrotechnic charge ignites, burns brightly, and makes the shot’s projectile visible. Military forces would use these for purposes of making aiming corrections and to be more efficient (soldiers would be able to fire repeatedly without having to use a sight). Fury6The portrayal of the tracer ammunition’s deployment was a fantastic sight to see, and it was one of the highlights of the film. Although it is extraordinarily complicated to show the true horror of war, a WWII tank veteran confessed that the film was very representative of his experiences in Europe—specifically, he stated that the combat scenes were amazingly realistic.

Fury9The acting performances from Fury’s tank ensemble are by far the best part of the movie. In order to develop a sense of companionship among the tank’s soldiers that would mimic the veracity of these relationships during wartime, Ayer required his actors to engage in some serious bonding tactics. He forced the actors to spar with each other regularly, which was rumored to result in many black eyes and bloody noses. Additionally, he had them live together in the tank when not shooting; thus, they ate, slept, and even used the restroom inside of the tank. This “method” approach to performing provided some high-quality performances.

Fury5As I mentioned in my Fall Preview post, I buy into the allure of Brad Pitt as an actor. Yes, he is a pop-culture icon, but he backs it up on camera. He is one of the best actors of his generation, and in Fury, he holds nothing back. As the commander of the tank, Pitt gives a (no pun intended) commanding performance. As the veteran actor in the group, portraying the veteran member of the tank crew, Pitt anchors the film.

Fury10Each of the other four members of the “Fury” adds the most crucial layer of talent to the movie. Michael Peña, an experienced performer (and one of the two leads in Ayer’s End of Watch) is the least groundbreaking of the tank’s crew in terms of his acting contribution, but he is still solid throughout. Logan Lerman, one of my favorite new actors (The Perks of Being a Wallflower), plays the role of the rookie Private Norman Ellison to a tee. The two most enthralling performances, however, come from Jon Bernthal and Shia LaBeouf. Bernthal, of The Wolf of Wall Street and The Walking Dead fame, delivers one of the most menacing performances in recent memory. At times he is terrifying and manic, but Bernthal is also able to carefully articulate the more sensitive qualities of his character. Fury8But LaBeouf steals the show with the film’s most top-shelf portrayal. In real life, LaBeouf has endured years of scandal, but with his role in Fury, he proves to us that no matter what goes on in his personal life, he is willing to lay it all on the line for his career. LaBeouf notably pulled his own tooth for the role, while vowing not to shower throughout the production—his dedication to the truisms of his character is a benefit to film fans everywhere. His character shows his emotional colors more so than the others, and LaBeouf delivers a captivating performance. Fury is rated R for strong sequences of war violence, some grisly images, and language throughout.

Fury trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p1xli7OTE_0

Academy Award nominations for Fury:

NONE

Previous movies on the countdown of the Top 15 Films of 2014:

  1. Calvary
  2. Interstellar
  3. Gone Girl
  4. The Lego Movie
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Top 15 Films of 2014, No. 13 – Interstellar

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Interstellar is a film directed by Christopher Nolan with a screenplay by Nolan and his brother Jonathan Nolan. The film is set sometime in the future when Earth’s agricultural society is rapidly descending towards its ultimate demise due to crop blight. In order to save mankind from the destructive fate it faces, a group of astronaut explorers seek to travel through a wormhole to find new planets with the capabilities of sustaining human life.

Interstellar3There is no way around it—Interstellar is a complex film. If you are not into movies that make you think throughout their entire duration, then this one is not for you. But, if you are well accustomed to Christopher Nolan’s movies, then the intricacy of Interstellar should come as no surprise. I was anxiously awaiting the release of Nolan’s newest feature for quite some time, as I am a longtime admirer of his work. Not only does Nolan’s filmography boast the single greatest series of comic-book films of all time (The Dark Knight Trilogy), but he also has a range of movies, like Interstellar, that qualify as epic “thinkers” (Memento, The Prestige, and Inception). Although I personally think that his newest effort ranks near the bottom of Nolan’s résumé, it is still an amazing cinematic achievement (this is simply a testament to Christopher Nolan’s incredible career as a filmmaker). Despite the density of the film’s plot, Nolan still carefully crafts the story in a way that never bores and never holds back. He directs his cast superbly (as if we would expect anything less), and this lends to the success of a film that could have easily resulted in a failed endeavor in the vein of “biting off more than one can chew.” Nolan’s cinematic fingerprints are all over this movie, and in his quest to construct a sweeping science-fiction epic, he has succeeded.

Interstellar2Even if you watch this movie and decide that you do not like the story, it will be an impossible task to simultaneously contend that the film is not a visual work of genius. The worlds in which Nolan constructs on Earth and in the galaxies beyond are so vividly detailed and realistic. Even though the new planets the astronauts journey to are never-before-seen landscapes to the viewers, I still use the word “realistic” to describe their visual depiction because the level of detail used in their construction is still something fathomable. Interstellar5By far the greatest visual and technical achievement is the delineation of the wormhole, black hole, and the “tesseract” towards the end. For those who are not well versed in the cerebral scientific know-how of convoluted space features (like myself), the illustration of these incommunicable concepts is still, pardon the pun, out of this world. For a movie that immerses itself in complicated space jargon, it definitely backs it up by packing a severe punch of, wait for it, interstellar special effects (thank you…I will be here all month). It is no wonder that four of the five Oscars that Interstellar is up for are technical awards of merit. I had the pleasure of watching this film in IMAX (a theater experience that Nolan has been pioneering for quite some time), and I have never had such a mind-blowing experience in a theater in my life.

Interstellar4Along with the stunning visuals, the film still features an important maxim of good filmmaking: marvelous acting. Matthew McConaughey does a spectacular job of bringing the film to life in his role as Cooper, a former NASA pilot turned rural farmer, and if you have seen McConaughey’s ad for Lincoln, it will be blatantly obvious that this cinematic Rubik’s Cube provided the perfect platform for his out-there way of thinking. Although I joke about his philosophical views, it is still undeniable that McConaughey delivers an emotionally riveting performance. Interstellar6Jessica Chastain, as Cooper’s daughter Murph, also conveys a star performance, and it is of no surprise considering she is by far the most talented actress in Hollywood. Additionally, Anne Hathaway also gives a solid performance in her role as one of Cooper’s co-astronauts Amelia. My favorite performances, were those of TARS (voiced by Bill Irwin) and CASE (voiced by Josh Stewart). These characters are the coolest depiction of futuristic robots that I have ever seen, and they added an extra “umph” to the science-fiction nature of the film. Interstellar is rated PG-13 for some intense perilous action and brief strong language.

Interstellar trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0vxOhd4qlnA

Academy Award nominations for Interstellar:

Best Original Score: (Hans Zimmer)

Best Production Design: (Nathan Crowley and Gary Fettis)

Best Sound Editing: (Richard King)

Best Sound Mixing (Gary A. Rizzo, Gregg Landaker, and Mark Weingarten)

Best Visual Effects (Paul Franklin, Andrew Lockley, Ian Hunter, and Scott Fisher)

Previous movies on the countdown of the Top 15 Films of 2014:

  1. Gone Girl
  2. The Lego Movie

Top Three Most Disappointing Films of 2014

INHERENT VICE

Don’t you hate when you go to see a movie that you are expecting to be awesome, and then it turns out to be absolutely dreadful? Well, that happened to me numerous times in 2014, but on three specific occasions, the difference between my expectations and the eventual outcome of viewing those films was far worse than I could have ever expected. These three movies were not the worst that I saw in 2014, but they were by far the most disappointing.

Inherent Vice

INHERENT VICEPaul Thomas Anderson’s seventh feature film Inherent Vice was a movie that I was expecting big things from. In my “Fall Preview 2014” posts, I had it listed among the top ten films that I was most looking forward to. This is because PTA is one of the five greatest living directors, and I have overwhelmingly enjoyed every single one of his movies to date. Well, that was until Inherent Vice. Despite an unbelievably talented cast, including Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Reese Witherspoon, Katherine Waterston, Benicio del Toro, Owen Wilson, and Martin Short, the story turned out to be far too convoluted for even those Hollywood superstars to reconcile. I never once bought into any of his characters—I felt no sympathy for, nor any connection to, them. The screenplay did not seem to flow well at all, and it did not have enough to keep me interested. I still believe PTA is more than capable of making another masterpiece like Boogie Nights or There Will Be Blood, but unfortunately Inherent Vice turned out to be a major setback in that pursuit.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

TGBHI love Wes Anderson’s movies. Some people do not buy into his films because they think his filmmaking style is simply “quirk for the sake of quirk,” and even though I agree that his eccentricity is a bit heavy-handed at times, I still personally enjoy his movies. They always have a fun, interesting storyline that is delineated through the work of seriously talented actors, and his distinct stylistic approach to the film’s visuals are truly a work of art. However, with The Grand Budapest Hotel, I was bitterly disappointed. Yes, it had all of the amazing visual effects, production design, makeup and hairstyling, and music you can always expect from the 45-year-old Texas native, but the story was atrocious in my opinion. His attempt at making the movie humorous fell dreadfully flat, and for the first time, I felt his movie was boring. I never once felt engaged with the plot, and a quarter of the way through, I wanted nothing more than for it to be OVER! How on earth this movie is tied for the most Oscar nominations this year is FAR beyond me.

A Million Ways to Die in the West

n-A-MILLION-WAYS-TO-DIE-IN-THE-WEST-TRAILER-large570The hit sitcom Family Guy suffers severely from over-repetitive jokes and gags—anything funny that creator Seth MacFarlane happens upon in his show is ruined by this misused style. However, when MacFarlane released Ted in 2012 (his first feature film), I began to believe in him as a comedian. Ted had all the best parts of Family Guy without the regrettably added horse manure that makes his TV show so extraordinarily unwatchable. Ted is one of my favorite comedies from the past few years, and thus, I was expecting more comedic genius from MacFarlane with his second film A Million Ways to Die in the West. “Expecting” is the key word—this movie was about as enjoyable as a hangover. He reverted back to his unreservedly detestable storytelling techniques of the Peter Griffin clan, and his film fails because of it. The jokes drag on way too long, and with every passing second, MacFarlane’s humor loses any luster it once had. I hate to be so childish and simplistic, but the storyline was just stupid. Charlize Theron is definitely not meant for a movie like this (what a casting error that was), and the only bright spot was Neil Patrick Harris singing about moustaches. The Ted 2 trailer just came out, and although I find it funny, I am not holding my breath for its release because of the utter failure of A Million Ways to Die in the West.

Welcome Back: It’s OSCAR TIME!

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Hello, movie fans! And welcome back to my 2nd annual “Countdown to the Oscars” blog!  After a very successful campaign last year, I am more than excited to get back to work on commenting about the many wonderful films and performances from 2013.  This past year was a fantastic year for movies, and it is clearly evidenced in the fact that some of my favorite movies and acting performances were snubbed this year for the Oscars—this just means that we have a really, really competitive field this year in nearly every category, and each race is sure to be a showdown.

Starting today and continuing right up until the big day, I will once again be posting regularly about the Oscars.  These posts will include both my “Top 15 Films of the Year” list and my own personal Oscars ballot for this year’s major categories.  I will also be posting a review about the actual ceremony in March, and this year, I will follow that up with a preview of the films that are sure to make a big splash in 2014.  I am including a new feature on many of my posts this year—there will be a poll for all of my viewers to participate in, so make sure to take advantage of this to get involved this Oscars season.

Ellen DeGeneres will be hosting this year, and I could not be more excited.  Her daytime show is universally loved, and I look for her to translate that success to the Oscars from the moment she takes the stage.  This is Ellen’s second time hosting the Oscars, as she previously hosted the 79th Academy Awards in February 2007.  This year, the Oscars will be broadcasted live from the Dolby Theater in Hollywood on March 2nd, 2014—that is just 23 days away!!

Thank you to all of you that are back again this year, and I look forward to any new viewers—I really do appreciate the support.  So sit back, relax, and enjoy the show—it’s OSCAR TIME!