Top 15 Films of 2014, No. 13 – Interstellar

Interstellar7

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
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My Review of the 85th Academy Awards

Aaron Tveit, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Samantha Barks, Hugh Jackman, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen, Russell Crowe

Well, this year’s Oscars have officially come and gone, and at this point, I am already excited for next year’s show.  But before I start preparing for another amazing year in film, I wanted to share my reactions of last night’s broadcast with all of you.  Even though Seth MacFarlane provided some hilarious laughs, in the end I felt he was just another average host.  I hope next year the Academy employs someone that can keep me feeling pleasantly entertained for the entire show.

Speaking of the entire show, once again, this year’s broadcast was WAY too long.  This is one thing the Academy needs to continue working on fixing because by the end, most viewers were bored and tired.  One of my favorite things about this year’s show, though, was dedicating the ceremony’s theme to music in film.  As you probably saw in an earlier post of mine, I truly feel music is the most important part of a movie in regards to creating feeling and emotion within the viewer.  The various musical performances added an authentic flare to the Oscars.

This year’s Academy Awards had some awesome moments, some not-so-awesome moments, and some downright unforgettable moments, and I am using this post to share my reactions to some of these moments with you:

Best Moment: (Les Misérables performance)

In a night centered on the theme of music in movies, the cast of Les Misérables stole the show.  Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Russell Crowe, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen, Samantha Barks, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, and Aaron Tveit all reunited on stage to perform a combination of three songs from the film: “Suddenly,” “I Dreamed a Dream,” and “One More Day.”  I enjoyed each of these songs in the actual movie, but I was quite glad to see these amazing songs performed once more by this astounding ensemble—definitely the highlight of the show for me.

Worst Moment: (Catherine Zeta-Jones’ performance)

Catherine Zeta-Jones returned to the Oscars stage a decade after her musical film Chicago took home six Academy Awards, including Best Picture.  Adding to the theme of music in movies, Zeta-Jones performed “All That Jazz” from Chicago.  Even though she did an amazing job in the original film and has put together a pretty successful Broadway career, her performance at the Oscars was beyond dreadful.  She was clearly lip-synching and her faux singing was even more horrendous than Ashlee Simpson on Saturday Night Live a few years ago.  It was most definitely a forgettable portion of the show last night.

Most Endearing Moment: (Acceptance Speech for Inocente)

When the filmmakers for the winner of Best Documentary Short gave their acceptance speech, they included a heartfelt sentiment: they brought the subject of their short film on stage.  The short film is about a teenage artist, Inocente Izucar, who is living homeless in San Diego, California.  Through the attention she has received from the short movie, she is no longer homeless and is making progress as a professional artist.  The filmmakers brought her on stage to recognize the way she has turned her life around in such a short time, and the moment was genuinely endearing.

Most Boring Moment (Barbara Streisand’s performance)

After an already long presentation of this year’s “In Memoriam,” songstress Barbara Streisand performed “The Way We Were” in a special tribute to Marvin Hamlisch.  Even though her rendition of this song originally won the Academy Award for Best Original Song nearly 40 years ago, I was bored out of my mind by her 2013 performance.  I understand it is a sentimental song and added to the “In Memoriam” moment, but this portion of the show dragged on way too long and the song virtually put me to sleep.

WTF Moment: (Tie for Best Sound Editing)

Even though I am a dedicated fan of the Oscars, I was just as shocked as everyone when the Best Sound Editing category ended in a tie.  Yes, a tie with two winners—the sound editors for both Zero Dark Thirty and Skyfall received the award.  After doing some research, it turns out that this was actually the sixth occurrence of a tie at the Academy Awards.  The first tie was in 1932 when Frederic March from Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde and Wallace Beery from The Champ each shared the Oscar for Best Actor.  The most recent tie was in 1995 when Frank Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life and Trevor tied for Best Live Action Short Film.

Best Monologue Joke: (Ben Affleck and Argo)

Seth MacFarlane began the show discussing some of the films up for major awards.  He commented on the snubbing of Ben Affleck for Best Director: “Argo tells the previously classified story about an American hostage rescue in post-revolutionary Iran.  The film was so top-secret that the film’s director is unknown to the Academy.”

Worst Monologue Joke (Tarantino and his usage of the “N” word)

Seth MacFarlaneWhile discussing the controversy Django Unchained has received for its usage of the “N” word, MacFarlane said, “I’m told it’s actually okay for Quentin Tarantino to use that word because he thinks he’s black.”  Hardly anyone laughed and Seth quickly jumped to the next joke after realizing this one was a dud.

Monologue joke I hated to laugh at, but did anyway: (Chris Brown and Rihanna)

While explaining the storyline of Django Unchained, MacFarlane said, “This is the story of a man fighting to get back his woman, who’s been subjected to unthinkable violence.  Or as Chris Brown and Rihanna call it, a date movie.”

Best Acceptance Speech: (Daniel Day-Lewis for Best Actor)

Becoming the first actor in the history of the Oscars to win the Academy Award for Best Actor three times, Daniel Day-Lewis had plenty to be happy about.  His acceptance speeches have always been more than eloquent, and this one was no different; however, he showed a lighter side of himself by joking with presenter Meryl Streep, stating that he was actually supposed to play Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady and she was supposed to play Honest Abe in Lincoln.  He has always been a stand-up professional, and even though I felt a couple other nominees should have won this award, he gave a humble speech celebrating his win.

Worst Acceptance Speech: (Claudio Miranda for Best Cinematography)

The cinematographer for Life of Pi received his first Academy Award last night.  And if he wins in the future, hopefully he learns to make a better speech.  He was breathing as if he had just run a marathon, and he was staring into space and making odd noises in between sentences.  He started getting way too much into detail about specific camera shots from the film and could hardly get his words out.  I know he was happy and overwhelmed, but it was odd to watch.

Biggest Surprise (Ang Lee for Best Director)

85th Annual Academy Awards - ShowWhile most people were angry that Ben Affleck was snubbed in this category, it was a common consensus that this award was Steven Spielberg’s to lose.  Lincoln has been one of the most recognized films of the year, and with Affleck out of the category, it seemed like a guarantee that Spielberg would go home with the gold.  However, Ang Lee, the director of Life of Pi, shocked everyone by winning over the heavyweight favorite.  Also, for the first time since the Oscars ceremony held in 2006, the winner of the Best Director award was not the winner of the Best Picture award—interestingly enough, the last time this happened, it was in fact Ang Lee who won Best Director for Brokeback Mountain but lost to Crash in the Best Picture category.

Best Quotes from my family’s Oscar Watch Party: (Leslie Froman and Marcia Towle)

While watching the Academy Awards with my family, some unforgettable quotes were uttered, and I feel the need to share these with you as an added bonus.  During William Shatner’s cameo appearance in the monologue, he mentioned the Academy Awards, to which my girlfriend Leslie remarked, “Hang on, rewind that.  He messed up.  He said ‘Academy Awards’ instead of ‘Oscars.’”  Yes, she learned last night for the first time that the Academy Awards and the Oscars were actually one in the same.  The next best quote was from my own mother.  As they announced the nominees for Best Supporting Actor, they showed a clip from Tommy Lee Jones’ role as Congressional leader Thaddeus Stevens in Lincoln.  During the clip, my mom said, “He is an ugly Lincoln!”  No, Mom, that’s not Lincoln, that’s a congressman.

Top 15 Films of the Year, No. 8 – Les Misérables

Les Mis

Les Misérables is a film directed by Tom Hooper, with a screenplay by William Nicholson and Herbert Kretzmer.  The movie is based on the original musical by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg, which itself was based on the Les Misérables novel (1862) by Victor Hugo.  The film tells the story of Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), an ex-convict who French policeman Javert (Russell Crowe) hunts down for decades after Valjean breaks parole and flees.  Valjean becomes the mayor of a town in France, and after he meets a factory worker named Fantine (Anne Hathaway), he agrees to raise her daughter Cosette.  While trying to evade Javert’s pursuit for many years, Valjean and Cosette endure many challenging circumstances, ultimately leading to a third-act climax set against the backdrop of the June Rebellion of France.  Hooper’s unique interpretation of the infamous musical tells a gripping story of love and redemption.

To say the least, I was blown away by the riveting compassion of Hooper’s production from the very first scene.  One of my favorite films of all time is Hooper’s The King’s Speech, and much like the Best Picture winner from 2010, the cinematography is unbelievably stylistic and continually mimics the overall theme of the movie.  I am an avid fan of musicals, and this one is right up there with some of my most favorites.  The one element that this musical includes compared with others is the constant singing.  Yes, I understand it IS a musical, but in other ones like The Phantom of the Opera (2004) or Sweeney Todd (2007), spoken word is still utilized throughout—in Les Misérables, there are at most seven or eight spoken words, while the rest of the entire script is sung.

I was more than impressed with the acting in the film.  The actors and actresses are clearly amazing singers, as they probably would not have gotten the roles without this being true, but Hooper employs an exceptionally talented group of performers with top-notch acting skills.  The two performances that have garnered the most critical acclaim are from Jackman and Hathaway—and I most definitely feel they have more than earned the praise they are receiving.  Hugh Jackman gives the performance of his career as the lead character Jean Valjean, and in each scene he is featured, he demands our attention and does so with the priceless proficiency of a veteran actor in Hollywood.  On the other hand, Hathaway features in only a short period of time during the film, but she makes the most of her chance on the screen.  Her rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” was taped in a single close-up shot, and Hathaway blows all other musical numbers in the film out of the water in just a few minutes.

The supporting cast does not miss a beat in the movie, and some of the film’s best scenes feature these actors and actresses.  Some of these highlights come courtesy of seasoned veteran Russell Crowe as Javert, Amanda Seyfried as the older Cosette, and Eddie Redmayne as Marius.  In my opinion, the best of the supporting performances, however, are by Sacha Baron Cohen as Thénardier, Helena Bonham Carter as Madame Thénardier, and the underrated Samantha Banks as the Thénardier’s daughter Éponine.  With the tremendous musical numbers, award-winning acting, and lucrative filmmaking, Les Misérables is definitely one of the best movies of 2012.  Les Misérables is rated PG-13 for suggestive and sexual material, violence, and thematic elements.

Les Misérables trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YmvHzCLP6ug

Academy Award nominations for Les Misérables:

Best Picture (Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Debra Hayward, and Cameron Mackintosh, Producers)

Actor in a Leading Role (Hugh Jackman)

Actress in a Supporting Role (Anne Hathaway)

Costume Design (Paco Delgado)

Makeup and Hairstyling (Lisa Westcott and Julie Dartnell)

Best Original Song (“Suddenly,” Music by Claude-Michel Schönberg and lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer and Alain Boublil)

Production Design (Eve Stewart and Anna Lynch-Robinson)

Sound Mixing (Andy Nelson, Mark Paterson, and Simon Hayes)

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

9. Beasts of the Southern Wild

10. Looper

11. The Perks of Being a Wallflower

12. The Dark Knight Rises

13. Flight

14. The Master

15. Argo