Fall Preview 2016: No. 10 – No. 6

Happy Sunday! Today I am revealing films No. 10 through No. 6 on the list of my Top 10 most anticipated movies coming out during the fall season.  This batch includes a wide range of films, including a likely heavy hitter at the box office, and if you are looking for a great movie to go see in theaters in the next few months, this post will give you some top-notch options among the films that look most poised for success.

No. 10 – The Founder

The Founder details the true story of McDonald’s and its rise to fast-food domination. The film follows Illinois salesman Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) as he meets brothers Mac and Dick McDonald (John Carroll Lynch and Nick Offerman), who operate a hamburger restaurant in California. Controversially, Kroc tactically maneuvers himself into a position to take control of the McDonald’s brand, which grows into one of the world’s best-known brands after Kroc buys the chain for $2.7 million in 1961.

The source of my interest in The Founder is one man: Michael Keaton. Beginning with Birdman in 2014 (for which Keaton won the Oscar for Best Actor) and Spotlight in 2015 (which won the Oscar for Best Picture), Michael Keaton has undergone a true film renaissance. The resurgence of Keaton as an acting powerhouse is undeniable, and from the looks of the trailer for this film, I can only believe that he is set to kill it once more. The role seems to include elements of comedy, drama, malice, and deceit—a veteran like Keaton is sure to embrace this challenge and deliver a balanced performance.

One of the film’s keys is also one of the film’s (potential) downsides: director John Lee Hancock. Hancock’s directorial history consists of The Rookie, The Alamo, The Blind Side, and Saving Mr. Banks. The positive here is that Hancock clearly knows how to take a true-life story and mold it into a solid movie. The drawback, though, is that each of these films—while well-crafted—got a bit cheesy and cliché at times. As is evident from the trailer, The Founder takes on a seriously controversial subject matter, and I am hoping that this factor takes the film into the category of “drama,” rather than “melodrama”—I want the Big Mac, not the Big Sap. The Founder is set for a theatrical release on December 16, 2016.

Director: John Lee Hancock (Saving Mr. Banks, The Blind Side)

Starring: Michael Keaton (Spotlight, Birdman), Laura Dern (99 Homes, Wild), and Nick Offerman (Danny Collins, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AX2uz2XYkbo

No. 9 – Loving

Loving follows the courtship and marriage of Mildred Jeter, a black woman, and Richard Loving, a white man. The two are arrested and sentenced to prison in Virginia in 1958 because their interracial marriage violates the state’s anti-miscegenation laws. The couple eventually sues the state of Virginia in a series of proceedings leading to the United States Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in Loving v. Virginia, which holds that laws prohibiting interracial marriage are unconstitutional.

Before I even knew much about this film, I was interested. As most of you probably know, in May I graduated from Oklahoma City University School of Law. During my time in law school, I examined the case of Loving v. Virginia in my constitutional law course. It is a case that stands as a pillar of change during a truly despicable time in American history, and I am more than happy to see the Loving’s story played out on the silver screen. Like I have felt with most films coming out this fall, however, the story appears quite susceptible to an overload of sap. But Richard Lawson, a critic for Vanity Fair, claimed the film’s lack of schmaltziness (for lack of a better word) take away the film’s “heft.” For me, I would always err on the side of avoiding anything that makes a story mawkish, so Lawson’s criticism does not bother me whatsoever.

I first heard about Loving this past spring when it competed for the Palme d’Or at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. Although it did not win the coveted award, the film still ultimately won—it received a standing ovation following its screening and many critics considered the film a surefire Oscar contender. Most of this success can be attributed to Loving’s director (Jeff Nichols) and stars (Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga). Nichols is a filmmaker that continues to, movie by movie, build up a critically acclaimed filmography. The beautifully crafted Mud served as my introduction to Nichols as a writer/director, and I look for him to bring that same poise and dexterity to Loving. As far as acting, I haven’t seen much of Ruth Negga, but I can definitely vouch for Joel Edgerton’s abilities—he has proven to be an underrated master of his craft, and all signs point to the same level of sharp performance that I have grown accustomed to seeing from Edgerton. Loving is set for a theatrical release on November 4, 2016.

Director: Jeff Nichols (Midnight Special, Mud)

Starring: Joel Edgerton (Midnight Special, Black Mass), Ruth Negga (Warcraft, Fury), Nick Kroll (Sausage Party, Knight of Cups), and Michael Shannon (Elvis & Nixon, Midnight Special)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=33g-ZHBQdNU

No. 8 – Nocturnal Animals

Nocturnal Animals follows Susan (Amy Adams), a successful LA art-gallery owner, whose idyllic life is marred by the constant traveling of her handsome second husband. While he is away, Susan is shaken by the arrival of a manuscript written by her first husband, who she has not seen in years. The manuscript tells the story of a teacher who finds a trip with his family turning into a nightmare. As Susan reads the book, it forces her to examine her past and confront some dark truths.

Tom Ford. Tom Ford. No, I am not quoting lyrics from Jay-Z’s 2013 song “Tom Ford”; I am talking about the director of Nocturnal Animals. While Tom Ford is universally known as one of the world’s greatest fashion designers, he is also an acclaimed filmmaker. In 2009, Ford wrote, directed, and produced A Single Man, an award-winning film starring Colin Firth. I was a huge fan of Ford’s debut effort, and when I found out he was returning this year with Nocturnal Animals, I was on board. Aside from Tom Ford at the wheel, my interest in this film further derives from its acting stars: Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal. Adams definitely ranks in the top five of my favorite actresses currently working, and I cannot wait to see her take on this thrilling role. With Gyllenhaal, we all know what we are going to get—a charismatic yet enigmatic performance; it is a recipe for success and Gyllenhaal rarely lets the audience down. Nocturnal Animals is set for a theatrical release on November 18, 2016.

Director: Tom Ford (A Single Man)

Starring: Amy Adams (Arrival, Big Eyes), Jake Gyllenhaal (Demolition, Everest), Michael Shannon (Elvis & Nixon, Midnight Special), and Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Avengers: Age of Ultron, Kick-Ass)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=juFmTNbFh8g

No. 7 – Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the first of three stand-alone spin-off films set in the Star Wars universe and takes place (temporally) sometime between the conclusion of Episode III and the beginning of Episode IV in the Star Wars franchise. The film is set 18 years after the formation of the Galactic Empire and follows the Rebel Alliance as it recruits Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) to work with Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and a team to steal the Death Star plans.

To be completely honest, I did not watch a single Star Wars movie until last fall when I binge-watched the entire series in anticipation of the release of Episode VII: The Force Awakens. Although the franchise had always been a cinematic blind spot for me, I got caught up in a short span of time and was not disappointed. With the exception of Episodes I and II, I found all of Star Wars films to be highly entertaining and well-crafted pieces of cinema. Because of this, I have an enormous interest in the newest addition to the Star Wars universe.

As was probably the case for most Star Wars fans, the trailer for Rogue One had me hooked. Aside from a journey back to a galaxy far, far away, Rogue One also grabbed my attention with its out-of-this-world (see what I did there) cast. Leading the way is Felicity Jones, a fetching actress who more than impressed me with her Oscar-nominated performance in 2014’s The Theory of Everything. Joining Jones are actors Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Mads Mikkelsen, Riz Ahmed, and Forest Whitaker, a group with varying degrees of experience but unwavering levels of precision. Led by Gareth Edwards (the director of Monsters and Godzilla), this cast has everything going for it to make the newest Star Wars film a success. Let’s hope Rogue One delivers. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is set for a theatrical release on December 16, 2016.

Director: Gareth Edwards (Godzilla, Monsters)

Starring: Felicity Jones (A Monster Calls, The Theory of Everything), Diego Luna (Blood Father, Elysium), and Ben Mendelsohn (Mississippi Grind, Slow West)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=juFmTNbFh8g

No. 6 – Moonlight

Moonlight tells the story of a young black man balancing his dysfunctional home life and coming of age in the “War on Drugs” era. The story of his struggle to find himself is told across three distinct chapters in his life as he experiences the ecstasy, pain, and beauty of falling in love while grappling with his own sexuality.

Moonlight is one of those films that looks to have everything necessary to strive as a sleeper hit this fall. After debuting at this year’s Telluride Film Festival, Moonlight was met with universal acclaim—David Rooney of The Hollywood Reporter stated the film was “fluid and seductive, deceptively mellow, and shot with shearing compassion,” while Time Out New York’s Joshua Rothkopf hailed the film as “without a doubt, the reason we go to the movies: to understand, to come closer, to ache, hopefully with another.” For me, these early reviews triggered an immense interest in the film, and I cannot wait to see where Moonlight goes from here.

The film does have some question marks though: director Barry Jenkins and lead actor Trevante Rhodes (who plays Chiron) epitomize the term “unknown.” Although I have never heard of Jenkins, the critics at Telluride collectively praised his abilities. Justin Chang from the LA Times suppressed any apprehension I had about Jenkins, stating that he “made a film that urges the viewer to look past Chiron’s outward appearance and his superficial signifiers of identity, climbing inside familiar stereotypes in order to quietly dismantle them from within . . . . [Moonlight] doesn’t say much. It says everything.” Moonlight is set for a theatrical release on October 21, 2016.

Director: Barry Jenkins (Medicine for Melancholy, My Josephine)

Starring: Trevante Rhodes (The Night Is Young, Weightless), André Holland (The Knick, Selma), Naomie Harris (Our Kind of Traitor, Spectre), and Mahershala Ali (Free State of Jones, House of Cards)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9NJj12tJzqc

Fall Preview 2015: Honorable Mentions

HM Header 2015

“Pain is temporary, film is forever.” – John Milius, co-writer of Apocalypse Now. Welcome back, everyone. This year has already been an incredible journey playing out on the silver screen, and I am ecstatic to be back to blogging about the greatest medium in the world: FILM! As of today, we are 184 days away from the 88th Academy Awards. Per usual, the bulk of my research and preparation for the release of a decent chunk of potential Oscar-worthy movies begins now!

With that, it is time to get the Fall Movie Season started. For the third consecutive year, I have compiled a list of my most anticipated movies of the season. Below is the schedule for my three Fall Preview posts, so make sure to be on the lookout this week:

Today: Honorable Mentions

Saturday: No. 10 – No. 6

Monday: No. 5 – No. 1

Kicking off this year’s Fall Preview are the five films that just missed out on making my list of the Top 10 movies I am most looking forward to seeing (in alphabetical order). Enjoy!

Bridge of Spies

Bridge of Spies, set during the Cold War, tells the true story of James Donovan (Tom Hanks), an American attorney tasked with negotiating the release of Francis Gary Powers (Alan Alda), an imprisoned U-2 pilot, in exchange for Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), a Soviet spy. With Steven Spielberg directing and Tom Hanks playing the lead, my interest is obviously piqued. Bridge of Spies is the 29th feature film for Spiely as a director, and it is also he and Hanks’s fourth collaboration (Saving Private Ryan, Catch Me If You Can, The Terminal). Bridge of Spies 2Although I truly have not enjoyed a Spielberg-directed film since 2002’s Catch Me If You Can, I am holding out hope that the visionary behind the likes of Jaws, E.T., and Jurassic Park, can get back to making award-worthy films. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, supporting actress Amy Ryan gives me that hope: “Watching [Spielberg] create a shot, he looks like the young boy who discovered film for the first time.”

The trailer is incredibly tense, and it showcases Tom Hanks in what appears to be another memorable performance by the 2-time Oscar winner. Despite the fact that the film features supporting performances by seasoned veterans Rylance, Alda, and Ryan, film fans will likely flock to the theaters in droves simply because of Hanks. Bridge of Spies is set for a theatrical release on October 16, 2015.

Director: Steven Spielberg (Lincoln, War Horse)

Starring: Tom Hanks (Saving Mr. Banks, Captain Phillips), Mark Rylance (The Gunman, Days and Nights), Amy Ryan (Birdman, Devil’s Knot), and Alan Alda (The Longest Ride, Tower Heist)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mBBuzHrZBro


Carol, set in 1950s New York City, follows Therese (Rooney Mara), a twentysomething shop-girl who falls in love with the titular character Carol (Cate Blanchett), a much older, married woman. Carol debuted at Cannes this year, receiving critical acclaim from all in attendance. Ever since I first heard the buzz about the film, I was instantly drawn in. Cate Blanchett is squarely within my top five favorite actresses in the business, and Rooney Mara has continued to grow on me with her innate acting adroitness.

Carol 2What struck me most about this film was director Todd Haynes’s artistic and genuinely humanistic approach to taking on this taboo subject matter. He told Entertainment Weekly, “[o]f course, it’s a story about a lesbian relationship. But it’s really about how love itself makes you feel at a loss for language, and every gesture is weighted with anticipation and meaning.” Further, Blanchett told the publication that “[i]rrespective of sexual preference, [the film] is honest about the feeling of falling in love.” That is something everyone can get on board with, and I look forward to seeing this love story evolve on the screen.

Back to Blanchett and Mara: wow, what a duo! Blanchett is a two-time Oscar winner, and Mara took home a co-Best Actress award at Cannes for her portrayal in this film. These two hard-hitting, deftly impressive actresses seem sure to give women a powerful presence this fall film season, and I am definitely up to see it all in action. Carol is set for a theatrical release on November 20, 2015.

Director: Todd Haynes (I’m Not There, Far from Heaven)

Starring: Cate Blanchett (Cinderella, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies), Rooney Mara (Her, Side Effects), Sarah Paulson (The Runner, 12 Years a Slave), and Kyle Chandler (The Wolf of Wall Street, The Spectacular Now)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lt-WC9xa7qs


Creed is a spin-off/continuation of the famed Rocky franchise, and it follows Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan), the son of the late, great Apollo Creed (portrayed by Carl Weathers in the Rocky series). Rocky himself (Sylvester Stallone) appears in the film, and as the trailer depicts, he will come into the picture just in time to train Adonis. In, in, in—I am in! Of course I love the Rocky franchise (not including Rocky V—BLAH), but I was wary of another addition to the storied series following the not-so-revolutionary Rocky Balboa. However, when I found out Ryan Coogler was directing, I was immediately sold. Coogler, making only his second feature film as a director, debuted on the scene in 2013 with one of the best films of that year, Fruitvale Station. It was a harrowing depiction of a horrible shooting, and it was crafted carefully and executed without blemish—his directorship alone gets me pumped to be back in the “Rocky” ring again.

Creed 1Additionally, the casting of Michael B. Jordan in the lead role is the icing on top of the sundae. Jordan continues to grow as an actor, but it was his heartfelt, dramatic depiction of the lead character in Coogler’s Fruitvale Station that made me sit back and think, “Wow…this guy is good!” Even though they only have the single film collaboration, Coogler’s casting of Jordan in his sophomore effort leads me to believe that these guys get along great and make a fantastic team behind the scenes. For all fans of the Rocky series, this dynamic relationship between Coogler and Jordan is sure to make life enjoyable for us in this much-anticipated film. Creed is set for a theatrical release on November 25, 2015.

Director: Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station)

Starring: Michael B. Jordan (Fantastic Four, That Awkward Moment), Sylvester Stallone (The Expendables 3, Grudge Match), Tessa Thompson (Selma, Dear White People), and Phylicia Rashād (Good Deeds, For Colored Girls)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uv554B7YHk4

The Good Dinosaur

The story behind The Good Dinosaur is incredibly simple and yet so intriguing: what would have happened if the asteroid that (reportedly) killed the dinosaurs missed Earth? That question will be answered this fall in a story that follows Arlo (Raymond Ochoa), an apatsosaurus, and his relationship with a feral child, Spot (Jack Bright). An animated movie? On my list of films I am most anticipating this fall? Seriously? Absolutely!

The Good Dinosaur 2Although I generally have enjoyed all of the Pixar movies that I have seen, I have never been too enthusiastic about animated films that have been made subsequent to my childhood. However, that all changed this year when I saw Pixar’s 15th feature, Inside Out. It is one of my favorite movies of 2015, and it brought out the kid in me again. With that said, ever since I saw the trailer for The Good Dinosaur, I was smitten with its story. It is a story about an innocent youth (stricken with tragedy—his father dies early on) and his relationship with a newfound companion. Usually the human is the one taking on a companion (usually in the form of another kid or a dog), but this simple twist in the classic storyline seems to be a good-natured treat for movies fans of all ages. I look for Pixar to knock it out of the (Jurassic) park again! The Good Dinosaur is set for a wide theatrical release on November 25, 2015.

Director: Peter Sohn (Partly Cloudy)

Starring: Raymond Ochoa (Lovesick, Mars Needs Moms), Jack Bright (Monsters University), Frances McDormand (Promised Land, Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted), Jeffrey Wright (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Parts 1&2, Only Lovers Left Alive), Sam Elliott (I’ll See You in My Dreams, Draft Day), Anna Paquin (True Blood, X-Men: Days of Future Past), and Steve Zahn (Dallas Buyers Club, Escape from Planet Earth)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O-RgquKVTPE

The Walk

The Walk chronicles the true-life story of Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a French high-wire artist, who strung a tightrope across the Twin Towers in New York City in 1974 and spectacularly (and dangerously) performed a high-wire routine for 45 minutes, whilst a quarter-mile above the ground. If you know this story, then you know how incredibly amazing it truly is. If you are unfamiliar with it, then boy, are you in for a treat!

The Walk 2My main interest in this film has nearly nothing to do with either Jo-Go playing Petit or legendary director Robert Zemeckis at the helm; instead, I am dying to see this movie because of the 2008 Oscar-winning documentary Man on Wire, directed by The Theory of Everything-director James Marsh. That documentary is by far one of my favorites of all time, and before ever seeing The Walk, I suggest you go check out Man on Wire first—you will not regret it (and it is currently streaming on Netflix). It allows you to get inside the head of this polarizing high-wire artist, and it delves deep into his life-long desires to pull off the NYC stunt. On the strength of Petit’s story, as delineated in Man on Wire, I anticipate The Walk being a memorable experience in theaters.

Notwithstanding my Man on Wire fandom, I am still excited to see JGL take on the role of such a captivating figure, and I know that Zemeckis will bring the same dramatic vigor and breathtaking trepidation to the actual high-wire scene that he did in Flight’s opening plane-crash scene in 2012. The Walk is set for a theatrical release on September 30, 2015.

Director: Robert Zemeckis (Flight, The Christmas Carol)

Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, Don Jon), Ben Kingsley (Self/less, Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb), and Charlotte Le Bon (The Hundred-Foot Journey, Yves Saint Laurent)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GR1EmTKAWIw

Review: My Ballot and Countdown

NomineesWith my third annual countdown in the books, we have finally reached the big day: the Academy Awards.  In preparation for tonight’s ceremony, I am providing all of you with a review of my blog from these past few weeks.  This review includes all of the winners of the 14 categories in which I have seen each nominated film/performance and have subsequently blogged about (my personal ballot), and it also includes my list of the “Top 15 Films of the Year.”

Get caught up on my picks, and feel free to look back over any of my past posts featuring much more in-depth commentary on each of these films and performances.  And make sure to tune into the 87th Academy Awards tonight at 7:30pm (CST) on ABC, live from the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, CA.  Enjoy, everyone!

My Oscar Winners:

Best Picture: Whiplash

Actor in a Leading Role: Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything)

Actor in a Supporting Role: J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)

Actress in a Leading Role: Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl)

Actress in a Supporting Role: Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)

Best Director: Alejandro G. Iñárritu (Birdman)

Best Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki (Birdman)

Best Film Editing: Joel Cox and Gary D. Roach (American Sniper)

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Elizabeth Yianni-Georgiou and David White (Guardians of the Galaxy)

Best Original Score: Jóhann Jóhannsson (The Theory of Everything)

Best Production Design: Nathan Crowley and Gary Fettis (Interstellar)

Best Sound Mixing: Craig Mann, Ben Wilkins, and Thomas Curley (Whiplash)

Best Adapted Screenplay: Damien Chazelle (Whiplash)

Best Original Screenplay: Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler)

Top 15 Films of the Year:

  1. Whiplash
  2. Locke
  3. Nightcrawler
  4. Starred Up
  5. The Theory of Everything
  6. Boyhood
  7. Blue Ruin
  8. American Sniper
  9. Guardians of the Galaxy
  10. Birdman
  11. Fury
  12. Calvary
  13. Interstellar
  14. Gone Girl
  15. The Lego Movie


Full List of Films I Saw from 2014: Ranked from 1 – 61

  1. Whiplash
  2. Locke
  3. Nightcrawler
  4. Starred Up
  5. The Theory of Everything
  6. Boyhood
  7. Blue Ruin
  8. American Sniper
  9. Guardians of the Galaxy
  10. Birdman
  11. Fury
  12. Calvary
  13. Interstellar
  14. Gone Girl
  15. The Lego Movie
  16. Edge of Tomorrow
  17. Into the Woods
  18. A Most Violent Year
  19. Two Days, One Night
  20. The Drop
  21. Neighbors
  22. Still Alice
  23. Alan Partridge
  24. Life Itself
  25. Rob the Mob
  26. Palo Alto
  27. Divergent
  28. Cheap Thrills
  29. The Imitation Game
  30. Foxcatcher
  31. The Judge
  32. The Railway Man
  33. Mr. Turner
  34. Selma
  35. Night Moves
  36. 22 Jump Street
  37. The Interview
  38. Dom Hemingway
  39. Ida
  40. The Other Woman
  41. The Sacrament
  42. Wild
  43. Snowpiercer
  44. Horrible Bosses 2
  45. God’s Not Dead
  46. Jersey Boys
  47. The Lunchbox
  48. Whitey: U.S.A. v. James J. Bulger
  49. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt. 1
  50. Filth
  51. The Grand Budapest Hotel
  52. Unbroken
  53. Inherent Vice
  54. Frank
  55. That Awkward Moment
  56. Endless Love
  57. Let’s Be Cops
  58. A Million Ways to Die in the West
  59. Tammy
  60. They Came Together
  61. The Machine

Best Picture

87th Academy Awards Nominations AnnouncementThis year, one of eight nominated films will be inducted into an exclusive society of movies when it receives the Academy’s greatest honor: the Oscar for Best Picture.  Some of the films that this year’s winner will be joining include Lawrence of ArabiaKramer vs. KramerPlatoonForrest GumpCrash12 Years a Slave, and many more; needless to say, this year’s Best Picture winner will be joining an elite collection of the world’s greatest films of all time.  The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Picture:


2. The Theory of Everything

3. Boyhood

4. American Sniper

5. Birdman

6. The Imitation Game

7. Selma

8. The Grand Budapest Hotel


Top 15 Films of 2014, No. 1 – Whiplash

Whiplash - BP

Whiplash is a dramatic film written and directed by Damien Chazelle. It follows Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller), an ambitious jazz drummer who studies at the fictional Shaffer Conservatory in New York, the most prestigious music school in the nation. Tormented by the sadistic/authoritarian Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons)—the school’s studio band instructor—Andrew must invest all of his time into his craft in order to attain his dream: becoming the best jazz drummer of all time.

Whiplash9Locke was my surefire choice for the best film of the entire year for the better part of 2014, but after I first saw Whiplash, all of that changed radically. My all-time favorite film is Inglourious Basterds, which came out in 2009, but here is the list of my favorite movie from each of the years since Tarantino’s Nazi-killer was released: The King’s Speech (2010), Drive (2011), Silver Linings Playbook (2012), and 12 Years A Slave (2013). In the past five years since the release of Inglourious Basterds, the single greatest movie I have seen is Whiplash. Wow, that is some serious adoration for a film, you might say. Yeah, it really is—but it is deserved. Not only is it far more superior to any other film released in the past five years, but also it does so much more with a smaller budget. My other favorite films that I mentioned (from 2010-2013) had budgets of at least $15 million, with an average budget of $18.25 million—Whiplash made its unforgettable mark on a budget of just $3 million. It is brilliantly written, daringly directed, and meticulously acted—these qualities cause Whiplash to soar to the top of cinema.

Whiplash10Writer/director Damien Chazelle has penned an inspired screenplay, and I mean “inspired” in every sense of the word. The basis for Chazelle’s story is his own personal experiences in the Princeton High School Studio Band. The man writes what he knows, and what he knows makes for some serious drama. His full-length screenplay is actually adapted from his own 15-page script for a short film of the same name. It did not feature Miles Teller, but it did feature J.K. Simmons as Fletcher. After the short film received critical acclaim at its screening at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, a group of producers signed on to turn it into a full-length picture. Fast forward one year to the 2014 Sundance Film Festival: Whiplash was screened and won rave reviews, eventually taking home the two biggest prizes for dramatic submissions (U.S. Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award). Chazelle’s journey with his story has been a long time coming, and the success has been rightfully tremendous. Whiplash5If it were not for Chazelle’s courage to do something with his original screenplay, we may never have gotten to see this amazing film. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, he elaborated on his decision to pursue this story: “This was the most personal thing I’d ever written, and I put it in a drawer for a while [.] I was almost embarrassed to show it because it seemed like exposing a part of myself that I didn’t really want exposed.” Thankfully the 30-year-old filmmaker decided to uncover this fascinating story, and we as viewers are incredibly lucky for his decision.

Whiplash2I now move to discuss the unique aspects of the film’s music. Chazelle effectively utilizes the jazz-band compositions as an actual plot device. I am not usually a fan of pure jazz music, but the ways in which Chazelle employs the musical pieces made the film so much more enthralling, meaning I grew to enjoy the jazz tunes. The film centers on the jazz band, and Whiplash’s score is subsequently the actual pieces of music that the band plays during practices and shows. This plot device ensures the story still flows smoothly without seeming dull or boring, but it also prevents some radical, orchestral arrangement from playing in the background (thus taking away from the substance of the script). It is a subtle technique, but this story cannot be told any other way—Chazelle’s orchestrates (I am all about the puns this Oscar season) this marvelously.

The most significant assistance the film gets on its storied journey from the 2013 Sundance Film Festival’s short-film screening to Oscar night is the acting. Miles Teller (one of the best rising stars from the past few years—the guy really deserves more outward acclaim) is extraordinary and J.K. Simmons is even better!

Whiplash11As I mentioned in my post about the Best Supporting Actor category (where I gave Simmons the highest praise of any actor in any film from 2014), Terence Fletcher is an absolute bully, and I never would have thought J.K. Simmons would be the guy to play a role like this. Although he is great in his supporting roles in other films (such as Juno and Contraband), he has established himself as the funny Farmers Insurance commercial pitchman. Simmons, in his role in Whiplash as the despotic Fletcher, shocked me beyond measure. Fletcher is one of the most despicable assholes in film history, and Simmons (the usual jokester) executes this performance flawlessly. FLAWLESSLY! Two particular scenes delineate Fletcher’s ominous nature incredibly well. In one, he tests out his drummers on a particular portion of a musical piece. Within half-seconds of them beginning to play, he gives them a strict signal to “cut them off.” He again, time after time, tells them to begin, only to cut them off more severely. Fletcher is a staunch perfectionist, and this scene is amazingly telling regarding this precise characteristic. Whiplash7In another scene, he stops the band and points out that someone is playing incorrectly. He asks the band member to identify himself. Someone finally comes clean to his misstep: a trombone player. Fletcher then unleashes one of the most aggressive personal attacks that you will ever witness. The trombone player begins to weep, and Fletcher dismisses him from the band. Once the kid leaves the room, Fletcher blatantly points out that the mistake was not actually made by the band member that came clean—it was actually someone else, who Fletcher then tells to step it up. The fact that Fletcher knew the entire time which member of his band was truly behind the mistake reveals so much about him as a person: he has a gifted ear for his music, and he will stop at nothing to weed out any weak link in his band (e.g., the trombone player who admitted to a fault he really did not commit out of fear). Simmons displays this almost obsessive-compulsive feature of Fletcher’s nature with brutal honesty, and his raw, terrorizing performance is one for the ages.

Whiplash3Simmons is obviously garnering the most attention of anyone involved with Whiplash (and rightfully so), but Miles Teller additionally offered up a stellar performance as the object of Fletcher’s torment. Whiplash is the fifth movie of Teller’s that I have seen, and it is the third to make me believe that he is quite possibly the most talented star under the age of 30 in Hollywood. In Rabbit Hole (2010; an unbelievably depressing film), I saw Teller for the first time in a supporting role that stuck out as the premier highlight in a movie in which Nicole Kidman delivered one of the most amazing performances of her career. He was also emotionally captivating as Sutter Keely in The Spectacular Now (2013), and it was this performance that made me believe in Teller as a dramatic actor—his portrayal of Andrew in Whiplash convinced me—as to his place amongst the great rising stars in the industry—beyond a reasonable doubt. Whiplash4The phrase “blood, sweat, and tears” is manifested to its truest meaning via Teller’s performance, and the “blood” portion plays a central role in the film. Andrew sweats profusely as he practices and plays due to the intense musical compositions—so what? He pours tears over the hardships that come his way in his quest for greatness—again, what of it? As he performs on the drums for long periods of time in the most overwhelming fashion, his hands begin to bleed uncontrollably, resulting in his drum and drumsticks to be covered in a hazy red—this is where the true nature of Andrew is expounded upon the greatest as he literally gives part of his life for his craft. Teller’s performance in these scenes is nothing short of spellbinding.

Whiplash12This is by far the longest I have ever written in a single post about a film, but I faithfully believe in every single word. Whiplash is a modern masterpiece. When it comes out on DVD/Blu-ray just two days after the Oscars, it will be expeditiously added to my personal film collection. It is a movie that I will not soon forget—Damien Chazelle, J.K Simmons, and Miles Teller have made a lasting imprint on my mind with this beautiful work of cinema. It is a character study of two men, one of which is not even the main character (i.e., someone we do not spend each frame with: Fletcher), and the story of the clash between these two jazz heavyweights is mesmerizing. In a year with many amazing movies, Whiplash stood apart—it is the best! Whiplash is rated R for strong language including some sexual references.

Whiplash trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7d_jQycdQGo

Academy Award nominations for Whiplash:

Best Picture (Jason Blum, Helen Estabrook, and David Lancaster, producers)

Best Supporting Actor (J.K. Simmons)

Best Film Editing (Tom Cross)

Best Sound Mixing (Craig Mann, Ben Wilkins, and Thomas Curley)

Best Adapted Screenplay (Damien Chazelle)

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

  1. Locke
  2. Nightcrawler
  3. Starred Up
  4. The Theory of Everything
  5. Boyhood
  6. Blue Ruin
  7. American Sniper
  8. Guardians of the Galaxy
  9. Birdman
  10. Fury
  11. Calvary
  12. Interstellar
  13. Gone Girl
  14. The Lego Movie

Best Actor

Best Actor NomineesAlthough you will likely recognize each and every Oscar nominee in the Best Actor category this year, four of the five nominees are receiving their very first Academy Award nomination. The only veteran to the prestigious ceremony: Bradley Cooper (receiving his third consecutive Oscar nomination this year). Despite the fact that Cooper was stellar in American Sniper, there are two other actors that will be duking it out on Oscar night, meaning the winner will be taking home his first Academy Award. The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Actor in a Leading Role:

WINNER: Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything)

RedmayneEddie Redmayne proved in 2014 that he is a rising star in the film business and will be a force for years to come—his breakout performance in The Theory of Everything (portraying Stephen Hawking) was absolutely captivating. Although the other nominated acting performances this year were brilliant and deserved of critical acclaim, nothing compares to the physical demands required of Redmayne for his portrayal of Hawking. With every passing moment after the character is first diagnosed with ALS, Redmayne handles the physical deterioration with meticulousness. The best way to explain the complexities of this performance and Redmayne’s superb acting comes from my post earlier this week about The Theory of Everything: “He manages Hawking’s real-life mannerisms almost effortlessly, and with every bodily hunch and contortion, Redmayne evokes a visceral likeness to the British theorist in ways never thought possible.” Redmayne was incredible, and his performance in this movie will go down in film history as one of the most remarkable portrayals of a physically disabled character since Daniel Day-Lewis in My Left Foot (side note: Daniel Day-Lewis won the Oscar for his aforementioned performance—here’s hoping that Redmayne will join him in that elite fraternity). Redmayne has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

  1. Michael Keaton (Birdman)

KeatonLeading up to the Oscar ceremony in two days, critics and experts have been torn in their Best Actor predictions between Eddie Redmayne and Michael Keaton (it is considered the tightest race in all of the acting categories). Even though I am personally hoping for a Redmayne victory, there will be no disappointment from me if Keaton ends up taking home the coveted statue. Michael Keaton rediscovered his own personal acting career with a tour-de-force portrayal in Birdman of Riggan Thompson, a once-relevant film actor turned Broadway performer hoping to attain critical success again. If it were not for Redmayne’s incredible performance this past year, Keaton would blow the rest of the nominees out of the water—in most years, this performance wins an Oscar 99.9% of the time. Keaton depicted his character with outstanding dynamism, exuding a magnificent blend of serious drama and black comedy. He is miles away from his Batman days with this painstaking depiction, and I hope this newfound Keaton comes back in the near future with equally magnificent performances. Keaton has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

  1. Bradley Cooper (American Sniper)

AMERICAN SNIPERBradley Cooper has established himself as the most decorated actor in the business in recent years (this is his third consecutive trip to the Academy Awards for an acting nomination), and although his performances in Silver Linings Playbook (2012) and American Hustle (2013) were unmistakably deserved, I would argue that his portrayal of the real-life Chris Kyle in American Sniper is the greatest of his career. In order to more accurately inhabit the late-Navy SEAL (the most lethal sniper in American military history), Cooper notably consumed 6,000 calories per day, while also lifting weights—his physique in the film is representatively colossal. Bradley Cooper’s physical transformation is only part of the noteworthiness of his role—he additionally delivers a rigorous, inspired performance as a brooding man with hidden vulnerabilities. Chris Kyle will forever live on as a legend in the hearts of America (except Michael Moore—but nobody cares about him anyways), and Cooper’s depiction of Kyle in American Sniper does the late-SEAL complete justice on the screen. Bradley Cooper has been previously nominated twice in acting categories at the Oscars: Best Actor (Silver Linings Playbook) and Best Supporting Actor (American Hustle). 

  1. Steve Carell (Foxcatcher) 

CarellIn Foxcatcher, Steve Carell plays the real-life multimillionaire John du Pont, the heir to the E.I. du Pont family fortune, who recruited US wrestling Olympic gold medalist brothers Mark and Dave Schultz to train at his family’s Foxcatcher Farm. As the ill-fated story goes, du Pont murdered Dave Schultz in cold blood in 1996. If you have not seen this film, you really need to—it will not be the most amazing movie you ever see, but it is well worth it for the acting performances alone. Channing Tatum is astonishingly good, as is Mark Ruffalo; however, Steve Carell is the showstopper. The character of John du Pont is inexplicable, menacing, and gripping, but not in ways that make anyone feel physically intimidated by him—instead, he is just flat out creepy! Carell, the career funny man of The Office and The 40-Year-Old Virgin fame, is completely unrecognizable in this role (in fact, according to Entertainment Weekly, Carell spent five months with an Oscar-winning makeup designer to develop du Pont’s look prior to shooting). Carell wholly submerges himself into this complex dramatic role, and the result is one of the better performances I have ever seen—I almost wish this year’s category were weaker because Carell would surely take home the Oscar. Carell has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award. 

  1. Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game)

CumberbatchIn the Best Picture-nominated film The Imitation Game, Benedict Cumberbatch portrays the real-life British cryptanalyst—Alan Turing—who led a team during World War II that cracked the Nazis’ infamous Enigma code. In my opinion, The Imitation Game as a whole is vastly overrated. Although I do contend that it is a good film, it is far from great. Part of my feeling that the movie is merely average is due to Cumberbatch’s performance. In parts of the film (specifically when the war is over and Turing is being punished—by chemical castration—for being gay), Cumberbatch boasts riveting acting abilities—in these scenes, the unearthing of Turing’s cold vulnerabilities is done so in an emotionally fueled manner. However, in the bulk of the film, which deals with the actual cracking of the Enigma code, I was not overly blown away by his performance—it did not leave me in awe whatsoever (i.e., it simply was not memorable to me). I do admit that Cumberbatch is a great actor (I was immensely impressed with him in 2013’s August: Osage County), but for me, his spot amongst the others in this category is more deserving for Jake Gyllenhaal, who I believe was gravelly snubbed by the Academy this year for his role in Nightcrawler. Cumberbatch has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

Actors snubbed in this category: Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler), Jack O’Connell (Starred Up), Matthew McConaughey (Interstellar), Brendan Gleeson (Calvary), Miles Teller (Whiplash), Tom Hardy (Locke), Brad Pitt (Fury), Channing Tatum (Foxcatcher), and Timothy Spall (Mr. Turner).

Best Actress

Best Actress NomineesOf the twenty actors and actress that are nominated for Oscars in acting-specific categories, only four have actually ever won an Academy Award. Two of those four are currently nominated for Best Actress (Reese Witherspoon and Marion Cotillard); therefore, I guess you can say this is the most accomplished acting category of the bunch this year. The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Actress in a Leading Role:

WINNER: Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl)

PikeAlthough she is not considered by experts to be in the hunt for the Best Actress Oscar, I still believe that Rosamund Pike gave the best performance by an actress in all of 2014. In Gone Girl, Pike plays “Amazing” Amy, a contemptuous wife who is reported missing by her husband on their fifth wedding anniversary. Pike is not particularly well known to American audiences, but I have been particularly familiar with her work over the years in films like Die Another Day, Fracture, An Education, and The World’s End. Her claim to fame has long been key supporting roles, but in her inauguration as a true leading lady, Pike was on fire! The thing about Pike’s character is that she is one of the most complex women you will ever meet on screen. Thus, Pike had to evoke so many emotions at once to maintain her character’s inexplicable duplicity. I mentioned in my post earlier this month regarding Gone Girl that at times I found Amy “incredibly attractive and empathized with her plight,” but at other times I could not help but to desire “bashing (figuratively) her head in.” Pike nailed the “Jekyll-and-Hyde” nature of Amy flawlessly, and she is most deserved of my vote for Best Actress. Pike has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

  1. Julianne Moore (Still Alice)

MooreIn Still Alice, Julianne Moore plays the titular character, a renowned linguistics professor who is shocked by an out-of-the-blue diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Before I get to Moore’s performance, let me briefly digress about my feelings towards her. For me, Julianne Moore is the equivalent to Tom Brady—she is wicked awesome (apropos to Tom Brady…New England…accent…get it?) at her trade, but for some reason that I cannot specifically point to, I just do not like her. With that said, I absolutely respect her ability to act (much like I respect Brady’s unparalleled ability to drop dimes on the gridiron). Okay, back to Still Alice. Moore’s portrayal of Alice in this film is heartrending. Despite the disease’s gradual diminishment of the physical capacity of Alice’s mind, she never ceases to fight. Moore depicts this relentlessness in soul-wrenching fashion, and at all times, she masterfully evokes the perfect combination of agony, vulnerability, and optimism. She is the odds-on favorite to take home the Best Actress Oscar, and if she in fact does, it will be a warranted honor. Moore has previously been nominated four times for Academy Awards: twice for Best Actress (The End of the Affair and Far From Heaven) and twice for Best Supporting Actress (Boogie Nights and The Hours). 

  1. Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything)

JonesIn The Theory of Everything, Felicity Jones plays Jane Wilde-Hawking, the ex-wife of Stephen Hawking. Jones’s performance will likely get overlooked in years to come (due to Eddie Redmayne’s likely Oscar victory this Sunday), but her innate portrayal of Jane was one of the more refreshing parts of the film—I loved Redmayne as Stephen Hawking, but Felicity Jones sufficiently held her own. The film centers on the love story of Jane and Stephen, so therefore, Jones is given plenty of screen time—she makes the most of her opportunities. Her performance differed in the first third of the movie compared to the last two thirds, but only in the substance of her character, not in terms of her acting skills. In the first third, she beautifully portrays the sheer innocence of love between Wilde and Hawking—it is charming, and she wonderfully delineates Jane’s adoration for Stephen without resorting to heavy-handedness. In the final two thirds of The Theory of Everything, she masterfully manifests the conflicted love and distress of the couple (considering Stephen’s ALS progression) with raw emotion—it is a perfect execution of Jane’s critical complexities. Jones has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award. 

  1. Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night)

CotillardIn Two Days, One Night, Marion Cotillard plays Sandra, a laborer at a solar-panel manufacturer. After returning to work from taking time off (due to an emotional breakdown), Sandra is laid off. The rest of the film follows Sandra as she is thrust into a position where she must approach each of her co-workers (one by one), and plead for them to vote for her to retain her job. The catch: if they decide to vote for her to stay, they must forfeit a €1,000 bonus. I wrote about this film on my “Honorable Mentions 2014” post, and aside from a solid screenplay, I credited Cotillard’s performance for the success of the movie. The story is as realistic as it gets (everyone can imagine being in a scenario like this), and Cotillard’s pragmatic approach to her portrayal is spirited and inspired. Her character is both sensible and wrought with emotion, and Cotillard gives a bravely humanistic voice to this troubled woman. Cotillard admitted to Entertainment Weekly that a second read-through of the screenplay was just the motivation she needed for the role: “When I read the script a second time I saw all the little beautiful details of her journey.” The veteran actress evokes subtle nuances in the exposition of her character, and it is definitely an exceptional performance worthy of Oscar praise. Cotillard was nominated and won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in La Vie en Rose (2007). 

  1. Reese Witherspoon (Wild)

WILDIn her self-produced film Wild, Reese Witherspoon portrays the real-life Cheryl Strayed, a woman so distraught by her mother’s passing that she ventures to hike 1,100 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail. During most of the film, Cheryl is the only character on the screen. This makes for the perfect opportunity for Reese Witherspoon to take full control over the direction of the film because its success hinges upon her performance. Although Witherspoon engrossed herself into the role with affecting command, I simply did not buy into her performance. It was unfortunate for me because I really do love Witherspoon as an actress—I greatly enjoyed her in Walk the Line and her portrayal of Tracy Flick in Alexander Payne’s Election is one of my favorite acting performances of all time. However, she did not convince me in Wild that she was channeling an Oscar-worthy performance. If you did enjoy her role in Wild, it is not an outlandish thought—most critics and cinema experts expect Witherspoon to challenge Julianne Moore for the Oscar. Witherspoon was nominated and won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in Walk the Line (2005).

Actresses snubbed in this category: Emily Blunt (Edge of Tomorrow and Into the Woods), Jessica Chastain (A Most Violent Year), Emma Roberts (Palo Alto), Dakota Fanning (Night Moves), and Agata Trzebuchowska (Ida).

Top 15 Films of 2014, No. 2 – Locke

‘Mastery of small, telling gestures’: Tom Hardy as a man who goes awol in Locke.Locke is a British drama written and directed by Steven Knight. The film follows Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy), a successful construction foreman who is the supervisor on the largest concrete pour in all of Europe (taking place in Birmingham, UK). On the night before the pour (and the biggest challenge in his thriving career), he receives a call that causes him to get into his car and head to London, ultimately setting in motion a series of life-altering events that take place exclusively via phone calls during his drive.

2F3A9045.CR2Locke is single-handedly one of the greatest cinematic achievements that I have ever witnessed in my entire life. Given my adulation of it, it goes without saying that the fact it is “No. 2” on my countdown speaks volumes about my “No. 1” film. Below I will discuss in detail the specific aspects of this film that make it so incredibly stunning, but first, I must chat about the movie’s creator. Steven Knight is famous in cinematic circles across the Atlantic, with little relevance to the average American audience. Although he is most renowned exclusively as a screenwriter, my personal knowledge as to his work is only in regards to his directorial debut, which he also penned (Redemption—known everywhere other than America as Hummingbird). Although Redemption was ultimately no more than a solid 3-star film (per my observation, at least), I was obsessed with various aspects of its mise-en-scène, specifically Knight’s narrative style and visual themes. Locke7Nearly the entirety of Redemption is shot at night (just like Locke), and this technique is a particularly outstanding method for telling the British thriller. Despite the fact that Locke is billed as a drama, it plays more like a thriller, so Knight’s success with the nocturnal setting and matching thematic visual production in Redemption bodes well for the eventual success of the far-better Locke. Aside from performing so well in his role as the director of Locke, Knight has authored one of the most thrilling, dramatic scripts that I have ever seen. The execution of the written word by Tom Hardy is the greater achievement, but credit to Knight for his astounding work.

Locke4Three aspects of this film make it so extraordinary: (1) its restricted-narrative/limited-storytelling technique, (2) its temporal limitations and signposts, and (3) its stellar acting from Tom Hardy. Hardy’s performance in Locke is interspersed spectacularly throughout both of the first two aspects listed above, and I will integrate specific elements of his portrayal throughout the remainder of this analysis. Locke is the preeminent exposition of a restricted narrative (as the audience is with Hardy’s character exclusively for the entire movie in his SUV during his drive to London—you never see another character) and limited storytelling (as the plot takes place over the course of only a 90-minute period concerning essentially one central issue). These storytelling techniques evoke similarities to Phone Booth (2002), but the actual plot is different. Both Locke and Phone Booth are told seemingly in real time (in fact, the only breaks from continuous shooting in Locke came briefly in order to change the memory cards in the cameras), and this makes the story flow with straightforwardness. Locke3Locke’s greatest achievement is that it is even more thrilling than Phone Booth, and yet, its edge-of-the-seat nature is accomplished without violent, murderous circumstances. Even though the stakes, then, are not life-or-death, I would argue that Locke’s gripping circumstances are even more life-altering than that of Phone Booth—the execution of this is how Tom Hardy elevates his acting game to such incomparable heights.

Locke2The film’s time limitations and subsequent temporal signposts are additional aspects that set Locke apart from the rest of the year’s movies. As far as actual time constraints, the movie is a scant 84 minutes in duration; also, as mentioned earlier, the film was shot in nearly real time. I make note of these time constraints because it is amazing that so much dramatic excitement can be expounded upon so masterfully in such a limited time. More so than just being a physical time constriction, the movie’s duration plays out as an additional plot device to progress its exhilarating and dramatic elements—during his drive from Birmingham to London, Ivan continually updates (via phone calls) the object of his drive (a person that I will leave unnamed here for spoiler purposes) on how much time he has left before he reaches his destination. As he moves from “one hour away” to “thirty minutes away” to “fifteen minutes away,” the thrilling aspect of the story progresses accordingly, and as a viewer, you feel the pressure Ivan is under. Also, he engages in a series of phone calls with one of his sons who is anxiously awaiting his father’s arrival to watch an important football (soccer in the US) match. Given that Ivan is not home to watch, his son calls persistently to update his father on the game, specifically mentioning in each call how much time remains in the game. This is another way that Knight uses temporal signposts to further update the viewers about how much time Ivan has before his entire life comes crashing down—Knight truly is a storytelling virtuoso.

Locke6As far as Hardy’s acting performance, little can be said to do his work justice—it is utterly unexplainable. While discussing the work of Jessica Chastain (multiple times during this year’s blogging), I often state that in my opinion, she is the best actress currently working in Hollywood. When it comes to the best actor (as far as talent goes), Tom Hardy is absolutely her counterpart. If you have doubts about my label of Hardy as the industry’s best, I urge you to watch Bronson (2008; it is currently streaming on Netflix)—it was the single film that made me a strong believer in Hardy’s work as an actor. In each of his other films, he does an exceptional job—most of the time, he steals the show, even if he is simply a supporting character. Subjectively, I believe his role as Ivan Locke is the second greatest of his career (behind Bronson), but as a whole, Locke is a far superior film. Locke is currently streaming on Amazon Prime, so if you subscribe to that service, there is no excuse not to check it out. Locke is rated R for language throughout.

Locke trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xdaofZfgV_Q

Academy Award nominations for Locke:


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

  1. Nightcrawler
  2. Starred Up
  3. The Theory of Everything
  4. Boyhood
  5. Blue Ruin
  6. American Sniper
  7. Guardians of the Galaxy
  8. Birdman
  9. Fury
  10. Calvary
  11. Interstellar
  12. Gone Girl
  13. The Lego Movie

Top 15 Films of 2014, No. 3 – Nightcrawler

Night1Nightcrawler is a neo-noir crime thriller written and directed by Dan Gilroy. The film, set in a nocturnal Los Angeles, follows Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), a man desperate for work who happens upon the world of “nightcrawling”—a trade where freelance journalists monitor police scanners in order to rush to the scene of wrecks, fires, assaults, murders, and more to capture video of the events to sell to the highest bidder. Determined to make himself an overnight success, Lou embarks on a determined, but twisted journey into the bloodthirsty business of turning crime into dollar signs.

Night5Of all the films released in 2014, you will not find a more sadistic, but comical, spine-chilling, but appalling one than Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler. Dan Gilroy has not had the most prestigious career in film, making his mark only as an average writer in the industry (over a 20-year period, from 1992–2012, he penned only six screenplays). But in Nightcrawler (Gilroy’s directorial debut), he has elevated himself into “a-force-to-be-reckoned-with” territory. This film explores the old media adage of “if it bleeds, it leads,” and this broad, violent idea provides Gilroy with plenty of room to delve deep into the underbelly of society’s voyeuristic lust for blood. I am sure everyone is familiar with the term “rubbernecking,” (commonly used to describe slowing down to view the scene of a car accident) and this is the primal theme that Gilroy surveys. Night9In the film, Lou chases down accidents, murders, and so on before the police can arrive to shoot footage of the incident, and then he negotiates for the purchase of that footage with Nina Romina (Rene Russo), the morning news director at a failing local TV station who desperately needs a boost in ratings. Therefore, Gilroy’s story is the manifestation of the cyclical demand for this raw, brutal footage: society is enabled by Lou (who shoots the footage), Lou is enabled by Nina (who purchases his footage), Nina is enabled by the news station (who is in dire need of an increase in ratings), and the news station is in turn enabled by society (who craves this footage). The concept seems so simple, and Gilroy does an exceptional job of delineating this perverse plot in the most irksome way.

Night3One mark of a great writer is his/her ability to create a memorable character, such as Tarantino’s Hans Landa (Inglourious Basterds), Paul Thomas Anderson’s Daniel Plainview (There Will Be Blood), and Oliver Stone’s Tony Montana (Scarface). In Lou Bloom, Dan Gilroy has created one of the most inexplicable, sociopathic, and demented characters since Travis Bickle in Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. One of the most unnerving features of Lou Bloom is his appearance. Jake Gyllenhaal lost 20 pounds for the role, and this gauntness is the defining characteristic of his portrayal of the ruthless antihero. Gyllenhaal’s eyes appear sunken in throughout (making him look like an unsettled insomniac), and his greased-back hair and robotic-like demeanor go perfectly hand-in-hand with Lou’s manic rhetoric throughout the film. Night4An established actor in the industry, Gyllenhaal is no stranger to remarkable, critically acclaimed performances. But I believe that his portrayal of Lou Bloom in Nightcrawler is by far his greatest of all time—this is why, in my opinion, the Academy’s biggest mistake this year (aside from The Lego Movie getting jipped) was leaving Gyllenhaal out of the Best Actor category. Apart from Gyllenhaal’s physical dedication to the role of Lou, he delivers one of the most icily neurotic performances of 2014. Lou is a fascinating mix of blank-stared sociopath and charismatic comic, and Gyllenhaal brings these utterly multifarious characteristics to life in an unruly manner.

Night7Nightcrawler also features some marvelous supporting performances from Rene Russo and Riz Ahmed. Russo (writer/director Dan Gilroy’s real-life wife) executes her role as the morning news director Nina Romina with effortlessness. Nina knows that her job is on the line at a news station that is rapidly faltering, and with that in the back of her mind, she must go to extreme lengths to survive. She is chilling in her own way (not to mention wildly matter-of-fact), and Russo gives one of the most surprising performances in Nightcrawler. Night6Riz Ahmed also gives an unpredictable breakout performance as Rick, Lou’s ill-fated recruit/sidekick. Riding around every single night with Lou (a character with little to no moral compass), Rick is consistently besieged by the ferocious nature of this business—he attempts to be, to no avail, the voice of reason for the nightcrawling duo. Ahmed brilliantly delineates the conflicted nature of Rick’s character, and he breathes a humanistic vivacity into the only character worthy of empathy. Nightcrawler is rated R for violence including graphic images, and for language.

Nightcrawler trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u1uP_8VJkDQ

Academy Award nominations for Nightcrawler:

Best Original Screenplay (Dan Gilroy)

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

  1. Starred Up
  2. The Theory of Everything
  3. Boyhood
  4. Blue Ruin
  5. American Sniper
  6. Guardians of the Galaxy
  7. Birdman
  8. Fury
  9. Calvary
  10. Interstellar
  11. Gone Girl
  12. The Lego Movie