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
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Review: My Ballot and Countdown

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Well, with another successful few weeks of blogging, we have finally reached the big day: the Academy Awards.  In preparation for tonight’s show, I am providing all of you with a review of my blog from these past couple of weeks.  This review includes all of the winners of the 10 categories in which I have seen each nominated film/performance and have subsequently blogged about, 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 86th Academy Awards tonight at 7:30pm (CST) on ABC, live from the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles, CA.  Enjoy, everyone!

My Oscar Winners:

Best Picture: 12 Years A Slave

Actor in a Leading Role: Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)

Actor in a Supporting Role: Michael Fassbender (12 Years A Slave)

Actress in a Leading Role: Meryl Streep (August: Osage County)

Actress in a Supporting Role: Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years A Slave)

Best Director: Steve McQueen (12 Years A Slave)

Best Film Editing: Joe Walker (12 Years A Slave)

Best Production Design: Catherine Martin and Beverley Dunn (The Great Gatsby)

Best Adapted Screenplay: Terence Winter (The Wolf of Wall Street)

Best Original Screenplay: Spike Jonze (Her)

Top 15 Films of the Year:

1. 12 Years A Slave

2. Short Term 12

3. The Hunt

4. Frances Ha

5. The Wolf of Wall Street

6. The World’s End

7. American Hustle

8. The Spectacular Now

9. Nebraska

10. Captain Phillips

11. Her

12. Philomena

13. Fruitvale Station

14. The Place Beyond the Pines

15. Dallas Buyers Club

Best Actor

Matthew McConaughey 2

This year, the Best Actress category features a group of fantastic performers with a combined 33 previous Oscar nominations.  On the contrary, this group of Best Actor nominees features five well-known actors that have not been so abundantly recognized by the Academy.  Between the five, there is only one Oscar win on a combined five nominations.  The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Actor:

WINNER: Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)

In Dallas Buyers Club, Matthew McConaughey plays the real-life Ron Woodruff, an overtly homophobic man from Texas that begins smuggling life-saving drugs into the United States after he is shockingly diagnosed with AIDS.  Matthew McConaugheyAs many of you already know, McConaughey is receiving a wide range of attention for his role in Dallas Buyers Club, partly because of the physical transformation that took place—the 44-year-old actor dropped a staggering 47 pounds.  Even though this weight loss makes McConaughey closely resemble an AIDS patient from the late 1980s, it is his impeccable acting in this film that warrants his place at the top of my list.  Given his Texas roots, he always plays the Texan role with ease, but in this film, he takes on a part that is not your typical Southern gentleman.  The performance he gives is bold, empowering, and utterly heart-wrenching, and in a year where he had critically-recognized performances in Mud and The Wolf of Wall Street, he stands alone at the top of the acting world thanks to an amazing portrayal of a man on the brink of death.  Matthew McConaughey has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

2. Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years A Slave)

Chiwetel EjioforIn 12 Years A Slave, Chiwetel Ejiofor plays the real-life Solomon Northup, a renowned Northern-born violinist that is abducted and sold into slavery during the pre-Civil War era.  The story of Solomon Northup is incredibly heartbreaking, but Ejiofor gives the tragic story the justice it most definitely deserves.  With every passing moment throughout the film, the tale seems to get worse and worse for the distinguished Solomon Northup, and in every single scene, Ejiofor gives his heart and soul to the character, evoking a wealth of emotions in the minds of each viewer.  If it were not for a career-defining performance from McConaughey, Ejiofor would be far and away above the rest of the acting performances this year, and 12 Years A Slave is forever indebted to this awe-inspiring portrayal by Ejiofor of the resilient Solomon Northup.  Chiwetel Ejiofor has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

3. Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street)

In The Wolf of Wall Street, Leonard DiCaprio portrays the real-life Jordan Belfort, a greedy stockbroker who took Wall Street by storm in the late 1980s through sex, drugs, and securities fraud.  Film Fall PreviewThis film was definitely one of the most wild and crazy movie experiences of 2013, and the way in which DiCaprio engrossed himself so deeply into this despicable role is absolutely incredible.  A year after staring in Django Unchained, Leo has again taken on a character with a serious lacking for any moral integrity, and once again, the results were certainly extraordinary.  Even though I think this is one of his most thorough and well-crafted acting performances of his dignified career, I do not believe it is enough to outshine both McConaughey and Ejiofor.  DiCaprio has previously been nominated for three acting Oscars, the most recent nomination being for Best Actor for his role in Blood Diamond (2007).

4. Christian Bale (American Hustle)

In American Hustle, Christian Bale plays Irving Rosenfeld, an intelligent con artist who is forced into working alongside the FBI to take down a group of corrupt politicians.  Christian Bale has a long history of outstanding performances, and this role can be added to his long list of acclaimed portrayals.  Christian BaleIt would be easy to talk about the incredible acting abilities Bale elicits on the screen in American Hustle, but one thing not receiving as much attention is his very own physical transformation for the part.  Similar to McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club, Bale has lost a significant amount of weight for a role twice in the past: he lost over 60 pounds for his role in The Machinist (2004) and lost a substantial amount of weight for The Fighter (2010).  However, in American Hustle, Bale went backwards, gaining 50 pounds for his role as Irving.  This transformation was unbelievable, leaving Bale nearly unrecognizable for the duration of the film.  Christian Bale was previously nominated and won Best Supporting Actor for his role in The Fighter (2010).

5. Bruce Dern (Nebraska)

In Nebraska, Bruce Dern plays Woody Grant, an old man who, after receiving a certificate in the mail saying he has won $1 million, embarks on a trip with his son from Montana to Nebraska to claim the prize.  NEBRASKABruce Dern’s portrayal of Woody is one of the highlights from Alexander Payne’s most recent film, and I could not imagine any other old actor playing this role.  Dern utilizes his sprawling acting talents, made up from over fifty years of film experience, to take this character on in a manner that is more than award-worthy.  Woody is a simple man, and Dern plays those characteristics to a tee, adding in some hilarious, witty dialogue along the way.  In most years, a performance like this would garner a much higher ranking on my list, but this year, Dern is at a disadvantage because of four other unimpeachable performances.  Bruce Dern was previously nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Coming Home (1978).

Actresses snubbed in this category: Bradley Cooper (The Place Beyond the Pines), Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips), Hugh Jackman (Prisoners), Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station), Mads Mikkelsen (The Hunt), and Joaquin Phoenix (Her)

Top 15 Films of the Year, No. 15 – Dallas Buyers Club

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Dallas Buyers Club is a film directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, with a screenplay written by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack.  The film tells the true story of Ron Woodruff (Matthew McConaughey), a homophobic Texan who is diagnosed with AIDS in the mid-1980s and given thirty days to live.  After trials with the FDA-approved drug AZT prove unsuccessful, Woodruff begins smuggling drugs into the United States from all over the world that help alleviate the symptoms of the disease and give himself a chance to live longer; however, these drugs are not approved by the FDA, and Woodruff finds himself having to continually evade detection from the federal government.  With help from a transgender AIDS patient named Rayon (Jared Leto) and a defiant doctor (Jennifer Garner), Woodruff establishes the “Dallas Buyers Club,” a way for AIDS patients to get easy access to illegal, life-saving medicines.

Dallas Buyers Club was definitely one of the best films that 2013 had to offer.  Not only were there stellar acting performances, which I will get to in a moment, but the film also presents an inspiring story about staring into the face of death and choosing to live.  The director, Vallée, is relatively unknown to the Hollywood community aside from his film The Young Victoria (2009), but this stimulating cinematic effort will definitely put him on the map in Tinseltown.  The screenwriters, Borten and Wallack, are nominated for Best Original Screenplay, and rightly so; the script flowed fluently and provided each actor with a wide range of opportunities to make a memorable dramatic performance.

Besides the well-written script and the competent directing job by Vallée, the acting in thisJennifer Garner movie truly sets it apart from some of the other releases from the previous year.  For starters, Jennifer Garner gives a heartfelt performance as Dr. Eve Saks, the physican who risks her career to help Woodruff.  Many critics have overlooked her impact on the movie, but I refuse to do so—she makes the film work in a huge, emotional way!

But now to the two award-worthy acting performances: Jared Leto and Matthew McConaughey.  Both Leto (the front-man for one of my favorite bands, 30 Seconds to Mars) and McConaughey have already received Best Supporting Actor and Best Actor awards, respectively, from the Golden Globe Awards, Critics’ Choice Awards, and the Dallas Buyers ClubScreen Actors Guild Awards, and all of this praise is quite deserved for both men.  Leto’s role as Rayon is unbelievably astonishing, and I mean that in the best way possible.  He is truly convincing as a transgender woman, and his performance is one for the ages.  McConaughey also gives the greatest performance of his career as Woodruff.  It is well documented that he lost 47 pounds for the role, but my admiration for his performance goes well beyond the weight loss—McConaughey simply knocked this dramatic role out of the park!  His role is the perfect combination of humor and devastation, and I would not be surprised if he takes home the Oscar for Best Actor.  Dallas Buyers Club is rated R for pervasive language, some strong sexual content, nudity, and drug use.

Dallas Buyers Club trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hs1kpGNSRVk

Academy Award nominations for Dallas Buyers Club:

Best Picture (Robbie Brenner and Rachel Winter, Producers)

Actor in a Leading Role (Matthew McConaughey)

Actor in a Supporting Role (Jared Leto)

Best Film Editing (John Mac McMurphy and Martin Pensa)

Best Makeup and Hairstyling (Adruitha Lee and Robin Mathews)

Best Original Screenplay (Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack)

Fall Preview 2013: No. 5 – No. 1

1-5 Fall Preview

Hello there, film fans!  Well, the conclusion to my “Fall Preview 2013” is finally here.  I have compiled a list of the Top 10 fall movie releases that I am most anticipating, and over the past couple of posts, I have shared with you my five honorable mention films, as well as No. 10 – No. 6 on my list.  Even though I have hinted at Oscar buzz for the films outlined in those past two posts, these final five movies are almost assured some Oscar nominations, and they are most definitely the films I am most excited about seeing this fall.  So, without further ado, I give you films No. 5 – No. 1 on my Fall Preview 2013 list.

No. 5 – The Monuments Men

The Monuments Men is a true story about an Allied group during World War II called the “Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program.”  According to director George Clooney, the-monuments-menthe film concerns itself with “[…] the greatest art heist in the history of the world.”  The real-life group worked during WWII to protect cultural property, such as art and monuments, from war damage.  Something about this story line, coupled with the on-screen rapport Clooney and Matt Damon have developed since their days on the Oceans franchise, sparked my interest in this project.  Two of my favorite movies in recent memory are The Ides of March and The Descendants, and the common denominator between these two films is Clooney.  I expect great things from the established writer/director/actor, and with a strong supporting cast, including Damon, Bill Murray, and John Goodman, this film is sure to shine.  The Monuments Men is set for a theatrical release on December 18, 2013.

Director: George Clooney (Good Night, and Good Luck, The Ides of March)

Starring: George Clooney (The Descendants, Gravity), Matt Damon (We Bought a Zoo, Elysium), Bill Murray (Moonrise Kingdom, Hyde Park on Hudson), John Goodman (Argo, Flight)

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CreneTs7sGs

No. 4 – American Hustle

American Hustle, according to Entertainment Weekly, tells the fictionalized story about a “[…] real-life 1970s federal investigation into political corruption known as Abscam.”  Not too many more details about specifics within the film have been released to the public yet, but the trailer (listed below) is more than enthralling and is sure to capture your immediate curiosity.  Two of the more critically acclaimed and successful films of the past few years, american-hustle-movie-castspecifically at the Oscars, were 2010’s The Fighter and 2012’s Silver Linings Playbook.  David O. Russell was at the helm for each of these films, and in American Hustle, he brings back some of the more celebrated performers from his past work.  The movie’s leads are Christian Bale and Amy Adams (co-stars on The Fighter), as well as Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence (co-stars on Silver Linings Playbook), and I cannot wait to see this group of stars together on the silver screen for the first time.  The film has another intriguing casting choice: Jeremy Renner.  Renner has achieved superstar status ever since his Academy Award-nominated performance in 2010’s The Town, and his place on this ensemble cast will most definitely strengthen the film’s core.  American Hustle is set for a wide theatrical release on December 25, 2013.

Director: David O. Russell (The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook)

Starring: Christian Bale (The Dark Knight Rises, Out of the Furnace), Amy Adams (Man of Steel, Her), Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook, The Place Beyond the Pines), Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire), Jeremy Renner (The Avengers, The Bourne Legacy)

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ST7a1aK_lG0

No. 3 – Saving Mr. Banks

Saving Mr. Banks is a film about the life of Australian-born author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson), specifically her meetings with Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) as he relentlessly pursued to obtain the rights to Travers’ critically acclaimed story Mary Poppins in hopes of adapting it onto the silver screen.  Ironically enough, Walt Disney Pictures is actuallysaving-mr-banks-trailer1 producing this film, just as it produced the original film adaptation of Mary Poppins.  Even though the Mary Poppins film we all know and love is a remarkable piece of cinematic history, earning five Oscars from thirteen nominations, the behind-the-scenes story of the battle to produce the film is almost as riveting.  In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Emma Thompson speaks about the hostile nature of the original negotiations between Disney and Travers, saying, “What’s so wonderful are the frustrated reactions of the guys who are writing and creating this film to the negativity and sheer beastliness of this fantastically recalcitrant woman, who wouldn’t be having any of it.”  Even though two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks is associated with the film, it is Thompson who is racking up the entire pre-release Oscar buzz for her performance.  The film will surely be heartwarming and emotional, and for Mary Poppins fans everywhere, it will be quite the spectacle to see this story play out on the screen.  Saving Mr. Banks is set for a theatrical release on December 13, 2013.

Director: John Lee Hancock (The Alamo, The Blind Side)

Starring: Emma Thompson (Brave, Beautiful Creatures), Tom Hanks (Cloud Atlas, Captain Phillips)

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=16MdSZH6I4o

No. 2 – The Counselor

The Counselor, according to Entertainment Weekly, is a film about a lawyer (Michael Fassbender) who is drawn into a drug-running operation by some more than ignominiouscounselor characters.  This prospective film lured me into its web on multiple fronts.  For starters, it has an amazing ensemble cast.  Brad Pitt, Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, and Cameron Diaz join Fassbender, and there is no doubt regarding the abilities of this elite group of performers.  Second, Ridley Scott is sitting in the director’s chair.  Scott is easily one of the most successful directors in Hollywood, and he has directed some of my favorite films (e.g. Gladiator, American Gangster, and Prometheus); thus, I bestow a high level of deference onto his work.  The last and most significant reason I am eagerly anticipating this film’s release, though, is its screenwriter: Cormac McCarthy.  McCarthy is a highly praised author, penning significantly classic novels, such as The Road and No Country for Old Men.  This dark, sinister literary work of McCarthy has lent itself to Oscar-winning film adaptations in the past, and I am more than excited to see his first produced screenplay on the big screen next month.  The Counselor is set for a theatrical release on October 25, 2013.

Director: Ridley Scott (Robin Hood, Prometheus)

Starring: Michael Fassbender (Prometheus, 12 Years a Slave), Brad Pitt (Killing Them Softly, 12 Years a Slave), Javier Bardem (Skyfall, To the Wonder), Penelope Cruz (Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, To Rome with Love)

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n4rTztvVx8E

No. 1 – The Wolf of Wall Street

The Wolf of Wall Street is a film surrounding the true story of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), a Wall Street stockbroker in the early 1990s who made millions of dollars via securities fraud and money laundering.  My intrigue with this film is by way of multiple ht_leonardo_dicaprio_wolf_of_wall_street_ll_130617_wblogfactors: DiCaprio, Martin Scorcese, and that incredible trailer.  If I had to come up with a list of my favorite actors of all time, Leo would most definitely be right near the top, if not the very pinnacle of the list.  I truly feel an injustice was evident during the most recent Oscars season when the Academy did not even nominate DiCaprio for his supporting role in Django Unchained, but I am hoping this performance will bring him back into the Oscars fold.  I am also excited about DiCaprio joining forces again with Scorsese for their fifth collaboration.  Scorsese’s films, dating back to 1974, have accounted for 75 Academy Award nominations and 20 wins, and I expect his involvement to result in yet another wave of widespread critical acclaim.  Aside from DiCaprio and Scorsese, my enthusiasm for this film’s release is a direct product of watching the trailer that was released in mid-June.  This is by far my favorite trailer to date, and if you have not seen it before, I encourage you to use the link below to check it out.  With Kanye West’s up-beat “Black Skinhead” playing throughout, captivating images pervade the trailer, including footage of sports cars, yachts, money, cocaine, women, DiCaprio pop and locking, Matthew McConaughey beating his chest while humming, and even a midget being thrown towards a bullseye.  “Epic” is one of the only words I can find to describe the trailer, and it may be the single-most significant reason I am so passionate about the film’s release.  The Wolf of Wall Street is set for a theatrical release on November 15, 2013.

Director: Martin Scorsese (Shutter Island, Hugo)

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio (Django Unchained, The Great Gatsby), Jonah Hill (The Watch, This Is The End), Matthew McConaughey (Mud, Magic Mike)

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iszwuX1AK6A