Andrew’s Most Anticipated Film’s of 2015

Now that the summer blockbuster season has come to a close, it is only a matter of time before the Cannes winner and Oscar hopefully start cropping up in theaters. In anticipation for this, I have put together a list of some of my most anticipated films, and because I am writing for the internet, I have put my choices into a numbered list rather than write them out in no particular order. Links to all of these films can be found in the the comments section.

#6. The Lobster – Yorgos Lanthimos

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After receiving generally positive reviews, and even winning the Jury Prize during its stint at the Cannes Film Festival this year, The Lobster kicks off this list at number six. An absurdist comedy from the director of Dogtooth, The Lobster tells of a world where if you become single, you are rounded up and sent to a resort, where you have 45 days to fall in love with someone or you will be turned into an animal – though you do have the benefit of choosing which animal it is. The film stars Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, and John C. Reilly, in what promises to be one of the best dark comedies, or even comedies, of the year.

#5. The Danish Girl – Tom Hooper

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Though I will concede that in many ways, this film looks like more of an attempt to win Academy Awards than an actual film, I will watch literally anything Tom Hooper directs.  His films have such a grand theatricality to them, his style seems to run in stark opposition to the cinema-verite school of thought, and the result is tremendous. The Danish Girl stars last years Best Actor winner Eddie Redmayne in this biopic of the first man ever to undergo gender reassignment surgery.

#4. Pawn Sacrifice – Edward Zwick

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At the height of the Cold War, Tobey Maguire and Liev Schreiber face off as Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky, the two best chess players in the world. The film seems to focus heavily on Fischer and his psyche, promising to dive into the complex yet mentally fragile man who was once the greatest Grand Master in the world. Hopefully, this marks a star turn for Maguire, where he can finally step up to the plate and become a viable star for similar prestige films.

#3. The Walk – Robert Zemeckis

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Cheesy and simple as they sometimes may be, I love Zemeckis films, and from the look of the trailer The Walk will be no exception. A narrative film alternative to Man on Wire, The Walk stars Joseph Gordon Levitt as Philippe Petit, the Frenchman who made global news by spending hours on a wire he set up between the twin towers of the World Trade Center. The trailer frames this film like it would a slick heist thriller, and I am certainly sold.

#2. The Revenant – Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

With Birdman sitting pretty at the top of my favorite films of 2014, how could I not include Inarritu’s next film on this list. The trailer keeps many of the plot details intentionally hidden, but instead advertises a feeling tense beauty as Leonardo DiCaprio fights for his life across gorgeous American landscapes. Though I am keeping expectations reasonable as it will be hard to follow such a tremendous previous film, The Revenant will likely be another hit for Inarritu.

#1. Sicario – Denis Villeneuve

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Honestly there is nothing to say about this movie that hasn’t already been said. It looks like an incredibly intense and emotional thriller about the war on drug cartels in Mexico from a director who has already proved himself to be a tremendous filmmaker. Prisoners was a great film, but if Sicario delivers the film that the trailers promise, it could well be the best film of the year.

Andrew’s Top 10 Movies of 2014

I really thought 2014 was going to be a bad year for movies. There were only a few projects I was excited about, and a very disappointing series of spring and summer releases seemed to solidify this initial belief as the year dragged on towards “Award Season”. But boy, did things ever turn around. The past few months have had some really fantastic films, and in my mind easily made up of the lackluster first half of the year. Here are a few of my favorite films from 2014:

10. Calvary | John Michael McDonagh

A sorely overlooked and under-appreciated pitch black comedy from John Michael McDonagh (The Guard), Calvary is a bleak, dark, and perhaps profound look at religion in today’s world. Brendan Gleeson gives an absolutely stellar performance as a priest in a small Irish village who must cope with the fact that a stranger has vowed to kill him at the end of the week. As always, McDonagh is a master of dark comedy, and delivers a very enjoyable, albeit bittersweet film.

9. Edge of Tomorrow | Doug Liman

By far the biggest surprise of the year for me, I never would have expected Edge of Tomorrow to end up on this list after I saw the commercial. But damn, was it good. This Groundhog Day-esque sci-fi film is a nearly-perfect summer blockbuster in my mind, and a perfect environment for leading man Tom Cruise to shine as a charismatic, manipulative member of the military, dragged into the role of unlikely hero. With the exception of a pretty mediocre ending, Edge of Tomorrow far exceeded my expectations for a summer sci-fi flick.

8. The Theory of Everything | James Marsh

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More than just a biopic of one of the world’s greatest scientific minds, Theory of Everything is a tragic and incredible story of triumph and struggle. Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones deliver two of the most powerful performances of the year as Steven and Jane Hawking. The storytelling is compelling and extremely well-paced, and Redmayne’s role of Hawking offers a perfect outlet to show off his serious acting chops like never before. For my money, he is a serious contender for Best Actor this year.

7. Whiplash | Damien Chazelle

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An intense and unsettling character study, Whiplash is a film about the cost of excellence. MilesTeller stars as a borderline obsessive jazz drummer striving to surpass his classmates and become the best who ever lived. The films biggest credit is the building conflict between Teller and his professor, played by J.K. Simmons, who abuses his students emotionally and verbally in an attempt to push them to become better musicians. The tension between the two actors is palpable, and their intensity carries the film.

6. Gone Girl | David Fincher

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Yet another excellent dark and psychological film from David Fincher, Gone Girl really tries to do something different with the thriller genre. Despite a few missed beats throughout the film, Gone Girl is airtight, and packed with a few very satisfying twists throughout, including a pretty unconventional and unexpected ending that really made the film for me. Affleck is great as always, and proves yet again that he is fully capable of handling demanding leading roles.

5. The Imitation Game | Morten Tyldum

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As someone who has a strong interest in programming, it’s unsurprising that I would have a soft spot for this film. However, this movie is so much more than a film for those interested in the material. The cracking of the German Enigma machine is a fascinating piece of history, but the film is really more of a look at the life of Alan Turing, the father of modern computing and the man put in charge of the project to crack Enigma. The film focuses heavily on the issue of the treatment of homosexuals during the World War II era, and Benedict Cumberbatch shows some serious acting chops in portraying a socially inept and emotionally conflicted Turing. I would not be surprised in the slightest if this film is awarded best picture this year, and would be entirely satisfied with that verdict.

4. Foxcatcher | Bennett Miller

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Foxcatcher was one of the most talked-about films this year due to Steve Carrel’s transformative star turn as wrestling-lover and obscenely rich guy John Du Ponte, and after seeing the film there is clearly a reason for all the commotion. Carrel is incredible, disturbing and ominous; however it would be a disservice to the film to not also talk about Channing Tatum as Olympic gold medalist Mark Shultz, who gives an equally powerful and unexpected performance. Aside from the acting, Foxcatcher a very slow build to a very satisfying payoff, ratcheting up suspense as all the characters become more and more fragile and spiral towards the eventual climax of the film.

3. Wild | Jean-Marc Vallée

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Yet another “based on true events” movie this year, Wild tells the story of a former heroin addict’s journey hiking the 2000+ mile Pacific Crest Trail alone. I was by no means enticed by this premise, and in addition am not a particularly big fan of Reese Witherspoon. That being said, this film was hugely impressive. Witherspoon absolutely nails it, and director Jean-Marc Vallee’s use of quick cutting and flashbacks are extremely effective at giving emotional weight to the movie as we slowly learn more about Sheryl Strayed’s past. I have now seen the film twice, and the second viewing only solidified this movie’s position on my top 10.

2. Nightcrawler | Dan Gilroy 

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Sinister and charismatic, Jake Gyllenhaal easily delivers the best performance of his career as a free-lance video-journalist in Nightcrawler. The film is methodical, slowly building tension and a profound sense of dread. Throughout the entire movie, it is impossible to shake the feeling that something could go horribly wrong at any moment. Nightcrawler is by far the most gripping film I have seen this year, and I was completely enthralled from start to finish.

1. Birdman | Alejandro González Iñárritu

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Without a doubt, Birdman was my favorite film of the year. I have now seen it multiple times in theaters, and something I fully intend to see several more times. It’s extraordinarily well-acted and written, both Michael Keaton and Edward Norton shine, but it is the cinematography that cinched this as my number one choice, as there is a visual gimmick throughout the film that I was pretty taken with. The film is not just about the desire for fame or redemption, but taps into the most basic human need to find significance and recognition in life. Birdman is a little surreal, and more than a little funny, and while it might not be the film of the year for everyone, it is definitely a must-see.

Albert’s Top 10 Movies of 2014

I feel unwilling yet obligated to post a Top 10 list this year. Attempting to strong-arm my way into the critical culture that surrounds cinema is often exhausting work, and let it be known that all critics, not just me, have to sort through a lot of chaff to get to the good stuff. But I feel it’s necessary to recommend a few of last year’s films, not least of all because the year began so shakily, and you would be forgiven, as I was tempted to do, to write-off 2014 all together. But, without further ado, here’s a collection of films from the past year that I enjoyed, and which I grudgingly have to refer to as my Top 10 (in no order).

As always, I’m limiting my top films to those that I’ve seen this year, which unfortunately means I have to exclude Selma and Inherent Vice outright, thanks to their “limited release” status.

Foxcatcher | Bennett Miller

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Dark, atmospheric, and tense, Foxcatcher is a slow-boil, character driven film that rises to a chilling climax. This well-executed film includes a transformative performance by Steve Carell as mysterious and deeply conflicted billionaire John DuPont, which, in my opinion, ought to earn him an Oscar.

Gone Girl | David Fincher

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Fincher has done it again with this twisted and compelling thriller. Solid acting and an omnipresent bleakness of tone help to elevate this film to a top-tier production. Though not without its faults, Gone Girl primarily succeeds thanks to its excellent screenplay, written by original author Gillian Flynn, and rightly deserves it spot on the list.

Whiplash | Damien Chazelle

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Whiplash is at once supremely human and oddly terrifying. Starring Miles Teller, perhaps the hottest up-and-coming young actor in Hollywood, as well as the always-terrific J. K. Simmons, the film is a high-energy yet intimate experience that is sure to keep you hooked until the very end.

Nightcrawler | Dan Gilroy

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Are we sensing a pattern here, perhaps? Another supremely dark film, Nightcrawler represents the benchmark in Jake Gyllenhaal’s career thus far. Superbly acted and filled with unpredictable twists and turns, the film is an entrancing journey into the dark depths of a sociopath’s psyche.

The Drop | Michaël R. Roskam

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This film, despite the contention it raised among my Simply Film colleagues, remains one of my favorites on this list. A dyed-in-the-wool crime thriller, The Drop features some outstanding acting by both Tom Hardy and the late James Gandolfini, and climaxes in one of the most beautifully understated endings that I’ve ever seen, period.

The Raid 2 | Gareth Evans

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Endlessly imaginative and gleefully brutal, The Raid 2 is one of the most flat-out fun films released this year. Though the story may be a bit bare-bonesey, the focus is firmly fixed on the action—to the film’s credit, I think. I mean, there’s a blind woman who fights with a pair of hammers. What else do you need to know, really?

Edge of Tomorrow | Doug Liman

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Edge of Tomorrow was sort of a surprise entry on this list, but decidedly earns its place here nonetheless. With a clever little story and some truly impressive action sequences, the film is one of the best original science fiction properties to be released, I’d argue, in the last decade.

The Grand Budapest Hotel | Wes Anderson

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Perhaps one of the most auteur directors ever to come out of Hollywood, Wes Anderson has admittedly had some misses in his time, but The Grand Budapest Hotel isn’t one of them. At once viciously funny and strangely poignant, the film includes Anderson’s signature sugary-sweet, dollhouse aesthetic sensibility while maintaining a tight focus on the vibrant characters that populate his world.

Snowpiercer | Bong Joon-ho

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Director Bong Joon-ho proves, once again, why he remains the premier South Korean filmmaker in the West, with his newest film. Starring Chris Evans as a scrappy revolutionary, Snowpiercer is a high-concept sci-fi odyssey that portrays the decaying state of the human race, all while maintaining an undeniably beautiful visual style and atmosphere.

The Lego Movie | Phil Lord, Christopher Miller

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The thing that you’ve got to understand about The Lego Movie is that no one, myself included, really expected it to blow up like it did. What I had initially pegged as merely a glorified advertisement for Lego turned out to be so shamelessly funny and imaginative that I felt no recourse but to include it on this list.

A couple of films, listed below, were good enough to deserve at least a mention, but fell just shy of a coveted position on the Top 10 list. They include:

How to Train Your Dragon 2 | Dean DeBlois

Big Eyes | Tim Burton

Listen Up Philip | Alex Ross Perry

 

That’s all there is. There isn’t any more. Good riddance to 2014.

Disturbo 13: Eraserhead

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Part 13 of 13, excerpted from an essay entitled “Disturbo 13: The Most Disturbing Horror Films Ever Made” by Stanley Wiater.

Although writer-director David Lynch has gained a considerable reputation in recent years due to such projects as Blue Velvet and the television series Twin Peaks, his first feature film will forever be his most twisted. Shown originally mostly in art houses and at film festivals, Eraserhead is so unfailingly creepy that no one can completely forget it. The movie is structured with the logic of a nightmare, its characters are abnormal people who consume meals that may or may not be still alive, and its protagonists are the parents of a grotesque little baby that is definitely not human. At ninety minutes in length, the movie nevertheless seems to go on forever for anyone trying to anticipate what’s going to happen next, any why.

Shot is stark black-and-white, the movie shows Lynch at his most outrageous, as unsettling image after unsettling image unspools across the screen like the loosening bandages of a critical accident victim. Cineteratologist Richard Meyers has called it “a live action Monty Python animation made in Hell.” Whatever Eraserhead may be, it can be truly considered one of those films that forever changes your perception of “reality.” At the very least, you get the incomparable sensation of being awake in the center of a truly disturbing, bad, bad dream.

Disturbo 13: Combat Shock

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Part 12 of 13, excerpted from an essay entitled “Disturbo 13: The Most Disturbing Horror Films Ever Made” by Stanley Wiater.

An extremely personal, overwhelmingly depressing, low-budget film written, produced, and directed by New Yorker Buddy Giovinazzo. Originally American Nightmares, it was retitled and reportedly toned down by the notorious exploitation film company Troma, so as to secure and R rating and a videocassette release. Even “toned down,” the movie is still one of the most uncompromisingly bleak examinations of a person’s dead-end existence ever made. (In a critique, Chas Balun states that the movie has been “thrown out of over fifty film festivals.”)

Combat Shock is the tragic story of a wasted Vietnam veteran, living in abject poverty in the Bronx with his wife and baby. Every day is a battle to stay alive; every night is a battle to retain what’s left of his steadily eroding sanity. If this weren’t bad enough, the couple’s baby is not quite human (can you say Eraserhead?), having been genetically damaged by the aftereffects of Agent Orange brought home by Dad as an added legacy of lifelong despair.

The film is so painful because the filmmakers make absolutely no pretense to soothe us with even a moment of happiness for anyone in the story. Every pitiful character is shown to be hopeless, knowing only drugs and violence and suffering. Incredibly, the man’s situation gets even worse—finally concluding with an extended murder-suicide bloodbath after putting the baby into the oven and turning it on high. Nearly unbearable in its raw intensity, Combat Shock makes the violence and nihilism of Taxi Driver seem like a Walt Disney production.

Disturbo 13: Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS

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Part 11 of 13, excerpted from an essay entitled “Disturbo 13: The Most Disturbing Horror Films Ever Made” by Stanley Wiater.

Not the first motion picture to exploit the sadism of the Nazis during World War II, and certainly not the last, what is so disturbing about Ilsa is that it has become a cult classic. What the attraction may be of a beautiful female commandant (played with gleeful relish by Dyanne Thorne) in a camp where only female prisoners are endlessly tortured as part of ghastly “scientific experiments” is certainly open to question. Just the idea of using torture as a form of entertainment is reprehensible enough, but when one realizes that all the tortures depicted in the movie may have actually occurred in the concentration camps, the mind if not the stomach certainly reels. (Add to this the report that the film was shot on the standing set of the television series Hogan’s Heroes, and the stomach reels as well.)

There isn’t a single likable character in the movie—and when Ilsa isn’t whipping some naked prisoner, she is shown as a nymphomaniac fucking a different man every night. And any man who doesn’t satisfy her insatiable sexual desires is summarily tied down on the operating table and castrated the next morning. Fortunately—if that is the right word—the acting a direction are so over the top that Ilsa can perhaps be thought of as “camp”—a Nazi version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Amazingly enough, Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS is only the first in a series, each movie placing the immortal Ilsa in a different time period and section of the globe. For those who need to know: Ilsa, Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks, Ilsa, Tigress of Siberia, and Ilsa, Wicked Warden. (Originally titled Wanda, the Wicked Warden and later transmogrified into an official Ilsa movie.) Like the first film, each is filled to vomiting with well-staged scenes of sexual perversion and torture to titillate the fancies of any true sadist.

Disturbo 13: Nekromantik

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Part 10 of 13, excerpted from an essay entitled “Disturbo 13: The Most Disturbing Horror Films Ever Made” by Stanley Wiater.

This German film by Jorg Buttgereit may well qualify as one of the most repulsive movies ever made. The basic plot is enough to turn away all but the most jaded: a young ambulance driver named Rob brings home unclaimed accident victims to show off to his wife. At first he simply collects pieces of the bodies in glass jars.Later on, the couple try to bring some joy back into their listless love life by going to bed with a recently discover corpse. Since the penis has long since rotted away, they trim off a broom handle, slip a condom over it, and stick it into the groin of the corpse. Then it’s a sweaty ménage a mort.

For some strange reason, his wife leaves him, and Rob unsuccessfully attempts to find sexual release with other women. When he can’t, he’s forced to murder his lovers before he can become sufficiently aroused to conclude the act. Finally, suicide seems like a sensible turn-on when all else fails.

Nekromantik is such a black hole of nihilism that if it weren’t for the second-rate special makeup effects, it would be all but impossible to sit through.