Fourth Annual: The JAM Awards 2014; My Favorite and Least Favorite Movies of the Year

Fourth Annual

The JAM Awards

2014

Jacob Miller’s top picks for the very best and very worst in Hollywood this year!

Image Source: http://bucksandcorn.com/bid-adieu-to-2014/

2014

2014: another phenomenal year for cinema. This is the year where I saw the most perfect five-star movies (12) of any year since I started this tradition and there are still plenty of movies I still need to watch. Of course, there still were the bummers of the year, but this year also possessed a lot less one-star scores (5) than last year, which had a nasty nine. Each year just keeps getting better and better and I am all for it.

From Enemy to Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, here are the fourth annual JAM Awards!

Best Picture:

Interstellar

Christopher Nolan’s latest is a grand experience. Once again, he has been able to not only reach, but surpass my incredibly high expectations in order to craft a truly beautiful tale of space exploration, the fall of mankind, and the inescapable power of love. It’s set in the not too distant future where mankind has almost completely used up all resources on Earth, leaving our planet as a giant dust bowl about ready to crumble, and it is up to Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) and his team of astronauts to go on an exploration into the far reaches of space in order to save mankind by finding a new place for our species to call home. Interstellar may look fantastic while you’re racing between the stars, but it’s the relationships and events on Earth that really make this into a memorable experience. Nolan directs the film with a kind of careful precision and beauty, making sure everything fits and nothing (that wasn’t meant to be) is left open. He made the film into a sort of dance where each stage in the story was a reflection of a new routine. It’s an immensely ambitious effort, but its reach never exceeds its grasp and, most importantly, it never leaps too far as to leave the audience in its wake to be trapped in obscurity. This tale of love among the stars is poignant, enthralling, tragic, and utterly breathtaking, often all at the same time. It’s an experience like nothing you’ve experienced before and it’s one that I, surely, won’t soon forget; 5/5; 10/10; Rotten Tomatoes: 72%.

Other Nominees:

  • The Babadook
  • Comet
  • Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
  • Whiplash

Worst Picture:

Transformers: Age of Extinction

There was a part of me, back in 2013, when I learned that Michael Bay would be returning to the franchise where I thought that maybe, just maybe, he’d actually be able to pull this one off. I saw the whole new cast as a signal of hope, making me believe that this could possibly be Bay finally learning from his mistakes and starting fresh from his last bummer of the series and a second installment that haunts my nightmares—I did like the first one, though. Sadly, Bay does none of what I had come to hope. Age of Extinction is bottom-of-the-barrel entertainment at its very worst. The moment Wahlberg took a swig from that Budweiser bottle in one of the most shameless examples of product placement ever put on film, I knew this would be my least favorite movie of the year. As it went on, I just got less and less interesting by the second, praying that it would be ending soon, but, of course, it’s a Michael Bay movie, so it still had about an hour and a half. Well, at least it was better than Revenge of the Fallen; 0/5; 1/10; Rotten Tomatoes: 18%.

Other Nominees:

  • Exodus: Gods and Kings
  • Left Behind
  • Transcendence
  • Tusk

Best Actor:

Jake Gyllenhaal for Nightcrawler

I was fairly disappointed when the Academy announced their nominations for this year, and I know I wasn’t the only one. From The Lego Movie being completely dismissed from a Best Animated Feature nod to David Oyelowo getting the silent treatment for his work in Selma; it was not a very wise year for the Academy members. One of the greatest snubs of the Academy’s history occurred just this year, as a matter of fact, and that snub was for Jake Gyllenhaal’s absolutely entrancing performance in Nightcrawler as Lou Bloom, a young man desperate for work who decides to explore the seedy underbelly of Las Angeles as a crime journalist. Lou Bloom may sound like just another name, but the mind that possesses this name is much more sinister than you’d expect. Gyllenhaal commands the screen in what may be his finest performance to date and, by far, the best performance of the year. As I watched Nightcrawler, I honestly had trouble believing this was actually Gyllenhaal. He immerses himself in the role, creating a persona that is all its own. The character drips with menace. Just based on a single conversation with the fellow, you can tell he is not a normal human being. Lou Bloom is basically Lester Burnham, Travis Bickle, and Tyler Durden all rolled into one and Gyllenhaal makes you believe it and cringe with anxiety every second he is on the screen; 4/5; 8/10; Rotten Tomatoes: 95%.

Other Nominees:

  • Michael Keaton for Birdman
  • Nicolas Cage for Joe
  • David Oyelowo for Selma
  • Eddie Redmayne for The Theory of Everything

Best Actress:

Essie Davis for The Babadook

The Babadook is one of the most sophisticated horror films I have ever seen, and part of that is thanks to Essie Davis’ intense and tragic performance as the desperate, disturbed mother of a troubled son. The movie itself is a poetic masterpiece of horror cinema, but her performance may be the greatest aspect to its immense impact. She so accurately depicts this character with all of the mixed emotions that impact a mother raising a child who isn’t quite the little angel you’d hope for. The sorrow is in her eyes and it’s as if you’re being jabbed into the heart with a knife every time you look into them. She provokes the inevitable fear and unconditional love of parenthood with sledgehammer force, and that, well, love conquers all; 5/5; 10/10; Rotten Tomatoes: 97%.

Other Nominees:

  • Amy Adams in Big Eyes
  • Lisa Loven Kongsli in Force Majeure
  • Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl
  • Scarlett Johansson in Under the Skin

Best Supporting Actor:

J.K. Simmons for Whiplash

I used to think of J.K. Simmons and imagine the understanding father with a heart of gold in Juno. Such a sweet guy, am I right? Now whenever I think of J.K. Simmons, I imagine the ferocity of his role in Whiplash, where he is literally the face of evil. J.K. Simmons takes the role to a whole new level, cementing intensity in every scene and shoving charisma down the throats of everyone he comes in contact with. You have to give some of the credit to director Damien Chazelle who is able to get the performance out of him. It’s a performance that is as captivating as it is terrifying, and it’s one that I surely won’t soon forget; 5/5; 10/10; Rotten Tomatoes: 95%.

Other Nominees:

  • Edward Norton in Birdman
  • Steve Carell in Foxcatcher
  • Zac Efron in Neighbors
  • Robert Pattinson in The Rover

Best Supporting Actress:

Patricia Arquette in Boyhood

Boyhood is filled with great performances from both its supporting and primary cast, but no performance was more intimate and spellbinding than Patricia Arquette’s who plays the mother of Mason, the boy we watch grow up. She not only brings us a deeper look into the struggles of parenthood, but both a heartbreaking and joyful examination of the art of growing up. While Ethan Hawke’s character plays as a more young-at-heart man child, Arquette gives us the other side of the coin showing us a woman who didn’t have much of a choice but to become an adult. Both characters play intricate parts in Mason’s maturity and road to adulthood, but it’s Arquette who truly gives a captivating performance; 4/5; 8/10; Rotten Tomatoes: 98%.

Other Nominees:

  • Emma Stone in Birdman
  • Rene Russo in Nightcrawler
  • Uma Thurman in Nymphomaniac: Volume 1
  • Tilda Swinton in Snowpiercer

Best Director:

I have been aware of Alejandro González Iñárritu’s directing talents for some time now, but it wasn’t until now that I truly discovered his legendary abilities. From the movies of his I’ve seen (Babel, Biutiful, Amores Perros), I’ve noticed that he tends to create vast films with larger scopes and a large amount of characters all interacting amongst each other, and it’s this fact that makes his work on Birdman so impressive. Instead of a large, epic scope, Birdman is very intimate and small, following one man’s quest to become relevant once again. The direction of his actors and ability to control his set is impeccable, but it’s the camerawork and style that captivate the audience. Using only about seven cuts throughout the entire film, more or less, he basically filmed the movie with one continuous motion and the long takes only make the movie feel even more intimate, making it feel as if you are there on the screen following the actors down the streets of New York. I know it was an almost impossible task for the actors to make work (although they pull it off beautifully), but it must have been 10 times the headache for Iñárritu having to direct the madness, but, like the actors, he pulled it off beautifully; 5/5; 9/10; Rotten Tomatoes: 92%.

Other Nominees:

  • Matt Reeves for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
  • Wes Anderson for The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Christopher Nolan for Interstellar
  • Damien Chazelle for Whiplash

Best Animated Feature:

The Lego Movie

The Lego Movie was the most delightful film of 2014. Yes, even I had my doubts when I heard a movie based around the plot-less toy brand was coming out, but what we got was something I couldn’t have imagined. Comic masterminds Phil Lord and Chris Miller (21/22 Jump Street, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs) craft a film that is not only absolutely gut-busting hilarious, but a film that so accurately depicts my childhood and, most likely, many, many other peoples who grew up playing with the colorful, little bricks. The writing is priceless with a story that is as meta as it is incredibly creative and a message that rings true no matter your age. It also possesses a final scene that will be sure to leave you weeping in your seat; 5/5; 10/10; Rotten Tomatoes: 96%.

Other Nominees:

  • Big Hero 6
  • The Wind Rises

Best Documentary Feature:

Life Itself

Roger Ebert was a huge inspiration of mine. He’s part of the reason I fell in love with cinema and spend countless hours and countless dollars on them practically every day. Ebert died April 4, 2013, and it’s a day that I still remember so well. Life Itself depicts his life with care and passion, showing all of the incredible highs of his unbelievable career as well as the devastating lows. Life Itself discusses his life and his road towards fame as the most prevalent and notable film critic of, well, all time, but it is also immensely intimate in its portrayal and never forgets to show that Roger Ebert, underneath it all, just loved film. If you’ve read any of his reviews (if you haven’t, I highly suggest you do; they are unbelievable) then you probably understand the amount of admiration he had for the art. It’s all in his words and Steve James (director) brings those words to life in a heartbreaking and unforgettable fashion; 4/5; 8/10; Rotten Tomatoes: 96%.

Best Foreign Language Feature:

The Wind Rises

The animation mastermind Hayao Miyazaki’s swan song is nothing to take lightly, but, then again, none of his films are. Miyazaki, the main brain of the legendary Studio Ghibli, has stated that this is his final film and that doesn’t make anyone more depressed than I, but, man, what a way to go out. The Wind Rises is his final masterpiece in a filmography of a lot of them and it manages to not only satisfy, but inspire and impassion. To say I was touched while watching The Wind Rises would be an understatement. It’s a story that is very close to Miyazaki’s heart because of the main character having so much in common with the ingenious director/screenwriter/animator. The Wind Rises centers on an airplane engineer and designer who can basically make anything he sets his mind to, much like how Miyazaki is with film. He has spent the better part of half a century crafting epic landscapes and incredible worlds that his characters can inhabit with nothing more than some pencils, a sheet of paper, and a few paints. This is his most personal film; 5/5; 9/10; Rotten Tomatoes: 89%.

Other Nominees:

  • Force Majeure
  • The Raid 2

Most Overrated Film:

Edge of Tomorrow

This is the movie that left me wondering, Why is this so special? I was pretty pumped for this movie. Being a strong Tom Cruise supporter and a fan of Groundhog Day, I was excited to see what this film would bring. It looked to be like a Groundhog Day with explosions and that alone sounds pretty great. After watching the actual movie, I must admit, Groundhog Day and Source Code did it much better. Edge of Tomorrow was not what I was expecting and what I ended up getting was actually quite silly. I will admit that the visuals are beautiful and very, very well done and the first time through the timeline is absolutely captivating, but after that, the whole concept just gets, well, repetitive. It also takes a silly plot direction that underwhelms the rest of the movie. By the way, why did they ever change the title to Edge of Tomorrow then to an even worse Live. Die. Repeat. In my opinion, they should have just stuck with the title of the original manga. All You Need is Kill is much more effective and sounds way cooler; 2/5; 3/10; Rotten Tomatoes: 90%.

Other Nominees:

  • Foxcatcher
  • How to Train Your Dragon 2
  • Peabody and Sherman
  • The Theory of Everything

Most Underrated Film:

Comet

Comet was quite the surprising little film. I wasn’t expecting much when I saw this one, but I walked away from it with more than just a skip in my step. Comet is a perplexing look into modern relationships with a fresh style and a story that’ll break your heart and then mend it back together. It’s a movie that very effectively diverts from the usual trappings of this genre of cinema and one that provokes complex thought and emotion instead of relying on lazy clichés and overused plot devices. This is thanks to the film’s honest intimacy, low-key performances, and witty, insightful dialogue. Trust me; if you haven’t seen Comet, see it as soon as possible. It’s one that shouldn’t be missed; 5/5; 10/10; Rotten Tomatoes: 45%.

Other Nominees:

  • Hercules
  • Need for Speed
  • Non-Stop
  • Nymphomaniac

Best Original Screenplay:

Wes Anderson and Hugo Guinness for The Grand Budapest Hotel

Wes Anderson sure has a way with words. I don’t think I’ve seen one of his movies where I wasn’t blown away by his insight and The Grand Budapest Hotel is a very fitting addition to that resume. What I love about his screenplays is how they aren’t afraid of not being clean-cut. He writes dialogue in a way that real people talk. I mean, come on, no matter how great the screenplay for The Social Network was (just one example), nobody really talks like that and Anderson understands this. He perfected this with Moonrise Kingdom and resumes his observation of the human psyche with his next quirky delight. With plenty of quotable lines and brilliant, funny monologues throughout, The Grand Budapest Hotel is one of his finest screenplays to date; 4/5; 8/10; Rotten Tomatoes: 92%.

Other Nominees:

  • Jennifer Kent for The Badadook
  • Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. and Armando Bo for Birdman
  • Phil Lord, Chris Miller, Kevin Hageman and Dan Hageman for The Lego Movie
  • Dan Gilroy for Nightcrawler

Best Adapted Screenplay:

“There are no two words in the English language more harmful than ‘Good job.’” Even with the powerhouse performance from J.K. Simmons, Whiplash would never be the film that it is without its incredible screenplay. Chazelle adapting it from his own short film, Whiplash is pure adrenaline and it’s the uncompromising dialogue that really lifts it off into the atmosphere. Every word from Simmons’ mouth feels like a dagger stabbing into your skin and every word from Mile Teller sounds like a whimper from a dying puppy, being beaten into submission. Its impact is extravagant thanks to Chazelle’s brilliant understand of the material and the themes presented within the film. It’s electrifying, to say the least; 5/5; 10/10; Rotten Tomatoes: 95%.

Other Nominees:

  • Richard Ayoade and Avi Korine for The Double
  • Nicole Perlman and James Gunn for Guardians of the Galaxy
  • Graham Moore for The Imitation Game
  • Larry Brown and Gary Hawkins for Joe

Best Screen Ensemble:

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Wes Anderson has always enjoyed livening up his projects with a huge batch of familiar faces, but never quite like The Grand Budapest Hotel. Ralph Fiennes, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, and Edward Norton are a few of the men involved, and that’s only naming the most primary characters. No actors are wasted, I do mind you, thanks to Anderson’s ability to bring the best out of his actors. I don’t know what it is. Maybe Wes Anderson is just an extremely nice guy or maybe it’s because of the known quality of all of his films. I wouldn’t be surprised either way; 4/5; 8/10; Rotten Tomatoes: 92%.

Other Nominees:

  • Birdman
  • Fury
  • The Lego Movie
  • Nymphomaniac

Best Original Score:

Andrew Hewitt for The Double

The Double is a very peculiar film from its twin performance from Jesse Eisenberg to the menacing score that lumbers beneath. For a movie that’s listed as a comedy, the themes and execution is quite bleak and the score doesn’t help lighten it up one bit. Accented by long, drawn out piano notes and frantic, violent violin movements, the score plays along with the feel of the film perfectly, giving a sense of suspense and paranoia throughout. Moving from somber to thrilling to terrifying and back again with forceful ease, it’s leaves quite the impact; 4/5; 7/10; Rotten Tomatoes: 82%.

Other Nominees:

  • Antonio Sanchez for Birdman
  • Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for Gone Girl
  • Alexandre Desplat for The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Hans Zimmer for Interstellar

Best Visual Effects:

Interstellar

Interstellar reminded me a lot of last year’s Gravity. Yes, part of it is that they both largely take place in outer space, but it’s not their stories that make the connection because they are both vastly different from one another. It’s the visuals that I found to be similar and how the filmmakers decided to use them. It’s easy to find beautiful visuals in big blockbusters like Transformers, but it’s more difficult to find a film that uses the visuals to its advantage, using them to create a vast world, creating possibilities and a sense of discovery instead of just using them to fill in the space on-screen. It also harkened back to the beauty of 2001 and other epic space operas. It also doesn’t hurt that the visuals are absolutely breathtaking; 5/5; 10/10; Rotten Tomatoes: 72%.

Other Nominees:

  • Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
  • Edge of Tomorrow
  • Godzilla
  • Guardians of the Galaxy

Best Trailer for a Feature Film:

American Sniper Trailer #1

The first time I saw the American Sniper trailer I was bewildered. Never before had I seen a trailer like this. Taking a scene straight from the movie, it shows us the sequence where Kyle spots a mother give her young son an explosive and the son begins to run towards American tanks with the explosive. Kyle is then confronted with the decision of whether to eliminate the threat or not. His partner tells him, “They fry you if you’re wrong.” Through an immensely suspenseful and absolutely captivating sequence with cuts of Kyle’s family and other scenes of the movie edited in, it shows us everything we need to know about the movie that we are going to see and in an unforgettable fashion; 4/5; 7/10; Rotten Tomatoes: 73%.

Other Nominees:

  • Birdman Teaser Trailer
  • Godzilla Teaser Trailer
  • Gone Girl Trailer #1
  • Nightcrawler Trailer #1

Best Scene:

Final Scene from Whiplash

Whiplash is beyond believable, but it’s the final scene that really cements it as a truly breathtaking piece of art. This final scene is actually quite simple when you explain it to someone. Basically, it takes place during a show where Andrew (Mile Teller) is playing drums for Terence Fletcher’s (J.K. Simmons) new jazz orchestra. I don’t want to go too deep into the facts of the scene, but I do want to say that Andrew ends up taking control and blows everyone on the stage, as well as the audience in both the movie and the audience in the theater watching the movie, away with one helluva drum solo. As I said before, sounds pretty simple, right? Wrong! It’s anything but. When I say this final scene is the exact definition of “pitch perfect” filmmaking, I am not lying; I may even be going a little easy. You cannot find anything better than this. It’s exhausting, exhilarating, and, above all, quite beautiful. There are so many emotions being tossed around and with so much force. The acting is impeccable and the direction is some of the finest I’ve seen in a very, very long time. It’ll leave you gasping for air, trust me; 5/5; 10/10; Rotten Tomatoes: 95%.

Other Nominees:

  • End Credits from 22 Jump Street
  • First Time Around from Edge of Tomorrow
  • Kim Jong Un’s Death from The Interview
  • Manipulated Crash from Nightcrawler

Best Short Film (Animated):

The Dam Keeper

The Dam Keeper is an intriguing little film. Running at a short 18 minutes (it is a short film), it’s a post-apocalyptic tale of a young pig who must protect one of the last pieces of civilization from a giant storm of “darkness” by turning on a windmill once a day to force the storm back out to wherever it came from. The pig is, unfortunately, tormented at school and constantly hassled by his classmates—I guess they aren’t aware of how important he really is to them—until a new kid (or should I say “fox”) joins the class and befriends the pig, making his work a little more worthwhile. The darkest of this year’s Oscar nominees for Best Animated Short, The Dam Keeper is a poetic little masterpiece that will keep you invested and creates honest, believable characters that you really get to know and understand, even with the film’s short running length; 5/5; Rotten Tomatoes: N/A.

Other Nominees:

  • Bigger Picture
  • Feast
  • Me and My Moulton

Best Short Film (Live-Action):

The Phone Call

Starring Sally Hawkins and Jim Broadbent, there wasn’t much doubt that this short would be anything less than quality filmmaking, and that hunch ended up being correct. The Phone Call is a thought-provoking effort and one with quite the somber, yet inspiring ending. Sally Hawkins plays a lonely, shy phone call receiver at a self-help line who receives a call from the equally lonely Stan (Jim Broadbent) who claims to be committing suicide due to the loss of his wife so many years ago. A well-crafted, insightful script and two great performances from its two leads, The Phone Call manages to bring the intensity without losing that intimacy that makes it so hard to forget; 4/5; Rotten Tomatoes: N/A.

Other Nominees:

  • Aya
  • Boogaloo and Graham
  • Butter Lamp
  • Parvaneh

Film I Still Need to See:

Inherent Vice

I am a huge Paul Thomas Anderson fan, which just makes my missing out of Inherent Vice that much more unacceptable. I don’t even know how I missed it. I guess I just never got to the theater during its very short wide release. Either way, I was and still am very eager to get my hands on it due to my love for the director and the many, many familiar faces within the film. It also managed to gain a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination which is very promising. It looks like an intriguing effort and a funny one as well and maybe my missing of it during its theatrical run will give me the time to read the book first…maybe; Rotten Tomatoes: 72%.

Other Nominees:

  • A Most Violent Year
  • Citizenfour
  • Into the Woods
  • The Tale of Princess Kaguya

Honorable Mentions:

  • Grand Piano for being a thrilling indie surprise.
  • Need for Speed for being fun and much better than expected.
  • Enemy for allowing Gyllenhaal to show off his incredible talents a second time in 2014 and giving me another reason to look out for Denis Villeneuve’s next projects.
  • Bad Words for showing that Jason Bateman has some impressive talent on the other side of the camera as well.
  • Nymphomaniac: Volume 2 for being a satisfying sequel.
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier for being the best superhero movie of 2014.
  • Under the Skin for being an intriguing effort with a phenomenal performance from Scarlett Johansson.
  • Only Lovers Left Alive for being a great vampire film.
  • Locke for the captivating performance from Tom Hardy.
  • Godzilla for doing what I think all blockbusters should aim to do.
  • The Fault in Our Stars for making me cry like a little baby.
  • 22 Jump Street for being a hilarious sequel and having one of the greatest and funniest end credits sequences I’ve ever seen.
  • The Rover for sporting two mesmerizing lead performances.
  • Snowpiercer for overcoming all of my doubts.
  • The Purge: Anarchy for being better than the first installment.
  • Hercules for being just so damn fun! And I mean the one starring The Rock!
  • Frank for being a hilarious satire and, once again, displaying Fassbender’s remarkable talents.
  • The Drop for being a captivating crime film and having a very, very cute puppy.
  • Skeleton Twins for giving Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader a proper project to showcase their dramatic talents.
  • The Guest for being another promising effort from director David Wingard.
  • A Walk among the Tombstones for being a smart, worthwhile action effort from Liam Neeson (Non-Stop was pretty good too).
  • Gone Girl for showing Rosamund Pike is a truly talented actress and Affleck isn’t bad either.
  • Fury for being a solid, emotionally gripping, and suitably grim war film.
  • John Wick for giving Keanu Reeves a well-earned comeback performance and getting another very cute puppy in a film.
  • Top Five for being a surprisingly insightful and honest comedy, showing Chris Rock’s remarkable talents on both sides of the camera.
  • Big Eyes for finally finding Tim Burton directing “good” movies again.
  • The Interview for actually making quite the political statement, more so off the screen than on.
  • Boyhood for being an undeniably impressive film that accurately depicts the wonders of childhood.
  • Selma for giving a mesmerizing lead performance and an uncommonly honest portrayal of the immense historical figure.
  • American Sniper for Bradley Cooper’s committed performance and giving a devastating look into this man’s life.

10 Worst Movies of 2014:

10. Edge of Tomorrow

9. Sin City: A Dame to Kill for

8. A Million Ways to Die in the West

7. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

6. The Monuments Men

5. Transcendence

4. Tusk

3. Exodus

2. Left Behind

1. Transformers: Age of Extinction

20 Best Movies of 2014:

20. Frank

19. Nymphomaniac: Volume 1

18. Godzilla

17. Boyhood

16. Locke

15. The Guest

14. John Wick

13. Nightcrawler

12. Neighbors

11. Top Five

10. Selma

9. The Wind Rises

8. Birdman

7. The Lego Movie

6. Joe

5. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

4. Comet

3. The Babadook

2. Whiplash

1. Interstellar

Most Anticipated Film for 2015:

The Avengers: Age of Ultron

I am going to say that I was not a fan of the first installment. I actually nominated it for Worst Picture in the second JAM Awards. It was not my favorite superhero movie; I know crazy, right? I just never found it to be very amusing and didn’t think any of the singular character’s stories meshed very well. I also found it to be overly lighthearted when it really shouldn’t have been. People always criticize Man of Steel for the immense amount of destruction and Superman’s willingness to just slap it aside, but what about The Avengers? Anyway, I have a feeling this won’t be a problem in Age of Ultron. Based on the trailers I’ve seen, it looks like a much darker take on the comics and when it comes to superhero films, or just films in general, I always say, “The darker the better.” Also, based on what I’ve heard, Ultron will be a much more menacing and destructive villain, which is something Marvel films have really been missing; truly great villains. I personally can’t wait.

Other Nominees:

  • Fantastic Four
  • The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part II
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Thank you for reading the fourth annual JAM Awards 2014! Make sure to see my other two end of the year lists “20 Best Movies of 2014” and “10 Worst Movies of 2014,” as well as the second and third annual JAM Awards also found on Tylerdscreation.

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The 20 Best Movie of 2014 (Plus 10 More):

20. Frank

There’s something about Frank that you just got to love. This endearing look into the psyche of a musical genius, who hides his face from the world beneath a huge fake head, is odd, but in a hilarious, with the quirky and energetic wit that you would see in a Wes Anderson movie, the observational humor of a Coen brother’s flick, and the satirical bite that would usually be evident within something from the likes of Mike Judge. Michael Fassbender, who plays the title role, gives an astonishing performance as the songwriting mastermind and cements himself as a truly versatile and remarkable talent. I’ve never considered Fassbender to be a character actor, but “Frank” may have just proved otherwise.

19. Nymphomaniac: Volume 1

Lars von Trier is quickly becoming a favorite filmmaker of mine. He has such fearlessness and such a sound understanding of the human condition, and none of that insight is wasted in the first entry into his Nymphomaniac two-parter. This uncompromising look into human sexuality stars Charlotte Gainsbourg as Joe, a self-proclaimed nymphomaniac who is saved by a man (Stellan Skarsgård) from a beating and taken into his home where she begins to divulge her lifelong tale of woe to her savior. There are a lot of notable actors in this film and none of them are wasted thanks to Trier’s ambitious direction. Graphic without being conspicuous as well as emotionally engaging and beautifully filmed, Trier manages to craft another serious movie for serious audiences.

18. Godzilla

I am going to admit right now that I am not an expert in the Godzilla lore nor am I a “real” fan of the franchise. I have only seen the original (which is pretty brilliant) and the 1998 remake (which is God-awful) so I don’t have much to compare this latest entry into the sprawling legend, but from what I experienced, it’s pretty damn good. This is how all blockbusters should be made; the impressive special effect spectacle is matched by emotional human drama. While Aaron Taylor Johnson’s performance is bland, Godzilla is a film that surprised me with its depth. You actually learn to care about these characters, unlike most big Hollywood blockbusters these days, and it pays off in a spectacular fashion. Of course, the effects are pretty mind-blowing and the action is thrilling, but you also get a predictably grand performance from a committed, albeit underutilized, Bryan Cranston.

17. Boyhood

While it is undeniably successful in the majority of its ambitious goals, I didn’t think of it to be the unbelievable masterpiece others made it out to be. Nonetheless, Boyhood is still a beautifully crafted film with an immense emotional payoff. Being filmed over 12 years, it really makes the story and characters feel so much more intimate because you get to literally see them grow. The acting is fantastic and Ellar Coltrane does a phenomenal job as both a child actor and the adult performer that he later becomes. Richard Linklater is the master of the coming-of-age genre and he is a natural born storyteller, and this story is 12 years in the making.

16. Locke

Tom Hardy is one of the biggest rising stars currently in the business and his enthralling performance in Locke just goes to show that this title is no fluke. Tom Hardy captures the screen in this riveting, melancholy tale chronicling the worst night of a man’s life. Being one of those films that take place in a single location (this case being a car) and even a film that only shows one actor on-screen (Hardy), it was really relying on a powerful portrayal of the title character, and Hardy does the job with force and commitment. Locke is also written poetically and directed with the utmost precaution to secure it as one of the finest films of 2014.

15. The Guest

Last year, director David Wingard gave me the most fun I had at the movies that year’s whole summer with his gore-filled, home invasion horror flick You’re Next. While it was no masterpiece, The Guest is a bit closer to that title than Wingard last effort, making The Guest a bloody good time as well as a stand out film of 2014. A brilliant leading performance from Dan Stevens heads this tense tale of a war-vet coming to the family of a recently deceased fellow soldier in order to release the bad news and maybe even help them through the terrible time, but he may have a few secrets he hopes to keep hidden. Thrilling as well as just plain “badass,” The Guest has easily cemented David Wingard and Dan Stevens as two talents to look out for.

14. John Wick

John Wick is a legitimate thrill ride straight through Hell itself. Keanu Reeves kills it in his latest action outing playing an ex-hit man on a mission of revenge. The action, directed and choreographed impeccably by David Leitch and Chad Stahelski for max intensity, is exhilarating to say the least, but an uncommonly deep emotional core is what really solidifies this as a true action classic to be compared to the likes of Die Hard or, also starring Keanu Reeves, The Matrix.

13. Nightcrawler

In my opinion, the exclusion of Jake Gyllenhaal’s entrancing performance as Lou Bloom, a young man desperate for work who decides to explore the seedy underbelly of Las Angeles as a crime journalist, was one of the Academy’s greatest sins, if not the greatest. Gyllenhaal commands the screen, giving a performance that may be his best as well as his most disturbing. Transforming for the role, the usually buff Gyllenhaal is now lean as ever, looking more like a human jack-o-lantern than a normal person should. The direction by first timer Dan Gilroy is also directly on point, giving the atmosphere just the right eerie tone. It’s a cautionary tale of the hazards of the American dream and Gilroy and Gyllenhaal manage to boost the material to unbelievable heights, making for a truly disturbing, haunting tale.

12. Neighbors

Rarely do you find a comedy that is as riotously funny as it is sincerely heartfelt, and I happened to find just that with Neighbors, one of the funniest films of the year. It also showcases one actor’s true talents, Zac Efron, potentially lifting him from his Disney kid reputation and showing that he doesn’t have to stay in chick-flick dramas or mild romantic comedies. Efron steals the show and I’m so happy he does. With a slew of phenomenal performances, hilarious gags, and a ton of heart, Neighbors reaches expectations and then some.

11. Top Five

One of the most surprising films of the year; I was under the impression this would turn out to be a dumb, paint-by-numbers comedy, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that Chris Rock’s Top Five has a lot more on its mind than you may first expect. For one, it’s a very personal project to Chris Rock who also wrote and directed it. While it is a comedy, it is also a dramatic character study of a comedian wishing for something more, like wanting to begin his exploration into dramatic works. Maybe Rock is hoping for the same thing and he’s secretly praying this is his ticket into that career path. Top Five is one of the most honest and sincere films I’ve seen this year, descending into depths that I don’t think Rock has journeyed yet.

10. Selma

Another one of the many sins the Academy has committed this last year in its nominations was the lack of David Oyelowo for Best Actor. Selma is a powerful, moving film, thanks in large part due to the absolutely mesmerizing performance by Oyelowo who almost literally becomes Martin Luther King Jr. Set in the three-month period in 1965 when Dr. King was in the midst of leading a campaign to secure equal voting rights for African Americans, Selma tells a tale that not many of us have heard before, and it tells it with an uncommonly honest agenda. It’s a film that shows the prowess and grandeur of Martin Luther King, but also shows that he is only human and that he is no God, but there’s something pretty beautiful about that.

9. The Wind Rises

When I went to see The Wind Rises in the theater, to say I was touched would be an understatement; I was impassioned. This touching and engaging swan song for legendary animation director and screenwriter Hayao Miyazaki is his most personal film, and it shows. The true story of an aspiring airplane designer who becomes one of the most innovative and accomplished of his time is an inspiring and emotionally resonant effort. It’s a movie about a man who can create anything if he sets his mind to it, much like how Miyazaki is with filmmaking. Miyazaki has crafted beautiful and creative worlds out of his own two hands, some pencils, and a sheet of paper, and he brings that wonder to life in this dazzling and bittersweet finally to his unblemished career.

8. Birdman

Birdman is a fantastical cinematic achievement. There are not too many films like it and it’s a shame not too many movies come out that have this kind of expertise involved. Every aspect of this film is impeccably crafted from the masterful direction by Alejandro González Iñárritu to the fine and committed performances of its cast. Michael Keaton gives his finest performance to date and Edward Norton may have as well. The camerawork was miraculous, filming the entire movie with only about seven cuts, more or less, but the thing that hit me the hardest was the anger and passion that was so very evident throughout. There is a very strong message in Birdman about the dangers of consumerism the folly of our current consumerist society. It paints a portrait of how a franchise like Transformers can gain a whole new trilogy while movies like this one are stuck in limited release, only being seen by people who look hard enough. It’s a sad truth, but it’s the truth nonetheless. My heart goes out to Riggan Thomas.

7. The Lego Movie

The Lego Movie is the most delightful—and funniest—film of the year. How this didn’t get a nomination for Best Animated Feature at the Oscars, I will never know. Written and directed by the masterminds behind 21 Jump Street (and its sequel) and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, comes this animated treasure about a LEGO figurine named Emmet who inexplicably finds the sacred “piece of resistance,” which makes him the one they call “the special” and it is his duty to save the universe from the evil President Business whom is determined to force the world into conformity. Highly intelligent, beautifully animated, brilliantly voice acted, sports a biting satire, and is quite possibly one of the funniest movies ever made; The Lego Movie is the exact definition of my childhood. I grew up playing with those colorful bricks and, I didn’t know it could happen, but this film completely captured the true essence of those toys making for a nostalgic and wonderful adventure.

6. Joe

This was the movie that filled me with hope for a Nicolas Cage comeback, until Left Behind came along and ruined any chances of that entirely. Maybe he was already contractually obligated for Left Behind before filming this one. One can only hope. Either way, Joe is an excellent film and a welcome return to form for both Cage as well as director David Gordon Green, who has been directed crummy comedies for the last several years, for some reason. Cage stars as the troubled and fragile ex-con Joe who takes a young boy (Tye Sheridan), who is tormented at home by his violent, drunken father, under his wing. It’s atmospheric, expertly directed, poetically written, and the performances are downright masterful, especially from Cage. Man, how long has it been since you could say something like that about him. It feels good.

5. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

I remember when Rise of the Planet of the Apes came out in 2011; the prequel to the original Planet of the Apes. I’m not quite sure if too many people were really hoping for much out of that one, but even if you were, there’s no doubt you weren’t at least a little blown away by its surprising insight and emotional depth. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, its sequel and continuation into the trilogy of prequels, came out last year and just blew us away even more. This may sound crazy, but it’s true: Dawn is to Rise what The Dark Knight is to Batman Begins and what Empire Strikes Back is to Star Wars. It’s a sequel made how sequels should be made; taking the first installment and building upon its raw emotion and deepening the returning players as well as its overall mythos in order to make a truly satisfying piece of cinema. That’s exactly what Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was: satisfying.

4. Comet

Now, this is a film that you may not be seeing on too many other “Best Movies” lists. The most underrated film of the year, Comet is a perplexing look into modern relationships with a fresh style and a story that’ll break your heart and then mend it back together. Taking place, uniquely, “a few parallel universes over,” it’s the account of two star-crossed lovers and the ups and downs of their on-again-off-again relationship over the course of six years. It may have been low expectations, but I found quite a lot of beauty within this little film. It’s an effective diversion from the generic stories that usually sprout from the genre thanks to honest intimacy, low-key performances, and witty, insightful dialogue.

3. The Babadook

One of the most sophisticated horror films of all-time; The Babadook is uncommonly deep as well as heartfelt. Essie Davis gives a captivating performance as the distressed mother of a troubled son who is sure that a character from a story book he finds is the exact same creature that has been infesting his dreams at night. The mother brushes it off like any other mother would, thinking it’s just a piece of her child’s wild imagination, but as her son’s behavior gets worse and worse, there’s a presence in their home that is getting more and more eager to be heard. The Babadook is not as much a horror film as it is a drama, or even maybe a tragedy. Its terror is not amusing, but disturbing and quite heartbreaking. It’s a film that provokes the inevitable fear and unconditional love of parenthood.

2. Whiplash

Everyone knows the common saying where you worked for something so hard you worked through “blood, sweat, and tears.” Usually, this saying is somewhat figurative, but not for aspiring jazz drummer Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller). Whiplash does what an action movie does with car chases and expensive, high budget destruction with only a set of drums and two sticks to hit them with. It is pure adrenaline. It’s the heartbreaking and inspiring story of a young jazz drummer aspiring to be the best there ever was. He then meets the incredibly intense and pretty sadistic instructor Terence Fletcher who takes him under his wing. Miles Teller gives a performance that will surely save his spot in upcoming films for years to come, but it is J.K. Simmons who really steals the show, giving a performance that is as captivating as it is terrifying. I never knew this man had this kind of power within him, and I’m glad director Damien Chazelle was able to bring it out of him with such force. Whiplash is a must see.

1. Interstellar

Christopher Nolan’s latest is a grand experience. Once again, he has been able to not only reach, but surpass my incredibly high expectations in order to craft a truly beautiful tale of space exploration, the fall of mankind, and the inescapable power of love. It’s set in the not too distant future where mankind has almost completely used up all resources on Earth, leaving our planet as a giant dust bowl about ready to crumble, and it is up to Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) and his team of astronauts to go on an exploration into the far reaches of space in order to save mankind by finding a new place for our species to call home. Interstellar may look fantastic while you’re racing between the stars, but it’s the relationships and events on Earth that really make this into a memorable experience. Nolan directs the film with a kind of careful precision and beauty, making sure everything fits and nothing (that wasn’t meant to be) is left open. He made the film into a sort of dance where each stage in the story was a reflection of a new routine. It’s an immensely ambitious effort, but its reach never exceeds its grasp and, most importantly, it never leaps too far as to leave the audience in its wake to be trapped in obscurity. This tale of love among the stars is poignant, enthralling, tragic, and utterly breathtaking, often all at the same time. It’s an experience like nothing you’ve experienced before and it’s one that I, surely, won’t soon forget.

Here’s another 10 for ya:

21. Enemy

22. The Drop

23. Gone Girl

24. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

25. The Double

26. The Grand Budapest Hotel

27. A Walk among the Tombstones

28. The Skeleton Twins

29. Big Eyes

30. The Fault in our Stars

Wild Card: 22 Jump Street

**Make sure to read my “Worst Films of 2014” list and watch out for the fourth annual “JAM Awards” which will be coming soon!**

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The Voices (2015) Review:

The Voices

Director:

Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Gemma Arterton, Anna Kendrick

Rotten Tomatoes: 76%

Ryan Reynolds is one of the most underrated performers in Hollywood today. Due to his earlier body of work and movie-star good looks, he seems to have put himself into a corner and made himself out to be just your average handsome face in an industry with so many of them. He was always a likable guy and a pleasure to see on-screen, but it wasn’t until 2010’s Buried where I finally saw the true brilliance of his talent. The Voices is more evidence of this man’s remarkable talent. The Voices, starring Ryan Reynolds, is an odd film. It’s the tale of man named Jerry who talks to his pets. Nothing strange there, I mean, I talk to my pets. The thing is, for Jerry; they talk back.

The film opens to the showing of a small, happy little town that you would expect to see in a children’s book. Everyone knows each other and everyone seems to pass by one another with a smile on their face and a skip in their step. This is especially the case for Jerry: the happiest guy you’ll ever meet. He walks with a little skip in his step and greets everyone he sees with a smile and a nice compliment. This seemingly normal man has a secret though, and it’s that when he comes home from work, his pets are waiting for him, ready to hear all about his day and then talk about it with him. Jerry is a schizophrenic. He goes to a therapist (Jacki Weaver) quite often where she always asks whether he hears voices or not. He always answers with, “Well, when people are talking to me.” She also asks if he is taking his medication, which h rarely ever says he is which he should be; that’s the only way he can function normally. The only problem is, when he takes his meds, he loses his two best friends: Mr. Whiskers (his cat) and Bosco (his dog) which are both voiced brilliantly by Reynolds himself.

The back and forth between Jerry and his two pets is the best part of the movie, bringing delicious wit as well as surprising tension as the two fight over control of Jerry’s soul. It’s your average “angel and demon on opposite shoulders” technique where Mr. Whiskers is beckoning for Jerry to act on his more primal instincts and do terrible things in the hope it’ll make him feel “alive”, while Bosco is trying to make sure Jerry doesn’t get into trouble, always reassuring him that he is a “good boy.” But, like it sometimes does, temptation in the form of his talking cat gets the best of poor Jerry as he becomes more and more of a threat to everyone around him, especially to two of co-workers played by Gemma Arterton and Anna Kendrick.

There is an intriguing idea that is passed around throughout The Voices. It’s the question of what makes someone truly evil. Is Jerry really evil? On the outside, he seems like the nicest guy you’ll ever meet, but does he really possess a dark, homicidal urge hidden deep within his soul? Jerry is a sick man. He is a schizophrenic. He has a cat that tells him to kill and that he could go on to fill 30 refrigerators with severed heads, if he wanted to. Do his psychotic tendencies make him evil, or does he get a pass due to his mental condition? Later in the film, when he begins his homicidal actions, he doesn’t seem to enjoy doing it—actually, the first time is an accident…or was it?—but that all could be a defense mechanism to make him feel as if he really isn’t an insane monster. Jerry claims he believes in God and even says that if God determines everything then he must want Jerry to continue his destructive rampage. Then again, there is a way out. Jerry is the one who decided not to take the pills, but, then gain, “When you start talking to your pets, there’s no going back.” That’s the deal.

 

-The Voices: 4/5

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The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water (2015) Review:

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water

Director: Paul Tibbett

Cast: Tom Kenny, Bill Fagerbakke, Rodger Bumpass

Rotten Tomatoes: 75%

If you have ever seen the television show this movie is based on, you’ll understand what you are about to get into. I, being a fan of the source material, am certainly interested in seeing the offbeat and funny strangeness of the show, so I had no problem laughing my butt off and completely enjoying my viewing of this latest installment in the SpongeBob SquarePants movie series. It has all of the colorful characters, crazy antics, high energy, and dumb humor that I’ve come to love from the show while also, for better or for worse, maybe even capturing the spirit of the show more effectively than its predecessor. This being said, if you are one of those people who are annoyed by the show’s cheeky characters and erratic dialogue, you should stay as far away from the theater as possible. If you are one of these people and have kids, God help you. It’s going to be a long 90 minutes.

The movie begins like the first one; with a live-action segment which includes pirates. This time though, the pirate is not searching for a movie theater about to play the film we are about to see, but an island that, in its depths, hides a book that contains the story of Bikini Bottom (the undersea town that SpongeBob and his friends all reside in), giving the person in possession the power to control the fate of the characters. While I usually regard live-action segments in animated films with distaste (Osmosis Jones, I’m looking at you), the live-action scenes of Sponge out of Water were quite fun and amusing. The pirate (played by Antonia Banderas) washes up on shore in a little dingy and descends into the depths of the island forest. He comes upon the book, protected by spikes that randomly shoot out of the ground, and the pirate dances around them as if he has memorized their patterns. Once he grabs the book from the tight grip of a skeleton, that skeleton comes to life, socking the pirate off the island and on to his ship in the water. It’s pretty convenient for the pirate, but not the best move on the skeleton’s part.

The pirate then begins to read the story to his seagull friends, which brings us to the Bikini Bottom. The scenes in Bikini Bottom are the best in the movie, giving viewers like me a nice, warm spoon full of nostalgia. The opening to the fully animated portion is much like an episode of the show, setting us in the Krusty Krab (the fast-food restaurant where SpongeBob is employed as a fry cook) trying to stop Plankton (the owner of the largely less popular restaurant, the Chum Bucket, across the street) from stealing the secret formula to the famous Krabby Patty (the Krusty Krab’s specialty sandwich). The animation looks as good as it should and the fast-paced action and dialogue is as delightful as ever. This sequence goes on for some time until the recipe suspiciously vanishes right before Plankton and SpongeBob’s eyes. Without the secret recipe, no more Krabby Patties can be made, which sends Bikini Bottom into a Mad Max-esque, leather bound, post-apocalyptic frenzy. In a hilarious line of dialogue, Mr. Krabs (the money hungry owner of the Krusty Krab) says to Squidward (SpongeBob’s next-door neighbor and co-worker), “Welcome to the apocalypse, Mr. Squidward. I hope you like wearing leather.”

This event of the disappearance of the secret formula is what sets off the real plot of the movie, bringing us to the chase to try and find it before Bikini Bottom is ruined.  The scenes that follow begin to devoid from the show in the physical sense, but it never strays too far spiritually, giving us all the SpongeBob strangeness you could ever want. As the movie progresses, it just gets weirder and more off-kilter each second starting with the building of a time machine to the appearance of a cloak-clad, live-action dolphin who claims to be the watcher of the universe—and who can shoot lasers from his blowhole, apparently. It’s always amusing, never even getting close to crossing the line into boredom, but it is also incessant, unfortunately, making the movie chew what it bites off a little too quickly, choking on some of the jokes and puns on the way down. The movie is saved from this, though, from its very unique and clever final act where the team—or “tee-am”—finds themselves on dry land, and battling the pirate villain, who we came to know in the beginning of the movie, as muscle coated superheroes, each with a unique ability such as Squidward’s lethal clarinet and Patrick’s (SpongeBob’s starfish best friend) power to manipulate ice cream at will.

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge out of Water is nothing too deep. While its structure can be a bit difficult to comprehend at times with its insanely wacky visuals and mega quick pacing, especially for one who isn’t familiar with the source material or the first movie, it’s something that any fan of the show could come to really enjoy. It’s not going to make too many new fans of the franchise, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it did thanks to its overall cleverness and uncommon sense of adventure. I was actually quite amazed by the uniqueness of the material. It did its best not to just phone something in, and the results are giddily insane. It also possesses the next “Let it Go” in that it’s featured song by N.E.R.D. “Squeeze Me” is insanely catchy and impossible to get out of your head. I have been struggling with that as I wrote this entire review.

 

-The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water: 3/5

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The 10 Worst Movies of 2014:

10. Edge of Tomorrow

This will most likely be the most controversial additional to the list of the “Worst” films of the last year due to its almost universal acclaim, too bad I wasn’t a part of that universe.  It’s basically Groundhog Day with the day that continues to repeat itself over and over again, except, this time, with a ton of explosions. I am going to begin with this: it looks absolutely gorgeous, and the first time you go through the day, it is absolutely riveting to say the least, but the gimmick soon wears thin and, unlike Groundhog Day, it starts to feel, well, repetitive. It also takes a pretty silly plot direction part way through as to what the enemies they are battling are that left a bad taste in my mouth. The most overrated film of the year and, quite honestly, I don’t really know what everyone thought was so good about it.

9. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

The first Sin City was a surprising film. Not only were the stylistic choices daring as well as compelling and incredibly effective in sending its overall message, but the direction was pretty brilliant and its dialogue was breathtaking. Its sequel, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For attempts to do something that I would think to be almost impossible: recreate the original’s brutal impact. While it does manage to be successful in some measure, with the recreation of the daring style and inclusion of an intense performance by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, its impact can’t help but be dulled by its much weaker writing and mostly nonchalant acting. This is a severe and perilous case of déjà vu.

8. A Million Ways to Die in the West

Ted was a surprisingly hilarious effort with a concept that is a little more than meets the eye, so I was somewhat intrigued to see what McFarlane would do next, and while A Million Ways to Die in the West does manage to develop a few hardy laughs, but it misses a lot more than it hits. The characters aren’t very interesting and pretty cliché and it’s far too inconsistent to keep audience’s attention for its overlong running time. Hopefully, Ted 2 will be better…hopefully.

7. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

I recently re-watched the 1990 live-action adaptation of the Ninja Turtles a little while ago and was pleasantly surprised as to how well it holds up. I will admit, I had a great time watching it and the nostalgia factor definitely didn’t hurt. While that movie is definitely nowhere close to a masterpiece, this remake from producer Michael Bay sure made it look like one. Lacking all of the fun of its source material, TMNT is a dull and ugly experience, sporting repulsive CGI encased turtles and all the special effects you can imagine, except, there’s not much room for a story. I will admit, it had a few cool action sequences and it, of course, looked great (it’s that Bay touch), but the characters are thin and the dialogue is annoying. Giant, talking turtles were never this boring.

6. The Monuments Men

The Monuments Men looked to be one grand film and one that could have possibly gotten some award nominations. It sports an undeniably brilliant cast, George Clooney in the director’s chair—he’s made some great films in the past—and a seemingly thrilling World War II backdrop. Well, the only real suspense was whether Matt Damon and Cate Blanchett’s characters would ever hook up. The Monuments Men is an aggravating experience. It contains so much promise, but, I guess, a bunch of old guys saving precious art from the Nazis just isn’t that entertaining. If you want to watch a star-studded WWII film from this last year, watch Fury. That’s a good one.

5. Transcendence

I don’t want to say that I was “excited” for this movie, but I was a bit interested. It sports an interesting premise, albeit a bit played out, about the dangers of artificial intelligence and playing God and it includes Johnny Depp in a role that isn’t an outrageous cartoon version of himself, doesn’t sound too bad. While it does give Depp a chance to show he can still play a “sane” individual, the rest is utter trash. It’s convoluted, poorly written, and don’t take my observation of Depp as a good sign, he was awful as was the rest of the acting. It does look pretty nice though thanks ace cinematographer Wally Pfister at the helm; too bad he doesn’t know how to direct.

4. Tusk

There is a fine line between gleefully strange and just being weird for weirdness sake and Tusk dances on that line far too often. Kevin Smith gives us this horror/comedy about a podcaster who is tricked into meeting with a madman for an interview who ends up kidnapping him and slowly, but surely, turning him into a hideous walrus. I know, sounds pretty crazy, and it is, but that doesn’t mean it’s entertaining. Tusk tries to be something more than what its plot summary tells you, but it never quite manages to reach any of those goals. In the end, Tusk isn’t funny, scary, or amusing, but weird, dumb, and pretty gross.

3. Exodus: Gods and Kings

Exodus could have been something so great. With a stellar cast including the likes of Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Ben Kingsley, John Turturro, Sigourney Weaver, and even Aaron Paul with a director who has given us such films as Alien and Gladiator, there is absolutely no reason for this to have failed, but, somehow, it did. This retelling of one of the most well-known stories from The Bible is dull and flaccid. The acting is poor and lacks in any type of charisma and Scott decides to remove the extravagance of the source material and make it into a more realistic and brooding experience, which is also quite boring. It’s emotionally stilted, ineptly written, and just a big disappointment.

 

2. Left Behind

It really was foolish of me to think Cage was establishing a comeback with his grand performance in 2014s Joe…it really was. I wouldn’t call Left Behind a disappointment; it’s more of a message of clarity, clarity to the question of whether Cage will ever make classics again. He may, but, as of now, I’ve somewhat lost hope. He is still my favorite actor and that’s due to the fact he can bring a little something, something to every role (even this one), but Left Behind was a cinematic disaster and an embarrassment to Cage’s already questionable filmography. Based on the novel by Tim F. LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, Left Behind is a modern tale of The Rapture; a biblical prophecy that predicts one day everyone who is worthy will vanish off the face of the Earth and be escorted into heaven in order to be saved from the end of the world, with the people who didn’t make the cut left to walk the Earth as the horrors begin to unravel. Left Behind is only the beginning of this phenomenon and it actually makes a cute little attempt at signaling a sequel. Thank God that won’t happen, right?

1. Transformers: Age of Extinction

There was a part of me, back in 2013, when I learned that Michael Bay would be returning to the franchise where I thought that maybe, just maybe, he’d actually be able to pull this one off. I saw the whole new cast as a signal of hope, making me believe that this could possibly be Bay finally learning from his mistakes and starting fresh from his last bummer of the series and a second installment that haunts my nightmares—I did like the first one, though. Sadly, Bay does none of what I had come to hope. Age of Extinction is bottom-of-the-barrel entertainment at its very worst. The moment Wahlberg took a swig from that Budweiser bottle in one of the most shameless examples of product placement ever put on film, I knew this would be my least favorite movie of the year. As it went on, I just got less and less interesting by the second, praying that it would be ending soon, but, of course, it’s a Michael Bay movie, so it still had about an hour and a half. Well, at least it was better than Revenge of the Fallen.

 

**Be sure to read my “Best Movies of 2014” list and watch out for the fourth annual “JAM Awards” which will be coming soon.**

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American Beauty (1999) Review; *Fave Film*:

American Beauty

Director: Sam Mendes

Cast: Kevin Spacey, Thora Birch, Annette Bening

Rotten Tomatoes: 88% (Certified Fresh)

There was a brief period in the ‘90’s where the film industry was obsessed with the idea of nonconformity; the concept of men trapped in the depressing, never-ending pit of despair that is the infamous cubicle. You know what I mean, The Matrix, Fight Club, and Office Space all centered on this subject and, coincidently, they all were released during that same period which we call 1999. It may have been the passing of the millennium that was getting to our heads a bit, making people—and screenwriters—wonder what the hell they’ve been doing with their lives and pondering if they should, maybe, do more. It’s an honest question, and it’s also a fairly important one to ask yourself; “Are you happy?” That’s the question that’s spawned a million mid-life crises’. There’s nothing worse than settling for the ordinary, right?

American Beauty is a film that can rest right up with the other three films I just mentioned; I may even call it the biggest offender. Of course, I’m not saying “offender” in a negative manner, I’m just saying that this is the film with the heaviest handed message, besides Fight Club, arguably. American Beauty is actually one of the closest things I’ve seen to modern, American suburbia. It’s not simply about a man who no longer finds his life motivating and wishes for something more, but about anger, self-destruction, the loss of innocence, the breaking apart of families, and, most importantly, the misinterpretation of love and beauty.

Kevin Spacey plays the elusive, monotonous Lester Burnham; a man who is, quite simply, unhappy; so unhappy that you even have to remind him to be happy, like in the scene where his wife tells him to “try and be happy” while they’re attending his wife’s business party. He’s the kind of person Tyler Durden would attract. I can see Lester Burnham releasing his aggression in the ring underneath a bar in town by beating other “unhappy” men to a pulp. I’m surprised he didn’t join a fight club in this movie; he’d fit in just fine. Then there’s his equally troubled wife, Carolyn (Annette Bening). She’s exactly what I’d expect a woman married to a man like Lester to be like. For a lot of the movie, she looks exhausted and a bit tormented, probably from the hell that is her home life. You can tell she attempts to be optimistic, like in the scene where we see her cleaning up a house she is attempting to sell (she’s a real-estate broker) while singing the words, “I’m going to sell this house today” over and over again. I could almost see the blue birds coming to help her out. We do then see that it’s only skin-deep when, at the end of the day, she hasn’t sold the house and she breaks down in tears and begins to hit and tell herself to shut up.

Thora Birch plays their teenage daughter, Jane. She’s basically your stereotypical teenage girl: angry, self-conscious, and brimming with angst. She’s even saving up for breast implants that she clearly does not need. I don’t see either of her parents saying anything about that. She’s friends with pretty girl Angela Hayes (Mena Suvari) who believes the whole world revolves around her. She is aspiring to be a model and craves attention, so much so that she begins to quietly flirt with Lester after it is very clear that Lester is infatuated with her. She says that ever since she turned 12, people haven’t been able to take their eyes off of her. Rather interesting statement, if I say so myself.

This then brings us to Rickey Fitts (Wes Bentley). Rickey is the only man who has ever not paid attention to Angela, and she notices saying, “He didn’t even, like, look at me once.” This is because he is captivated by Jane. We first see this intriguing character after he moves in next door to Jane and we catch a glimpse of him filming her from the shadows. We then find out that he films practically everything from dead birds lying on the ground to a homeless woman on the side of the street that froze to death. He says, “When you see something like that, it’s as if God is looking right at you, and if you’re careful, you can look right back.” The most beautiful thing he’s ever filmed was footage of a plastic bag blowing in the wind and he shows Jane this video in a very emotional scene, saying that it helps him remember all the beauty that’s in the world and sometimes it’s so overwhelming that he just can’t take it. I wonder if this was what the creative minds such as Charlie Kaufman or Shane Carruth were like as teens. I wouldn’t be surprised.

There is a line said near the beginning of the film that goes a little something like this: “Everything that’s meant to happen does, eventually.” This was not my first viewing of this film, so I knew what was coming, and I found that line to be especially haunting because of my knowing.  The line brings up interesting concepts such as determinism and whether or not the characters in the film deserve to experience the misfortunes that follow. For me, I believe that all of the events are just pieces of the big puzzle. Nobody in this film is necessarily a villain, but just several lost souls, looking for answers in all the wrong places, and the answers they do find just fill them with false pride. There’s always pride before the fall, right?

I don’t think this movie could have been cast any better. Thora Birch seems so natural in her role, like this is just the filming of her everyday life; Annette Bening controls the screen with every scene she’s in, giving a dark and sympathetic performance; Wes Bentley became his character, showing confidence I’ve never seen before and I never doubted him once; Chris Cooper gives a relentless performance as Rickey’s overbearing, war vet father as does Allison Janney as his psychologically struggling mother. Then there’s Kevin Spacey who gives his finest performance and, quite possibly, one of the greatest performances of all-time. His transformation, triggered by his first encounter with Angela, is so believable and so enthralling. He begins the film as a man who’s high point of his day were the few minutes he had pleasuring himself in the shower before work; at the end of the film, he’s buying a Pontiac Firebird and smoking pot while working out. The pot, he gets from Rickey who deals it, secretly, so not to allow his father to find out. He was caught once and his life has never been the same.

There’s something very diabolical resting at the core of this film, like a ticking time bomb waiting to explode. It begins fairly calm, showing us the daily lives of these people and there’s nothing too strange going on. Scenes including the Burnhams eating dinner all together with Lester asking Jane how her school day was—much like what my father has done so many times before—and one with the Fitts all eating breakfast together with Rickey asking his dad, who is contently reading his newspaper, what’s new in the world. It gives the film a false sense of peace that, from then on, is the polar opposite of what you’re going to get. As the film progresses and as push comes to shove between many of the characters, the themes get darker and the intentions more hostile. The first time I saw this, I was surprised to see a scene near the end where Rickey’s father begins to suspect Rickey is hiding something in a series of sitcom level misunderstandings, but it never took me out of the film. It seemed to fit, and that’s thanks to the outstanding direction from Sam Mendes, which he won an Academy Award for. He directs with a ferocity that is impossible to match, melding each scene so perfectly into the next. By the end of the film, you’ll be gasping for air. By the time you get to the end, you’ll have trouble keeping track of the madness. There’s so much going on; all this chaos as we flash between each character while the music grows more aggressive until, at one single moment, everything stops dead in their tracks. One could call it “brilliant.”

One could call the ending to this film quite happy; one could call it quite sad; I prefer the former. It’s an ending that reminds me of the ending to one of my favorite films Donnie Darko. Either way you look at it, Lester Burnham was redeemed at the end. I don’t want to say too much so not to give anything away, but there is a moment in the film that always makes me smile. Lester is talking to Angela about Jane. He asks her how she is; is she happy? Angela answers with something like “I think so. She thinks she’s in love.” Lester then cracks the tiniest smile, but an emotional one all the same. With that little smirk, you can see that he understands his errors and has finally come to terms with his fears of conformity and being lost, because he’s really not and never was. Angela then asks him something that he hasn’t heard someone ask him in a very, very long time. She asks, “How are you?” Lester responds, “I’m great.”

-American Beauty: 5/5

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The Babadook (2014) Movie Review:

The Babadook

Director: Jennifer Kent

Cast: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Barbara West

Rotten Tomatoes: 97% (Certified Fresh)

I know of a single mother, whom I am quite close to, that is in a similar situation as Amelia, the mother within the film “The Babadook.” Now, the person I am talking about isn’t nearly as troubled as the poor widow that you will come to know in this film, but, from what I’ve overheard and witnessed, she too has a little boy that can be a bit of a handful. Trust me, I love the two of them immensely, but whenever I visit them I always wonder just how she does it. I’m not going to say that I completely understand what they’re going through now, but I think after seeing “The Babadook,” I understand just a little bit more.

“The Babadook” takes place, mostly, within a household; the household of Amelia and Samuel (the son) to be exact. It has been six years after Amelia’s husband died in a car crash that occurred while on the way to the hospital in order to deliver a baby which would soon grow up to be six year-old Samuel (he’s actually almost seven). The household in which this little boy grew up in looks like your average home, except for a very intense sense of abandon that coats the walls; a bleak scent of sadness that is felt by anyone who steps foot within the walls. One of Amelia’s friends, or only friend, even admits to not wanting to spend time there due to the depressive sensation one cannot help but fall victim to.

There is some necessary exposition and then we find a book, suitably called “Mister Babadook.” It’s the story of a strange man who lives in little boy’s closets who, at first, seems like a friend, but soon turns into a nightmare. The boy, who was tormented on a nightly basis by nightmares before even reading the book, is sure this is the thing that has been infesting his thoughts at night. Like any mother, Amelia checks under the child’s bed and in the closet and attempts to brush it off as if it is nothing, but as Samuel’s behavior gets worse and worse, there’s a presence in the house that becomes more and more eager to be heard. “If it’s in a word, or it’s in a look; you can’t get rid of the Babadook.”

“The Babadook” is a horror movie, but it is not your usual horror flick. “The Babadook” is one of the most sophisticated horror films I have ever seen; one that succeeds at provoking many more fears than just the one of what’s under your bed at night or in the dark corner of the closet. Most horror films can be called gleefully scary. By this I mean a movie that can be scary as all hell, but, in the end, you had a good time watching it and carry on with a smile on your face as the end credits roll. “The Babadook” isn’t one of those. There’s nothing fun about this film and that’s one of its greatest achievements. You may actually call “The Babadook” more of a drama than a horror film, or maybe even a tragedy. Much of the film is actually grounded in realism, making the more supernatural aspects seem even more frightening. I actually found similarities between this and classics like “The Shining” for its intense depictions of parenthood and the loss of one’s sanity. “The Shining” is actually another film with fantastical elements bathed in realism; I wouldn’t be surprised if writer and director Jennifer Kent was at all inspired by that film.

I could definitely see a viewer weeping while watching this film…I could see my own mother weeping while watching this film, or any mother for that matter. There is a simple question at the center of “The Babadook”, and it couldn’t have been summarized better than by what Samuel asks his mother in one scene, “If I promise to protect you, will you promise to protect me?” Isn’t that every mother’s duty, to protect their child? I know that’s what my mother set out to do. I can’t even begin to count how many times my mother reassured me that she wouldn’t let anything ever happen to me. I used to think that was said only to make a child stop crying and feel safe in their beds at night, but now I know it’s something much deeper and much more literal. The bond between mother and child may be the strongest bond in the universe. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was.

I bet you that Essie Davis is a mother. Her performance as the troubled Amelia was nothing short of brilliance. The sorrow is in her eyes and it’s as if you’re being jabbed into the heart with a knife every time you look into them. You find sympathy within her character and Samuel’s character as well, because they’re pain is universal. They’re the kind of characters I go to the movies weekend after weekend to see; one’s that aren’t just fiction, but are as real as anyone you’ve ever met.

Now, I am not a parent, but I can honestly say that I look forward to revisiting this film later in life once I actually become a father, unless I’m too afraid to which could easily be a possibility. I cannot even begin to imagine the impact this film could have on a loving parent. This is why “The Babadook” deserves every piece of praise it’s gotten; it’s a film that provokes the inevitable fear and unconditional love of parenthood. I think I have begun to put the puzzle together on how the mother I spoke of before is able to put up with all the hollering and disorder, and the answer is actually quite simple; it’s love. Love: the longest four letter word in the English dictionary. When people say “I love you”, they rarely mean it. They may believe they mean it, but the human race has not yet developed an understanding of that word, not even close. It’s not something that is consciously felt. Its meaning is vaster than the universe itself and is only felt due to the most primal of instincts, such as a mother’s need to protect her child. There’s something very soothing about that.

-The Babadook: 5/5

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