Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Old & Obsolete

"I'm old, not obsolete," Arnold Schwarzenegger says to Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) as he's curious to know why a Terminator model, class 800 is working alongside Sarah Connor (Game of Thrones' star Emilia Clarke), the one true enemy of mankind, and of future resistance leader John Connor. The official word is a rift in the time-space continuum which now has created a new chain of events that will drastically alter the future or some nonsense, but allow me to put this in Lamen's terms for you: 1984's The Terminator never happened. 1991's sequel, T2: Judgement Day didn't happen either. And both Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines in 2003 and Terminator: Salvation in 2009 have now been wiped away from existence. What's left is a convoluted popcorn summer movie that makes less sense as it goes along at best, and at worst, it's an insulting blight on the series that makes me pine for T3 & Salvation.

Terminator Genysis hits the reset button on the entire franchise by including the plot points of both Terminator and T2, ignoring what happens in both of those films and tries to put a fresh spin on a franchise whose conclusion was determined at the end of Judgement Day. It's 2029, and Connor (now played by Jason Clarke) is a breath away from defeating Skynet and liberating what's left of humanity from the brutality of the machines. If you've seen the first movie, you know that Skynet, in a last-ditch effort to squash the Resistance, sends a Terminator to the year 1984 to kill Sarah Connor to ensure humanity never rallies to beat their forces. Reese and the T-800 arrive in the timeline, and here's where the film begins to lose me

The T-800 never gets to carry out its mission, because as it turns out, the good T-800 from the second movie shows up and, with the help of a toughened up Sarah, they kill the bad Terminator, and it turns out that it's really Reese who's way in over his head, as he's being hunted down by....the T-1000. Yep, the same Robert Patrick character which shapeshifted into anything it touches in Judgement Day is now in this installment, and is now played by Lee Byung-hun. Pardon my French but what the fuck?!?! How did it get to that timeline? Did Skynet know that Connor would send his right-hand man back in time to stop the assassin T-800 and sent back the liquid metal robot as an insurance policy to make sure Reese failed? Has it been in existence all this time? And if it has, why send back an older model when you have the best version possible to kill the future Mrs. Connor? Was he just fiddling his thumbs the whole time?! And no, the movie never explains how he got to the year 1984, and he's swiftly killed within the 10 minutes he was on screen.

You're getting too old for this shit, Mr. Governator.
The movie only gets more confusing from there. Sarah, Kyle and "Pops" (her nickname for the good T-800) have to travel 33 years into the future to stop "Genysis" from ushering in Judgement Day. Why not to 1997, the year when Skynet becomes self-aware and lays waste to the planet? Because the "rules" have been reset, for some reason that's also never explained. Ok, ok - they travel back to the year 2017 so the filmmakers can make half-hearted comments on our generation's addiction/reliance to technology (i.e. smartphones, laptops and tablets) and the increased lack of privacy we now have because of it. Or, at least that's what director Alan Taylor (2013's underwhelming Thor: The Dark World)  is trying to say, thought it's really just clumsily hinted at and never really follows up on its theme. As you might have guessed, Genysis is a software program created by Cyberdine as a means to link every last person on Earth to the company. Think if Apple decided to connect themselves to everyone, including buying out contracts to the DoD, the Pentagon and the U.S. military and had a megalomaniac at the helm. At any rate, our heroes arrive, only to run into...John Connor. Yes, the leader of the Resistance somehow made the jump back in time and is now in the same timeline. Again: how in the name of fuck did this happen?!?!

If you've seen the second trailer, then you know that Skynet got to Connor first, and turned him into a Terminator, which, thankfully, the film does explain. Unfortunately, this still doesn't explain a few more plot holes, like how did he get there? I'm sure it was by the same method of time travel, but he just shows up almost out of the blue. And given that he's an important facet in the creation of the Genysis app along with the Cyberdine company, at what time is he sent in? And adding more insult to injury, the film shows us the malevolent company on the verge of building the same time machine shown at the beginning of the film, along with T-1000! I'll ask again: How the hell is this possible?! This would take decades to manufacture, and I'm pretty sure the tech behind it all wouldn't be possible, even in 2017!! Did Skynet send Connor back to the same year as Reese, so he could help build Skynet from the ground up? NONE OF THIS MAKES ANY FUCKING SENSE!!!!!

And why yes, the movie makes no explanation on how this chain of events occur, but to the filmmakers: who gives a shit - look at the action scenes and shit blowing up and crashing! You're excited and thrilled by this new version of a bloated and utterly spent franchise, right? Right? I'm going to get right down to it: Terminator Genysis is perhaps one of the worst movie going experiences I've had in the last 5 years. There's nothing about this new story that makes any sense, and the filmmakers just expect you to swallow all this nonsense and get suckered in by the over abundance and reliance on CGI & toned down violence. The plotholes are frequent and as large as craters; the acting, save Emilia Clark and Schwarzenegger, is just bland and uninteresting; and the film's third act borrows so heavily on T2 that it borders on plagiarism. The end result is a summer movie that makes the bullshit plotting seen in the Transformers sequels and White House Down look logical by comparison. This is far and away the worst film of the summer, and a frontrunner for the worst movie I've see in 2015.

1/2 stars out of ****

Friday, July 3, 2015

The Boys Are Back

Let's be honest about the film-version of Entourage, the hit HBO comedy series about a rising movie star and his three friends who've followed him from Queens to Tinsel Town: It's the 100th episode of the premium cable's most popular show since Sex and the City, which both works in favor of the film and to it's detriment. While it's great to see Vince (Adrian Grenier) and his pals Eric "E" Murphy (Kevin Connolly), Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) and Johnny "Drama" Chase (Kevin Dillon), along with lovable douchebag super agent-now head honcho of a studio company Ari Gold (the reliable Jeremy Piven) back traversing Hollywood and the spoils of fame, those who disliked the show's eight-year run or those who got tied of the same shtick past season 5 will feel vindicated in their continued frustration as the film does feel like one huge circle jerk of A-list actors making fun of the hand that feeds them, along with having athletes making cameo appearances because they really want to be apart of the show, including Russell Wilson, Rob Gronkowski and Ronda Rousey, the latter of which has a slightly bigger part as Turtle tries to woo her in a cage match. In this regard, Entourage takes its cues from 2008's Sex and the City: it plays to their fans' devotion for sticking with the characters through thick and thin, thus allowing them to reacquaint themselves with old friends. 

Unlike the former, the latter was still able to welcome in audiences who've never seen a minute of the adventures of Carrie Bradshaw and her gal-pals Cynthia, Miranda and Samantha, primarily because each character had their own personal arc and we got to see them evolve, which made for a rewarding experience to a SATM novice like myself. In contrast, the former opens with Vince having a party on a boat to celebrate his divorce and shagging one of the female guests onboard, and it ends with the boys walking the red carpet for the Golden Globes. There isn't much character development with any of the leads, save E who  becomes a father. Vince is still a womanizing Lothario, Drama continues to have personal crises, usually of his making, Ari is still a huge prick, and Turtle is...well, Turtle, but even Ferrara's character isn't given much to do. 

I probably should explain the jist of the plot of Entourage: The Movie: Vince decides he want to take the next step in his career, and he does so by going behind the camera to write and direct a retelling of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with a $100 million budget. Unfortunately, the project went overbudget during post-production and Ari is left with the task of asking for more money from their benefactor Larsen (Billy Bob Thorton) a wealthy Texas tycoon who's financing the movie, in addition to dealing with his horndog son (an unrecognizable Haley Joel Osmet - yes, the kid who saw dead people in The Sixth Sense) who has hijacked the project because he has "concerns" and "ideas" about which direction the film should take. The whole thing is a brisk 105 minutes, and the film, despite the lack of character development and falling back on old tricks from the show, never wears out its welcome; a fact that was sorely missed by the latter HBO series-turned movie, as Sex and the City ran for almost 2 1/2 hours. 

As I said earlier, you'll either love being back with these characters, or hate how the whole thing feels like a self-glorified victory lap, there's not much middle ground. For me, though? Entourage, despite many shortcomings, is still a fun and occasionally funny satire on Hollywood and celebrity culture. There's a kick hearing Jane's Addiction's "Superhero" belting through the opening credits, much like the show's opener did for the past decade. The camaraderie between Grenier, Connolly, Dillon, Ferrara and Piven is still as strong as it was when the show began (well done Doug Ellin, the film's screenwriter and director). And it is funny seeing Liam Nesson telling Ari to go fuck himself, or watching Drama fall prey to his own over-inflated ego. Simply put, Entourage is a blast. Now let's hope Mark Walberg, one of the film's producers or Ellin himself don't do anything stupid, like make an unnecessary sequel (I'm looking at you, Sex and the City 2).

** 1/2 stars out of ****

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Silence is Overrated

I think we can all agree that just about the most annoying thing one can do in a theater (next to talking non-stop) is whipping out the smartphone and begin Tweeting, playing games, or checking your email. It's bloody obnoxious and it detracts from the movie-watching experience, but don't tell that to Paramount Pictures, who are going to allow moviegoers to be inconsiderate jackasses and fiddle with their phones whilst watching Terminator: Genisys. I wish I were making this up.

“This is a true breakthrough for the movie industry. Video games are a multi-billion dollar industry, and merging that with the movies in a way that’s interactive, fun and truly memorable is a very exciting proposition for an industry seeking to innovate. This breakthrough may be equally exciting for the video game industry. The movies offer the very best in screen and sound while providing audiences with a first of its kind, collective, in-person gaming experience.”

I'm sorry, but "A true breakthrough in the movie industry"?! How is Tweeting and playing games in a dark theater a fucking benchmark for movies? All it's does is it just gives my generation encouragement to be rude jerkoffs in a packed cinema. Thanks, Paramount: It's bad enough that you're hitting the reset button on two movies that didn't need to be all but discard, but this makes me want to watch your shitty Terminator-reboot flick even less now. Oh, and FYI: if you need this stupid gimmick to put butts in the seats, there's a good chance your movie might suck.

Monday, June 22, 2015

About Mad Max...

First, I want to start off by saying that I really enjoyed watching Mad Max: Fury Road during the Memorial Day holiday. Before entering George Miller's dystopian car chase through a barren wasteland, I had not seen the original Mad Max films, so I was coming in as a newbie and therefore, judged the film on its own merits. The image of a man hanging from the front of a moving vehicle, playing an electric guitar that spits fucking fire is an image that will stay with me as long as I'm a fan of the medium. The cinematography by John Seale, who had come out of retirement to help make this movie, is breathtaking from first frame to last. The technical aspects of the film - Visual Effects, Sound Mixing and Editing, etc. - are all first-rate, and are worthy of celebration come Awards season. It's almost something of a revelation to watch female characters contribute to the story and to the main protagonists, rather than be the traditional damsels in distress who only serve as rescue bait and/or act as the prize for the male lead in the story as a reward for saving the day. There's a great message written on the walls of Joe's underground bunker that serves as a one-finger salute to Hollywood's treatment of female characters in film, especially in summer/popcorn blockbusters which deserves a round of applause, especially if you get the meaning behind those words. And Charlize Theorn gives her best performance in years as Imperator Furiosa a vengeful agent of the wasteland's warlord, Immortal Joe (Hugh Keayes-Byrne) who kidnaps his most prized possessions - five young wives and intends on delivering them safely to her former tribe. Hell, I'd love to see a spin-off without Mad Max himself (played this time by Tom Hardy; before the role was portrayed by Mel Gibson) and have the story focus on Furiosa and the wives getting into new adventures in the unforgiving desert.

Having said all of that? I liked Fury Road; I appreciate the film for what it is, but I didn't love it as much as the critics raved about it on Rotten Tomatoes. The reason I say this is two-fold: first, on a base-level, there isn't much separating this latest installment/reboot of the Mad Max series from the likes of Furious 7, another action movie with insane stunts and action set pieces almost around every corner. While many will tell me that the way the directors George Miller and James Wan respectively, go about bringing these action scenes to life, the goal is very much the same: to entertain and create a highly enjoyable spectacle, surrounded by characters who the audience cares about, or have come to care about.

Both directors don't just start by jumping the shark - they both start from there, and then go off from one insane action set piece to the next. For Fury Road, it's the guy playing guitar and spitting fire from it and having a car case in the middle of a sand storm. In Furious 7's case, it's the moment where Dominic Toretto and his crew drive out of a military cargo plane, dive out 30,000 feet in mid-air, launch their parachutes, land gracefully onto a deserted road and start a car case with a highly-armored van (filled with armor-piercing rounds) carrying a computer hacker that the team needs in order to find the ultimate hacking device that will allow Toretto to find and locate Deckard Shaw, the man responsible for killing Han in The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. And both movies are highly enjoyable as they both revel in the madness and insanity they've created.

Whereas Furious 7 is a PG-13-rated opus of CG carnage and destruction with popular automobiles, Fury Road is supposed to be a hardcore R-rated action film, and the only time I believe it's rating feels warranted is in the third act. Otherwise, it just feels like another action picture that easily could have passed for the teen-friendly PG-13 rating without much incident. Yet it's being hailed as one of the best action pictures in decades, which bring me to my second point: in my opinion - no, it isn't. Granted, the choreography is nothing to pass off as pure GCI-inspired flights of fancy (Miller stated that 90% of the stunts captured in the film were done using practical effects), but for me, there's a few hoops to jump through.

First, your action film damn-well better be every bit as thrilling and exhilarating as Gareth Edward's 2012 martial arts epic, The Raid: Redemption, where a rookie cop has to fight his way out of a building filled with criminals, gangsters, murders and every sort of scum when the plot to take down Jakarta's biggest crime lord goes tits-up after getting a tip from inside sources. I hadn't been that jazzed by an action film since 2003 where I was introduced to Quentin Tarantino with Kill Bill Vol.1. Speaking of, Tarantino's first part of his two-part revenge film paying homage to spaghetti westerns, Anime, and 70's-style king-fu action flicks is another hurdle to jump through for me. Can your movie stand the test of time alongside the Bride fighting off O-Ren Ishii's army of samurai-wielding thugs, the Crazy 88 in the House of Blue Leaves, where the limbs fly just as frequently and as cartoonishly as the blood?

What about The Matrix? Can your action film craft unique and dazzling action scenes, like the kung-fu showdown in the middle of an empty subway station, or the hallway gunfight with Neo and Trinity going up against dozens of private security forces? Or how about Arnold-Schwarzenegger-led flicks like Total Recall and True Lies? Or modern martial arts films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and House of Flying Daggers where the fight scenes look and feel so beautifully crafted and thrilling to behold? Granted, my opinion that Mad Max: Fury Road doesn't quite match up to those other films I've mentioned doesn't mean that the film itself is at fault, but rather the critics for building up such high praise for the movie and my own expectations of it.

Is Mad Max: Fury Road a fun picture? Most definitely. Like Furious 7, it dives into insanity head-first and almost no regard for any semblance of a plot. Unlike the latter, the former has truly excellent performances, (especially from Theorn) and a feminist subtext that it flies proudly amidst all the car-on-car carnage. Does it take it's place alongside The Raid, Kill Bill Vol.1 and Crouching Tiger as one of the best and most memorable action films I've seen in the last 15 years? Not really. But I'll always have guitar man spitting fire.

*** stars out of ****

Thursday, June 18, 2015


I should be talking about what the half-year in review for 2015, both the good and the bad. I should be talking about stuff like the hilarious Melissa McCarthy-led espionage spoof, Spy, or my honest thoughts about Mad Max: Fury Road

Today, I'm not. I can't. 

It honestly doesn't feel right to me, given the latest tragedy in Charleston, South Carolina, where a young white man went into a historical black church and slaughtered 9 people (thankfully, the police found the perpetrator today and have placed Dylan Roof under arrest). 

As Rachel Maddow pointed out tonight, there are several ways we can put this senseless act of violence into context.

We can say that this is another tragedy where a person who had no reason to have firearms, shot and murdered innocent people in cold blood, and you wouldn't be wrong: from Columbine, to Tuscon, to Auora, to Sandy Hook, this act of senseless savagery keeps happening because of our nation's reluctance to talk about our fixation with firearms and why we don't do more to keep guns away from psychos. 

We can look at the killer himself, and how, also revealed today, he was deep into the idea of white supremacy; that he had patches of apartheid-era flags of South Africa and Rhodesia, which is now know as the country of Zimbabwe; how his friend, Joseph Meek Jr., told the Associated Press that Roof had talked with him about how "blacks were taking over the world," and that "Someone needed to something about it for the white race"; and how this idea that the white man is the superior race and how this mentality is still acceptable and influenced in our society. 

We also know that the killer had the licence plate of the the Confederacy and had told Meek that he believed that "He wanted segregation between whites and blacks"; that his remarks and actions are another sign that we need to have a serious conversation on not just the Confederate flag, but a discussion on the issue of racism in America. 

Each point of context is valid, and you could easily state a case for it being the focus of what the conversation should be. And yet, each time something like this comes up, there has always been opposition to having that painful and vital conversation on race, on guns, on a flag that holds deep scars to millions of people of color.

How do I know this? Because this kind of diversion is happening as we speak.

Here's conservative commentator Dana Loesch's thoughts on South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley defending the Confederate flag: 

And here's Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy, who's shocked that the tragedy in Charleston is being classified as a "hate crime", despite the fact that police chief of Charleston, Gregory Mullen said in a press conference that the department was treating the act as hate crime, and even going as far as to calling it an attack on faith, because Roof was really going after poor, innocent, consistently persecuted God-fearing Christians; black folks just happened to be in the way by massive coincidence, despite all evidence that would say otherwise.

And here's Fox Nation's headline (along with the comments) on Obama's remarks on the tragedy: 'Obama Goes Political, Calls For Gun Control in Wake of 'Senseless' S.C. Church Murders'

Every time some tragedy happens, we're told that "The federal government wants to take away our right to bear arms!", or  that "Liberals and race-baiters are trying to make a hate crime/unnecessary police brutality on unarmed black men & women an issue on race, when in all reality those 'thugs' (see: niggers) probably had it coming!", or whatever spin being propped up, the goal is always the same: to steer us away from difficult conversations, or trying to find meaningful solutions to complex and systemic problems, or to simply acknowledge an ugly truth about our history. 

And every time, the issue or the the conversation fades away, and the status quo is upheld. 

We do nothing on banning automatic weapons or having background checks on people who want guns, because a body count and nutjobs having 2nd Amendment liberties is the price ha not only we have to pay, but is also an acceptable one.

We don't have a conversation on race, or talk about police brutality  because we did hat 'civil rights' thing back in the 60's and racism is now over: you have a black president that we gleefully disrespect on a daily basis! Plus, bringing up racism or shining a light on race-bating is really reverse racism because we say so.

We accept these as truths, feel sorry about it, and go about our lives, as if nothing ever happened. 

But don't worry: this will keep happening again. And again. And again. Whether we choose to listen this time is still an open question.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Trailer Talk

I'm back from my month-plus long sabbatical (see: dealing with classes) and the good news is that I've seen 2 dozen films between April and June, so I hope to review at least half of those movies on here (The other half, I've decided, will go on Letterboxd, and they'll be seen here.) in the weeks to come. For right now, I want to get back into the swing of things by reviewing a few trailer that have caught my eye, for better and not-so better.

Brawl of the Century: There's a large amount of fans that want nothing more than to shove a hunk of Kryptonite up Zack Snyder's ass for his version of Superman in Man of Steel rather than see the the big follow up in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (due out March 25, 2016), but I'm not one of them. Making Clark Kent an uncertain hero, both in the eyes of the U.S. government and internally as he learns to trust the people he's sworn to protect is a nice touch, and it makes the character more interesting than the boy scout he's been portrayed as. And, judging by the teaser, it looks like Superman's brawl with General Zod at the end of the first film will have a negative outlook on the son of Krypton, as a crudely pained 'false god!' is written all over his emblem. Now, whether or not Snyder learns from his mistakes from the previous outing, like not going overboard with prolonged, mind-numbing action and CG carnage, remains to be seen.

Hitting the Mark?: The tricky thing about finales is sticking the landing. Yes, its the moment where hero and villain face off in a final showdown, but there has to be more than just the big climax. The finale is saying goodbye to a series that, up to this point, we've come to love or enjoy. It's seeing character arcs come full circle, setups being paid off and watching in wonder how the filmmakers were able to pull off a series like this. The last time any series had this kind of cathartic glorious conclusion was the final Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part II back in 2011 and nearly 10 year previous with Peter Jackson's epic The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Those two films, in my opinion, are the gold standard; the defining films from which sequels are to be judged in the modern age. Do I think that The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part II (due out November 20) will reach that watermark with Return and Hallows? I doubt it, but Part II promises to be a thrilling conclusion to the world of the Hunger Games, and maybe that's all we can ask for.

Pointless Remake: As many of you know, i'm a child of the 90's, so films like Terminator 2, Speed, Demolition Man, Mortal Kombat, etc, hold a special place in my heart. One of those 90's era action films that I love is the surfer flick/crime thriller Point Break, directed by future Oscar-winning filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow, about hotshop detective Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) assigned to take down a group of bank robbers who get their kicks riding waves by infiltrating their ranks and cozying up to ring leader Bodhi (the late Patrick Swayze). There's something about seeing the practical stuns; the actors putting themselves out there to make the performance more authentic that makes the film all the more exciting to watch. So what does Hollywood decide to do with a cult favorite like Point Break? Why, you take everything that made the film so much fun to watch and completely screw it up in an unnecessary reboot! Seriously, how do you mess this up? The remake portrays Bodhi as this sociopath murderer with no regard for human life, when in the original, Swayze's motivation was to rebel against the capitalist system and mostly avoided collateral damage. Here, his gang are armed wish semi-automatics and firing at random! Also, Bodhi's "Ex-Presidents"gang were primarily surfers, not extreme sports daredevils, you idiots! This "remake" comes out on Christmas Day, but I'd skip this and stick to the original. And speaking of films that should stick to the original....

Terminator: Spoiler Alert!: I cannot begin to tell you how much I am not looking forward to this latest bastardization of a film series that ended definitely at the end of Judgement Day. Sure, Emilia Clarke from HBO's Game of Thrones as Sarah Connor is inspired casting, and it's always great to see Arnold Schwarzenegger return to one of his iconic roles, but there's no need to reset both The Terminator and T2 when those films were fine as is. Also (and I can't believe I'm telling a major studio this), but if you're going to set up your movie for a big twist, don't put in said twist in the middle of your fucking trailer!

Apparently, John Connor (now played by Jason Clarke) is now a Terminator in this reboot/AU telling of the franchise, which, granted, would be an interesting turn of events, if they hadn't announced it in their advertising of the film. There's also the original T-800 from the first film that makes an appearance, along with the T-1000 from the second film that are trying to kill both Sarah and Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) who is sent back to kill John's mother, but with all that cramming in and something about the timeline being altered, the whole movies looks to be one big, incomprehensible mess.

Friday, April 24, 2015

What We Talk About When We Talk About Great Movies: The 10 Best Films of 2014 - Part II

And here's (finally) part two of my list of the best from last year, along with the full list at the bottom.

5. The Wind Rises - The worst thing I can honestly say about this gorgeous animated feature is that, at 126 minutes, it wasn't long enough. I could get lost in Hayao Miyazaki's final effort for hours and not get bored. The writer-director-animator is a master of whisking us away to new worlds of his own creation, but how fitting that his last masterwork is where we're rooted into the past as Miyazaki tells the story of real-life Jiro Horikoshi as he lives out his dreams of building airplanes, despite them being used for the Imperial Army back in World War II. Every last frame of this film - from Jiro's dreams with fellow designer Giovanni Caproni and his brief romance with Nahoko, to showing the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1932 and his journey to Nazi Germany several years later - is painstakingly beautiful and artfully crafted to within an inch of his life. And yet, Miyazaki never falters on touching on themes of greed, war and how humanity takes something pure, only to turn it into a tool of destruction and profit. Yet, the 74 year-old filmmaker asks us to choose between "a world with pyramids, or a world without?" The question is bittersweet in its choice between having a world where airplanes will inevitably be used as instruments of death, or a world where we never see human being flying at all. Miyazaki's final feature is as bittersweet as the character Jiro's life itself, but in the end we are all better for his time than we are without it.

4. Gone Girl - I've seen some messed up thrillers, dramas, satires and films in general, but leave it to director David Fincher and author-screenwriter Gillan Flynn to make a pitch-black and ice-cold satire on suburbia, marriage and the media circus over the "missing white girl" that echos American Psycho for it's critique of a rotten society hidden underneath it's false, empty surface. The tandem between screenwriter, her source material and director echos Fincher's other masterwork, 2010's The Social Network, where script and filmmaker are fluently in sync, to the point where it becomes a highlight in of itself on repeated viewings. The supporting roles are flawless, from Neil Patrick Harris as an obsessed boyfriend from Amy's past, to (surprise) Tyler Perry as Nick's high powered lawyer, whereas Ben Affleck as Nick Dune and Rosaumnd Pike are simply phenomenal as Nick and Amy Dune, two shallow, superficial individuals who are engaged in a battle of wits against each other. 

3. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) - Mexican director/writer Alejandro Gonzalez-Inarritu has made a name for himself in crafting bleak, engrossing character dramas like 21 Grams, Babel, and Bitiful. Yet, in this black comedy about a washed-up actor trying to stage a comeback to stay relevant, the filmmaker has never been more playful, more wicked in crafting a razor-sharp satire about the entertainment biz, and more daring artistically. Shot as if the whole film was done in one continuous take (captured by the ever-magnificent Emmanuel Lubezki), brilliant performances by Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, and Edward Norton, and a scene in which Riggan Thompson (Keaton)'s alter ego is unleashed, Birdman flies on wings of it's own pure creation. It's not hard to see how this walked away with four Academy Awards including Best Original Screenplay, Best Director and Best Picture at this year's Oscars ceremony, and yet, as much as I love and dug Inarritu's creative and hypnotic film, I wish that there was a split this year between this and my no. 2 pick on my list...

2. Boyhood - I wan to say this, for the record: in any other year, Richard Linklater's ambitious and triumph of filmmaking and storytelling would be my pick for the best film of the year. There are few words I can say to describe my love for the writer/director's sweeping, tender, sometimes harsh and always from the heart salute to the joys and growing pains of youth, except that, many times during the film, I saw myself in Mason (played by the excellent newcomer Ellar Coltrane): the desire to do my own thing, regardless of how others may want me to do something their way; acting like I know everything, only for reality to give me a ruse awakening; the struggle to form an identity and to be accepted; my love for Anime and Dragonballl Z (ok, that last part I haven't grown out of), etc. These moments have been captured exquisitely by Linklater over the course of 12 years; that's right: while he was churning out  School of Rock, Before Sunset, Bernie and Before Midnight, among other movies, he set aside a few weeks each year to make this bold, audacious experiment with the same cast, and they all give, what I consider, some of the best performances I've ever seen in a film, from the Evans siblings (Coltrane and Linklater's own daughter, Lorelei) to Ethan Hawke and Patrica Arquette as the divorced parents trying to make it work with their children. People will say that Boyhood is a gimmick and that nothing really happens. To say that is to miss the miracle that is this film - life happens, sprawled out in front of us. 

1. Selma - Again, in any other year, Boyhood would have the no.1 spot on this list. And I'll be honest: part of the reason this list took me months to write this list has to do with whether to put these two exceptionally unique and masterful works of art as my pick for the best of last year. Perhaps down the line, I'll revisit both films and end up announcing it as a tie, but for now, I'm going to stand by this urgent, brutal and painfully beautiful classic and announce that it is the best of 2014. Someone who'll be reading this list might might say that I've chosen director Ava DuVernay's biopic on Martin Luther King, Jr. and the March on Selma that spurred a nation into passing the Voting Rights Act of 1965, due to the events in Ferguson and New York, regarding police brutality. That's a big part of it, though it's not the fault of the film that these tragic and ugly events happened to consider prior to the film's release, and it's not the overriding factor as to why I chose it as the best of the year. The truth is that Selma, like Schindler's List, Philadelphia, and Malcolm X before them, were all films of it's time and place, and all of these films, to their own degrees, spoke to the fierce urgency of what was happening at the time.

Steven Spielberg's harrowing historical drama on Oscar Schindler saving over a thousand Jews from certain death can be taken as a historical document on the darkest chapter in human civilization, but it also acts as a searing commentary on how world leaders (including the Clinton Administration) turned a blind eye to the suffering of the Rwandan people during the wars in the African region. Philadelphia was a film full of subtle anger and sorrow over how we largely ignored the AIDS epidemic (and the plight of gay Americans), believing it to only be contained within the gay community. And Spike Lee's biopic on the controversial civil rights leader of the 1950's and 60's came at the heels of the Rodney King beatings, where the filmmaker used the chilling event, caught on videotape, to furiously declare that African Americans were living in an American nightmare. Selma is a film about the grassroots portion of the Civil Rights movement, but to say it's purely that is being very disingenuous.

DuVernay is grabbing us - forcing us is a more apt description - and making us see that the issues Dr. King, and countless other brave souls fought and died for, aren't just issues of the past: they're the same issues we're facing now; with the Supreme Court striking down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, Republican governors in numerous states disenfranchising minority voters, via Voting I.D. laws, and story after story of police using excessive and deadly force on unarmed African-American youth, the struggle against racial injustice continues. I will admit that I chose Selma because it it's an important and an urgent film, but I also chose it because of the skill of DuVernay's direction, the perfect screenplay of Paul Webb, the soulful performance of David Oywello as King, and the terrific cinematography of Bradford Young, capturing the chaotic nature of the time. It is simply a classic of the first order, a vital historical document, and a passionate, urgent commentary that we need to stand up and fight injustice wherever it festers.

As promised, here is the full list:

1. Selma
2. Boyhood
3. Birdman Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
4. Gone Girl
5. The Wind Rises
6. Whiplash
7. Nightcrawler
8. Wild
9. Beyond the Lights
10. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes