I Read Some Books! 2016

Much like, I’m assuming, many of you, every year I aspire to read more and every year I do not, in fact, read more. I used to. I used to read a lot. Every day, all the time, I plowed through book after book. Then I started doing all these adult things like “working” and “having friends” and “drinking coffee just to stay awake, not because I like coffee” and much of the reading went by the wayside. In an effort to spur on my pathetic reading efforts, in 2016 I signed up for Audible and went all-in on audiobooks. And hey, it worked! I read 23 books this year, more than double what I got through in 2015. To be fair, by “read 23 books” I really mean I “listened to 22 books and read one book with my eyes” but still, I’m marking 2016 down as a win for reading. In looking back at everything I read this year, I thought I might share some of the highlights and then it turned into a full list and well…here we are. Of these 23 books (including one trilogy that I combined into one book for the sake of this list), I would confidently recommend at least 16 of them so I’d say my batting average for the year was pretty solid. Happy reading!

21. “Have Spacesuit, Will Travel” – Robert Heinlein, 1958
I grew up reading Heinlein’s brand of science fiction and some of his works remain personal favorites to this time. “Spacesuit” hasn’t aged well and the pulpiness of the story combined with a truly terrible reading made it a chore to get through. 

20. “The Dog Stars” – Peter Heller, 2012
I am a known sucker for post-apocalyptic fare (see many times below) and this one, about a man and his dog trying to find meaning in a world decimated by flu, had a lot of promise. It also had perhaps 150 extra pages that could’ve been cut out entirely without any loss to the narrative. Had I been reading instead of listening, I would’ve skimmed “Dog Stars” quite a lot, I’m afraid. 

19. “Erasing Hell” – Francis Chan, 2011
An interesting concept from one of my favorite theologians, I have tried reading “Erasing Hell” at least three times before and finally finished it through the magic of audiobooks. For me, it was less compelling than most of Chan’s other works and ultimately didn’t bring just a whole lot of new perspective to the table. 

18. “Lock In” – John Scalzi, 2014
A prolific sci-fi writer, Scalzi launched a new series with this book and I think it could make for an interesting universe. It’s a quick, easy read but without much originality or ambition. The audiobook is narrated by Will Wheaton, however, so that doesn’t hurt. 

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17. “The Girl on the Train” – Paula Hawkins, 2015
This isn’t really my sort of book if we’re being honest but its cultural pull was undeniable and the movie adaptation looked promising (though that promise never came to fruition). I found “Girl on the Train” to be a solid beach/airplane read, nothing more and nothing less. 

16. “Wool (Omnibus)” – Hugh Howey, 2012
Originally a self-published short story, “Wool” spawned into a large five book series (and now a further series of related stories and books) about a colony of humans living underground in a post-apocalyptic future. Part sci-fi, part murder mystery, “Wool” has some excellent passages surrounded by a bit of filler that could’ve been tightened up.

15. “Boys Among Men” – Jonathan Abrams, 2016
Strangely, this is the only sports-related book I read this year. Focusing exclusively on the group of basketball players who jumped directly from high school to the NBA between 1995 and 2005, Abrams brings a ton of insight to the lives of these gifted players before, during, and after their respective runs at the NBA. The book itself is very well-written and researched but suffers in these rankings because the audiobook version is literally the worst reading I have ever heard in my entire life. 

14. “Jesus Prom” – Jon Weece, 2014
I got to hear Weece speak early in the year and was blown away by his practical approach to the Gospel and ministry as a whole. He touched on much of what was contained within this book and thus, my reading was less powerful than I think it would’ve been had it all been new to me. 

13. “Station Eleven” – Emily St. John Mandel, 2014
Item three of four on my personal post-apocalyptic reading list this year (I need help, I know), “Station Eleven” avoids the sci-fi element you usually get in this sort of book and instead goes for a more classic literature course. Most of the book centers on a troupe of traveling players who traverse the Great Lakes territory performing Shakespeare plays in a world brought low by plague. Not all of the B-story works but for the most part, “Station Eleven” is an excellent, original entry into the genre.

12. “American Gods” – Neil Gaiman, 2001
I’ve been aware of Gaiman’s works for a very long time but only recently began reading them because apparently I am an idiot. A blend of the American road trip and Norse mythology, “American Gods” is a beautifully crafted book and features a fantastic audiobook.  

11. “TV The Book” – Alan Sepinwall and Matt Zoller Seitz, 2016
Sepinwall has long been my TV leader; I may not agree with everything he writes or says but I ALWAYS take heed. For this book, he and Zoller Seitz ranked the 100 best American TV shows of all-time. Of course I take issue with some of their rankings (as would any self-respecting TV fan) but it is their presentation and the scientific approach they took to creating their rankings that make “TV The Book” such a great read. 

10. “Red Rising” Trilogy – Pierce Brown, 2014-2016
I tried hard not to get sucked into reading any long series this year because, more often than not, these books disappoint but my Completeism prevents me from walking away until I’ve finished the whole series. This series (comprised of “Red Rising”, “Golden Son”, and “Morning Star”), however, kept me highly engrossed and ended on a high note instead of an ill-conceived whimper. “Red Rising” begins as a well-written version of “The Hunger Games” in space and then grows from there. It is extremely engrossing with outstanding characters that make it easy to gloss over the weaker portions. 

9. “Neverwhere” – Neil Gaiman, 1996
I started reading “Neverwhere” early in the year, got busy with work and decided to start it all over via audiobook. Gaiman’s voice is almost as compelling as his writing and the world creation for this book is phenomenal. Again, I am an idiot for having never read this before.

8. “The Daily Show: An Oral History” – Chris Smith, 2016
I’ve never been a religious Daily Show viewer but found this book to be insightful and extremely interesting nonetheless. So many brilliant people, from Steve Carell to Samantha Bee to Jon Stewart himself, came through the show during Stewart’s reign and here you get a real insider look at the creative process as well as the political side of the show. 

7. “The Girl with All the Gifts” – MR Carey, 2014
The third and final post-apocalyptic entry on this list, “The Girl with All the Gifts” is by far the bleakest of the genre I read this year but unquestionably the best. Carey introduces the main character with subtle and natural mystery to suck you in beautifully, making the twist (which I won’t give away here, obviously) all the more cutting. That this twist comes early in the book and the story only becomes more engrossing is a true testament to Carey’s skill. 

6. “Born Standing Up” – Steve Martin, 2007
One of my all-time favorite performers, Martin’s autobiography centers only upon his early years as a stand-up performer, ending right after his ascension to movie star in the early 80’s. Martin’s narration of his unrefined bits from the late 60’s is funnier than just about any movie or TV show I saw this year. This is an easy read and gives great insight into the mind of a comedic genius. 

5. “The War For Late Night: When Leno Went Early and Television Went Crazy” – Bill Carter, 2010
I’ve had this one sitting on my shelf for years but only just made time to take it in. As a card-carrying member of Team Coco, Jay Leno’s betrayal of my Late Night hero has long been a source of great discontent in my life. Carter, though, doesn’t provide fan service with this book and never takes a side, reporting only the facts of the case, as it were, with little flair. If anything, I came out a little more sympathetic toward Leno which I never would’ve thought possible. 

4. “Your Favorite Band is Killing Me: What Pop Music Rivalries Reveal About the Meaning of Life” – Steven Hyden
A well-respected music critic, Hyden brought a very interesting approach to his latest book by delving into some of music’s greatest rivalries. Nirvana vs. Pearl Jam. Britney vs. Christina. The Beatles vs. The Rolling Stones. Each chapter explores a different rivalry in great detail intermixed with personal anecdotes that never once play as gratuitous or distracting. Hyden fairly explores both sides of each rivalry and rather than declaring a winner and a loser, more often than not he simply states the virtues of both parties and leaves the judging to the reader. 

3. “A Monster Calls” – Patrick Ness, 2011
Woo, boy. I’m not sure I’ve ever had such an emotional reaction to a book and certainly not in a way that caught me by surprise like this one did. The story, about a pre-teen who is visited each night by a monster who may or may not be a friend, seemed like pretty innocent fantasy at first glance but quickly turned into a much deeper, sobering affair. I may have sobbed uncontrollably. 

2. “The Hike” – Drew Magary, 2016
This is one of the funniest, most affecting pieces of fantasy I have ever read and immediately takes a prominent place on the short list of books I will gladly re-read over and over again in the future. I described “The Hike” as “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” meets “Alice in Wonderland” and if that doesn’t sell you, I’m not sure how I could, other than to tell you that there is a talking crab and he is bitingly hilarious. What else could you possibly ask for?

1. “The Rap Year Book: The Most Important Rap Song from Every Year Since 1979, Discussed, Debated, and Deconstructed” – Shea Serrano, 2015
I read a lot of really, really good books this year, some of which I will probably revisit with more frequency than “The Rap Year Book.” But without any question, this is the most original and beautifully structured book I read this year (and maybe ever). Even if you’re not a rap/hip-hop fan (I would consider myself only a passing listener at best), Serrano’s creativity bleeds through every page of the book and his passion is contagious. The illustrations (by local artist Arturo Torres) are fantastic and they work magnificently with Serrano’s carefully crafted words to bring each song to life in unique ways. This book is hilarious, it is insightful, and it is stylistically inspiring. If nothing else, I’m not sure I’ve ever had more fun reading a book and I think Serrano would approve of that endorsement.

Five Disney Movies Worth Remaking

“The war on remakes is over. We lost. Now we just have to hope the studios pick the right movies to remake with the right people.” This has become my mantra over the last few years and I’ve repeated it ad nauseam to any friend or listener who complains about the remake phenomenon in general. In an ideal world, sure, we’d be treated to far more original concept big budget movies than perpetual reboots but we’re seriously talking about Donald Trump becoming our president so obviously this is far from an ideal world. When considering what qualifies for a good remake pick, I look for one of three characteristics:

1.)    An original film that is not good but has an interesting concept;
2.)    An original film that is good but has limited cultural cache;
3.)    An original film that operates in a universe which lends itself to a bigger story and/or a new interpretation.

One of the bigger proponents of the remake/reboot industry is, of course, Disney. This makes sense because The Mouse has a ton of money to throw into these movies and a huge list of films to draw upon. 2016 has brought with it two very successful Disney live-action remakes (The Jungle Book and Pete’s Dragon) and a very unsuccessful sequel to a remake (Alice Through the Looking Glass) and it seems like not a week goes by without new or rumor of yet another live-action remake headed our way. With that in mind and following the “just pick the right movies” mantra and the above characteristics, here are five classic Disney features that are prime for the live-action remake treatment.

NOTE: I’m tossing out of consideration any movie that has already been remade or is actively being remade in some form or another. Examples: Pinocchio, Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast, Peter Pan, etc.

Swiss Family Robinson (1960)
I loved this movie as a kid and it holds up quite well, all things considered. Being stranded on a deserted island is of great interest to me because I am terrified of being involved in a shipwreck (honestly I’m terrified of basically anything that happens at sea or a lake or a river) but also I would make a very good hermit and thus, being stranded doesn’t sound all that bad. Add in some wild animals and a super dope tree house and I’m not sure what more you could want in a movie. But I like Swiss Family Robinson as a remake for two reasons: A.) It has virtually not current cultural relevance with younger generations and B.) There are a couple of different interpretations Disney could take with this just by choosing whether to set it in the early 1800’s, the modern day, or anywhere in between. SFR has been rumored for remake numerous times so it seems like a natural fit for this list.

The Black Cauldron (1985)
There have been a couple of dark periods for Disney animation and The Black Cauldron represents one of the darkest. A massive failure on virtually every level, Disney has spent most of the last 30 years pretending this movie never happened. I get it, I like to hide my failures, too (read “my music preferences from age 16 to 22”). But the thing about The Black Cauldron is it’s actually very good. Or, perhaps more accurately, it’s very interesting. It was ahead of its time before audiences were ready for something this dark in a cartoon. Truth be told, it’s still too dark as a cartoon as I wouldn’t let my kiddo watch it for fear of the nightmares he’d have afterward. But as a live-action feature in 2016, The Black Cauldron makes a lot of sense if Disney would show a willingness to revisit what has long been considered a dead asset.

Flight of the Navigator (1986)
Show me a human from my generation who didn’t love Flight of the Navigator as a child and I’ll show you a liar. Flight of the Navigator perfectly encapsulates the spirit of youth-oriented movies of the 80’s but it could also very easily translate to the current generation. An updated version integrating new technology and better special effects would, I think, find a strong audience while also sending a bit of cultural relevance to the original.

Bambi (1942)
I’m not actually advocating for this one so much as I am pointing out that it is ripe for the plucking. Bambi was never a particular favorite of mine, even as a kid; I found it boring while simultaneously horrifying given (SPOILER ALERT ON A 70 YEAR OLD MOVIE) the titular character’s mother dies on screen like three minutes into the movie. With that said, in light of the huge success of The Jungle Book and the assumed success of The Lion King in the near future, Bambi absolutely lends itself to the live-action treatment and, in fact, I’m a little surprised it hasn’t already been greenlit.

Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)
I saved the best option for last. Something Wicked This Way Comes is TERRIFYING. In case you’ve never seen it, the plot goes something like this: “A traveling circus run by an actual demon passes through a small town and it only gets worse from there.” AND THEY SHOWED THIS STUFF IN SCHOOLS!!! I watched this movie in the library of my elementary school and everyone thought that was fine! I’m still scarred by this experience. Even still, has anyone under the age of 25 seen this movie (in a school library or otherwise)? Not many, is my guess. Scary movies are certainly not my jam but I think an updated PG-13 version of Something Wicked plays like gangbusters to a new crowd and if nothing else, I’m always on board for the proliferation of Ray Bradbury adaptations. 

Ranking The Star Trek Films

This year, Star Trek celebrates 50 years in the culture zeitgeist with the release of its thirteenth film and the production of its sixth TV series. That’s quite an accomplishment for the small budgeted, relatively short-lived Wagon Train to the Stars Gene Roddenberry first developed in 1966. But beyond the movies and the TV shows, Star Trek has inspired a rabid fanbase unrivaled by any of its contemporaries, save for (perhaps) Star Wars. The books, the conventions, the fan films…Trekkies are crazy and crazy devoted to this universe.

I am not a Trekkie. Star Trek is one of the rare cultural entities that has not been taken over by my completeist mentality. I have seen all of the Star Trek movies many, many times and have partaken in perhaps half of the TV episodes over all (most of the original series, all of Next Generation, some of Deep Space Nine, very little of Voyager or Enterprise). But Star Trek has never spoken into my life the way Star Wars has. I do, however, have a great appreciation for the level of commitment Trekkies have for this property.

There are pros and cons to that dedication, however. On the one hand, it is that obsession that has kept Star Trek relevant for 50 years. On the other, Trekkies’ zeal for that which they love makes it incredibly difficult to gain access to their elite club of nerds (I use this term affectionately). Yes, within any fanbase, you’re bound to find a percentage of the membership that scoffs at the minimal knowledge of some of their counterparts. But whereas the average Star Wars nerd takes a “The More, The Merrier” stance on growing fandom, Trekkies seem to crave exclusivity. It’s as if, upon finishing your first Star Trek experience, you’re given a rigid set of rules by which you must live your life and if you’re not keen on learning the Klingon language or reading endless fan fiction or agreeing on the proper way to clean a mythical Transporter screen, then you’re out of the club. There is a line where a fanbase crosses over from “committed” to “obnoxious” and serious Trekkies run up against that line far too often.

This becomes abundantly clear when discussing the Star Trek films with a Trekkie. One of the things I noticed in “researching” this piece is how vastly different the average filmgoer and even the average film critic feel about these movies compared to the average Trekkie. For a Trekkie, Star Trek movies must align themselves perfectly with a pre-established canon and timeline and if they deviate even slightly, then it’s not enough to call out those deficiencies; instead, you must declare the movie worthless and shun its very existence. For the rest of us, these movies can just be entertaining regardless of how they line up with an obscure reference from Deep Space Nine. I’m not bashing this way of life; rather, I’m just pointing out these differences in approach so that we can acknowledge up front that my ranking of Star Trek movies is likely to be different (and perhaps vastly different) from that of a Trekkie and hopefully we can avoid an intergalactic fight. In the words of Spock, “May the Force be with you.” (Just kidding, that was mean.)

12. The Final Frontier (1989) – Original Cast
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 21%, Domestic Gross: $52M

As mentioned in the intro, there’s bound to be some disagreement here between myself and serious Trekkies. But I truly can’t imagine a list such as this that doesn’t begin (or end, if you’re going from first to worst which is, by the way, the wrong way to do this) with Final Frontier. There is not one minute of this movie that makes sense, let alone works in any sort of cinematic fashion. It is basically a 107 minute excuse for William Shatner (director) to explore his God complex. Most Star Trek movies are at least watchable, even if they’re not “good”; not so much with this one.

 11. The Motion Picture (1979) – Original Cast
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 47%, Domestic Gross: $82M

The best thing you can say about The Motion Picture is that it’s easily forgotten. If the Star Trek movies were first produced in, say, the late 90’s, Paramount would greenlight a reboot a few years later and title it Star Trek while pretending that the first movie never happened. It is boring, it is nonsensical, it is basically just an episode of the original show stretched out into movie format and, as the years go by, fewer and fewer people remember that it ever happened. (In hindsight it’s kind of amazing that SO MUCH Star Trek came down the chute after this thing flopped so miserably. Good job, Trekkies.)

 10. Insurrection (1998) – Next Generation Cast
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 55%, Domestic Gross: $70M

The “TV episode stretched into a full length movie” concept is a common complaint down in the bottom of the Star Trek movie rankings. As a random episode of Next Generation, Insurrection would be fine. But add an extra hour to the run time and suddenly you’re twiddling your thumbs, checking your watch, reaching for your smart phone that didn’t exist in 1998, etc. The first two times I attempted to watch Insurrection, I fell asleep. I have since made it through the movie, thankfully, but only thanks to sheer willpower and those little orange pills that Jesse Spano took in that very special episode of Saved By the Bell. It’s very boring, is what I’m saying. (As one Trekkie I consulted with pointed out, however: F. Murray Abraham is pretty dope no matter what.)

9. Nemesis (2002) – Next Generation Cast
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 37%, Domestic Gross: $43M

I don’t hate Nemesis like many people seem to, if for no other reason than it introduced us to Tom Hardy. But it is easily the laziest of the Star Trek movies. By this point, Next Generation had been off the air for eight years, the cast was ready to go on to…basically nothing, except for Patrick Stewart but still they were all pretty much done with this thing, and the story mostly feels like running out a ground ball. Moreover, there’s this big reveal of Tom Hardy and how he’s Picard’s clone and I was super confused because I didn’t think he looked anything like Patrick Stewart other than the fact that he was bald and most of the movie hinges on this point. So that’s not the best.

 8. The Voyage Home (1986) – Original Cast
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 85%, Domestic Gross: $109M

Okay, I know that the average Trekkie thinks of Voyage Home in much higher regard than I do, but hear me out. When I was a kid, I loved this movie. The whales were super dope and it was unquestionably the best of the Star Trek movies to me. And then I didn’t watch it for 20 years, during which time the movie aged HORRIBLY. It is the most 80’s movie of 1986 to the point that I would think adults who saw it in 1986 came out saying, “Man, that was pretty heavy on the references to 1986.” There’s not one thing that happens in Voyage Home that isn’t directly influenced by 1986 and to me, that makes it borderline painful to watch 30 years later. Initially, I actually had Voyage Home a couple spots lower but I didn’t want Trekkies to try to fight me (yet).

 7. The Search for Spock (1984) – Original Cast
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 78%, Domestic Gross: $76M

I think of Search for Spock as the median Star Trek movie. It’s fine, it’s watchable, the events actually matter to the canon, and we get some serious Klingons which is nice (and I could be wrong but I think this is the introduction to the new look Klingons, which actually look like terrifying space warriors instead of dudes with wrinkly noses). The stuff involving Kirk and his son has some value and, of course, the Genesis Project provides a convenient way in which to bring Spock back from the dead. But overall, it’s a fairly middling movie and Puberty Spock is EASILY the worst of the Spocks.

6. Generations (1994) – Next Generation Cast
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 48%, Domestic Gross: $75M

When you become a (semi) professional movie critic, one of the things you discover is that sometimes you really liked a movie that came out BEFORE you became a (semi) professional movie critic but other professional critics REALLY did not like that movie and it shocks you. Like, I get that adult movie critics didn’t care for Rookie of the Year the same way I did at 10 years old. But Star Trek Generations? What’s wrong with Star Trek Generations? I still don’t know. I watched it recently and, while it’s fairly messy from a narrative standpoint, I think it’s an enjoyable flick and feels very Star Trek-y to me. It works (mostly) as a hand-off from the original cast to the newbies and in doing so, makes it clear that the franchise is in good hands while giving Kirk a very Shatnerlike send off.

 5. Into Darkness (2013) – New Cast
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 86%, Domestic Gross: $228M

If we must fight, dear Trekkies, I am now ready for the battle. Choose your weapon. (You probably chose that super cool Klingon axe thing but, surprise, I picked a Romulan Warbird and blew you away with a photon torpedo, idiot.) I know that some Trekkies HATE this movie the way I hate Dwyane Wade. I’ve heard some respectable Trekkies refer to it as, “the worst Star Trek movie ever including the fan-made movies.” But, from my observations, this hate is derived almost exclusively from the handling of the Star Trek canon, the behaviors of the characters, and the (admittedly poor) introduction of Khan. That’s all well and good, you do your thing, Trekkies. As a non-Trekkie, however, I don’t care about that stuff and I find Into Darkness to be a fun, if flawed, action movie. I don’t think it will age as well as some other Star Trek movies have and if I make this list again in 20 years, there’s a decent chance it drops down a few pegs. But for now, my qualms with Into Darkness are minor and don’t keep me from enjoying it purely as an action movie.

 4. The Undiscovered Country (1991) – Original Cast
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 83%, Domestic Gross: $74M

I feel like Undiscovered Country is both the most forgotten and underrated of all the Star Trek movies. Rarely in a Star Trek conversation (of which I have been a part of more times than I care to admit) does someone mention this one, let alone praise its many virtues. For me, Undiscovered Country is a perfect close to the original cast chapter of the Star Trek universe. The crew comment on their respective aging, they’ve seen through their mission of unifying the Federation of Planets, and the plot hinges on the events of the preceding films in the series. Undiscovered Country is a tidy bow on the entire 25 year Star Trek run and it’s also a blast to watch, an underrated element of any Star Trek movie. Also, Christopher Plummer as a Shakespeare-quoting Klingon is kind of the best.

 3. Star Trek (2009) – New Cast
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%, Domestic Gross: $257M

I don’t think Star Trek is the best of the Star Trek movies (duh, since it sits at number three on this list) but it is probably my favorite and definitely the one I would take with me to a desert island if I was only allowed to bring one Star Trek movie (I’m assuming this is a very specific desert island). There are flaws within it (time travel is always a risky maneuver) but I love what JJ Abrams did with the cast, the characters, and the direction in which he pointed the…ship (*insert gif of David Caruso putting on sunglasses*). Hardcore Trekkies may quibble with the character elements most of all but to me, Abrams went out of his way to respect the original canon while simultaneously giving the new franchise permission, as it were, to boldly go into new territory. Star Trek is fun, it’s energetic, and it makes this universe so easy to embrace for a new generation of would-be Trekkies.

 2. First Contact (1996) – Next Generation Cast
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%, Domestic Gross: $92M

I know I’ve spent most of this list talking about how “fun” is an important part of the Star Trek universe that often gets overlooked but here’s where we have to take a slight turn: the top two Star Trek movies are the top two Star Trek movies because, for the most part, they set aside the fun and get super serious. First Contact is actually very dark. And that fits, because while Klingons and Romulans and Ferengi look cool and are, at times, menacing in their own right, The Borg are legitimately terrifying and moreover, they once enslaved Picard himself. First Contact has weight to it that most of the other Star Trek movies lack and it works so well for this particular story. In addition, the look of First Contact is on a whole other level from all the previous movies in the franchise. It is cleaner, sharper, and shot with more sophistication (of course advanced technologies help with this quite a bit) than any of non-Abrams movies. It’s sort of the manifestation of everything Next Generation built toward for seven seasons and I love it.

 1. The Wrath of Khan (1982) – Original Cast
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88%, Domestic Gross: $78M

There are very few franchises that have an indisputable champion. Star Wars? You can have a serious debate between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back. Bond? I personally think Skyfall takes the cake but ask five Bond fans and you’ll probably get five different answers. Avengers, X-Men, and on down the line, there will be very plausible disagreements between fans. But Star Trek? Star Trek has a clear-cut “best” and it’s Wrath of Khan. Khan is such a perfect embodiment of what the original series was all about but cranked up on steroids. The stakes are high, the battles are fierce, and Khan is such an incredible villain. Marvel would KILL to have a Khan in their universe and JJ was so obsessed with him that he almost (or perhaps did, depending on your position) scuttled his own movie trying so hard to make Khan awesome and menacing. It’s the perfect Star Trek movie but it’s also a fantastic piece of science fiction that, I think, holds up on its own better than any of its brothers. 

Movies That Feel Like Summer

It’s July 1st so obviously we’re mired in the most blockbuster-centric portion of the movie calendar. Now, listen, I don’t mind that. I love a good blockbuster. I like being reminded of why I fell in love with movies in the first place because, as much as I love a movie like Boyhood, I can guarantee you that 13 year old me would’ve rolled my eyes to death at the concept for Boyhood, let alone the actual movie. But there is a certain malaise that sets in every summer when we’ve been inundated with the big, dumb, and loud sequels that come at us in droves this time of year. They all start to blend together and if that particular summer’s offerings are subpar to begin with (I’m talking to you, 2016), then I start to feel all the more bombarded, like I’m experiencing the end of an Iron Man movie in real life.

So as we near the halfway point of the summer movie season, I thought I’d offer you a handful of films that shy away from the blockbuster fare you’re likely to get at the theater over the next two months but that still feel like summer. I may be tired of crazy explosions but I don’t really want to watch The Revenant when it’s 108 degrees outside, you know? (Okay, so I really don’t want to watch The Revenant ever but you get what I’m saying.) I have no real criteria for this list other than I tended to lean towards fun and light over dark and heavy, and I went in with the general idea that none of my choices could involve large doses of car chases, gun fights, or heavy special effects. Also, they are presented in no particular order. Enjoy and please tweet/email me some of your choices for this list.

Major League (1989) – Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger, Wesley Snipes
There’s nothing more summer-y than baseball. In the spirit of well-roundedness, I decided I’d only include one baseball movie on this list and wound up at Major League. It’s not my favorite baseball movie (61*) nor is it the best (Field of Dreams) but I think what Major League does best of all is give you a real sense of the marathon-like nature of baseball itself. It’s not just about winning the Pennant or reaching a milestone; it’s about the day to day life of a summer in a clubhouse and the slough that can be to get through. Also, if you were to put together a list of the “Top 10 Fictional Baseball Players From the Movies” (and I don’t know why you wouldn’t, honestly), Major League absolutely dominates that list and that seems important.

Chef (2014) – Jon Favreau, John Leguizamo, Sophia Vergara
One of my favorite movies of 2014, Chef exudes the essence of summer to me in a way I can’t quite put my finger on. I guess it’s the road tripping and the implied heat of the various settings and the overall feel of the excitement of summer. Regardless, Chef is a fantastic little movie (we did an episode on it back in 2014) that deals heavily in charm and mouth-watering kitchen scenes (there’s a sentence I never thought I’d say).

Almost Famous (2000) – Billy Crudup, Kate Hudson, Patrick Fugit
I almost cut Almost Famous from the list because, as long time listeners of the show know, I love this movie so much that I can find a way to include it on just about any list. My “Top 10 Action Movies of the 70’s” would somehow involve Almost Famous. But at the end of the day, the central premise of the movie involves a teenager spending the summer (and the end of his senior year in high school) road tripping across America with a rock band. There’s nothing more summer-y than that.

The Way Way Back (2013) – Liam James, Sam Rockwell, Toni Collette
Again, longtime listeners will know of my affection for this movie. We did an episode on it near its original release date and I continued to gush over it for the rest of the year. My feelings have not changed. The Way Way Back should be the summer movie coming-of-age tale for its generation but unfortunately it hasn’t gained much traction with the younger crowd. Undaunted, I will continue to scream of its many virtues from every roof top to which I have access. It is one of my very favorite movies and it features a number of outstanding performances, especially that of Rockwell who will never not be great in pretty much anything he ever does, ever.

The Goonies (1985) – Sean Astin, Josh Brolin, Corey Feldman
HEYYYYY YOOOOOUUU GUUUYYYYYSSSS!!! Okay so I cheated a bit here since there is, in fact, a car chase at the outset of The Goonies. But the point of The Goonies is not the car chase or the special effects or the pulse-pounding action. It’s just a bunch of weirdos pooling their strange talents (street smarts, mouthiness, booby traps, cheerleading skirts, and the Truffle Shuffle) in order to save their homes from destruction and thereby preserve their respective childhoods. As a youth, I wanted nothing more than to be a Goonie and you’re darn right I’ve made the pilgrimage to Astoria to visit the Goondocks. Summer adventure at its finest.

Disturbia (2007) – Shia LaBeouf, David Morse, Carrie-Ann Moss
Be honest, this one caught you off guard didn’t it? A relatively forgotten Hitchcock remake/knock off from the few weeks between Shia’s Even Stevens days and his total meltdown, Disturbia is a fabulous piece of suspense with a fun conceit that indirectly plays on the “boredom” of summer. There’s really nothing ground breaking about this movie and yet it works because it is less concerned with the mystery element and more concerned with what happens when the mystery gets solved.

Moonrise Kingdom (2012) – Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Bruce Willis
Imagine what it must be like to go to Wes Anderson’s summer camp. With his absurd attention to detail, I would have to believe that would be the most summer-y summer camp of all time. Moonrise Kingdom is a gorgeous little taste of that. I think it is oddly Anderson’s most accessible film and probably my favorite overall. The setting, of course, reeks of summer but so do the themes (adventure, exploration, the vulnerability of childhood, drunken Scout leaders, etc.) and Anderson meshes them all together so incredibly well.

Love & Mercy (2015) – Paul Dano, John Cusack, Elizabeth Banks
If an alien landed on your property anywhere between 1960 and 1990 and asked you to explain the concept of summer in America, I’m pretty sure you’d just hand him a Beach Boys album. And he’d be like, “Oh wow, I totally get it now. I’m no longer going to destroy your planet.” Love & Mercy goes to some pretty dark places (usually a big no-no for summer-y movies) but in its flashback segments, the music of the Beach Boys and the creative genius of Brian Wilson washes over you and you forget you’re watching a movie about how a famous rock star went crazy for a couple decades.

Orange County (2002) – Colin Hanks, Jack Black, Schuyler Fisk
Someday (with all my spare time and even more spare money I have just laying around) I will start a Criterion Collection for regular movies focusing on the mainstream movies I love that have somehow been lost to the winds of time. Orange County will feature prominently in this hypothetical series. Pretty much no one remembers/cares about Orange County and that’s a crying shame because it is hilarious and also sometimes I reference it in conversation and people just stare back, blankly. (Side note: My wife got my Orange County reference the first time I threw it out in our early dating days and it is unquestionably a top five reason why we are still together.) It lands here ostensibly because it’s all about a young man’s quest to find himself as he embarks upon his last summer before college but really because I just want people to go rent Orange County so we can all talk about it.

Stand By Me (1986) – Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman
This is probably the quintessential coming-of-age summer movie, of course, but I’m not one to avoid clichés if they are apt so…here we are. Stand By Me is so committed to its coming-of-age-ness and so locked into its role in the lives of every child of the 80’s that I actually refused to watch it for a very long time. It felt like by my watching the film and seeing the end of these kids childhoods, I would in some way be forfeiting my own childhood and would be forced to head off into adulthood. Wow, that got way heavier than any of us were expecting, huh? But anyway, Stand By Me is great and everyone should be forced to watch it (and then immediately head off into the workforce, I guess).

Top 10 Most Anticipated Movies of 2016 - Part II

Here’s the thing. Believe it or not, this is a very difficult piece to write each year. I started breaking it down into two parts several years ago so I could highlight more movies and hopefully have a chance to get a real look at some of the later release movies before endorsing them. But inevitably, the first half of the year leaves me searching for random movies to fill the final few spots on the list while the second half of the year always leaves me feeling like I’ve excluded too many deserving movies. Such is the life of the movie blogger.

A couple of notes/disclaimers before we move on. The back half of the year is typically full of awards-y films and festival darlings that haven’t received confirmed release dates yet and will pop up to surprise us as the year winds to a close. I tend to shy away from those movies because they tend to come and go without any fanfare and I try to deal in movies that most (or at least some) of you will actually have a chance to see. Also, I won’t list anything that doesn’t have a trailer yet. A good trailer doesn’t always result in a good movie, obviously, but you can gain an understanding of tone, look, and feel from those brief glimpses and that’s important for a list such as this. (As such, films like La La Land, Loving, Patriot’s Day and more were excluded.) Finally, it should go without saying and yet I have to say it every year: this is MY list and therefore, it’s MY opinion that matters. You may be very excited about Suicide Squad. That’s great! I’m cautiously optimistic about that one and hope it works out. But it didn’t find a spot here because, personally, I may never trust another DC movie again for the rest of my life. So while I’m hopeful it turns out well, I’ll have to see it to believe it. Now on with the show.

HONORABLE MENTION: Moana (November 23) – Auli’I Cravalho, The Rock, Alan Tudyk
Since Jon Lasseter took over Disney Animation, there’s been a dramatic shift in the Pixar-Disney relationship. Nothing again Finding Dory but creatively, Moana looks like a strong bet to outclass its fishy predecessor. If the promise of the teaser trailer holds true, I can’t imagine Moana won’t be a triumph. Also: The Rock.

 10. Star Trek Beyond (June 22) – Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Jon Cho
Consider this the beginning of the, “I like the property but if we’re being honest, I’m sorta nervous” section of the list. I very much enjoy this universe and will happily return to it whenever Paramount gives me the opportunity. But the first trailer was horrible. In fairness, it looked like it was all pulled from one early scene and the second trailer is a vast improvement but that first look, combined with rumblings of a choppy production, leaves me uneasy. Again, though, the property is viable and Justin Lin knows how to direct an action movie so I’m holding out hope.

 9. Doctor Strange (November 4) – Benedict Cumberbatch, Rachel McAdams, Mads Mikkelsen
I think Doctor Strange constitutes an actual risk for the Marvel conglomerate and that excites me even if the property itself doesn’t, truthfully. The casting is a bit of a departure from the norm for the MCU, the property calls for a heavy emphasis on magic which Kevin Fiege has doggedly avoided to this point, and there isn’t much name recognition to draw on for general audiences. (Most of that also applies to Ant-Man, of course.) I don’t love the trailer but I do love the assemblage of talent and I think it’s fair to expect some chances to be taken that typically aren’t in an Avengers movie.

 8. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (November 11) – Joe Alwyn, Garrett Hedlund, Steve Martin
I don’t want to be excited for this movie, if I’m being candid. I do not like being pandered to and if Billy Lynn goes a’ panderin’, it will play out like a bro country anthem. Thus, it’s a dangerous selection for a list such as this. But Ang Lee is a fabulous filmmaker, of course, and maybe more to the point, he knows how to make heady event films that feel (especially in the moment) bigger than they actually are. Life of Pi isn’t a film I personally think about very often but in the moment, it felt HUGE. I’m hoping Billy Lynn finds that mark.

 7. The Magnificent Seven (September 23) – Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke
My first viewing of this trailer caught me completely off guard. Probably because of Training Day, I didn’t expect The Magnificent Seven to be fun. I admit I was a little turned off by that presentation. But after a second (and third) viewing, I’ve got a better sense of what Antoine Fuqua’s vision for the movie is and I rather dig it. It’s always risky taking on the remake of a classic (and that term should not be taken lightly in this case) but with this cast and an outstanding source material to draw upon, The Magnificent Seven has a real shot at being something special.

 6. The Founder (August 5) – Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, Linda Cardellini
Consider this the end of the “sorta nervous” section of the list. I’m not the biggest fan of biopics in general but I am a big fan of American Treasure Michael Keaton LOCKED AND LOADED in the midst of an absolute renaissance. The only iffy thing about The Founder is its release date. In what looks like a weak awards year, dropping this in August seems short sighted or indicates that it isn’t the Oscar contender the studio expected. But worst case scenario, this is a good movie, right? Not great but good. I’ll take it if it means getting to watch Keaton do his thing again.

 5. The Birth of a Nation (October 7) – Nate Parker, Armie Hammer, Mark Boone Junior
You can pretty much mark this down right now for a Best Picture nominee and it’s likely the heavy favorite at this point. Birth CRUSHED at Sundance and has a tremendous surge of momentum propelling it forward. The trailer feels like a less pandering Free State of Jones mixed with 12 Years a Slave with a little gospel thrown in for good measure. Count me in.

 4. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (November 16) – Eddie Redmayne, Colin Farrell, Ezra Miller
When the original Harry Potter series (collectively a set-in-stone top 10 favorite movie of all-time for me) ended in 2011, I was thoroughly satisfied with the conclusion but bummed that I wouldn’t get to spend more time in its world. Like Star Wars, there’s such a vast universe to play with here and I wanted more. Wish granted. I’m not sure Beasts can live up to its predecessor but it doesn’t have to; it just has to have the same charm and sense of wonder that made the Potter movies so endearing. Moreover, I’m excited that we’re going to finally force Kent to watch these movies. High five.

 3. Jason Bourne (July 29) – Matt Damon, Alicia Vikander, Tommy Lee Jones
(Note: I am currently watching a Bourne movie while I write and I’m having a hard time figuring out why I only have this movie listed at number three.) I didn’t know I needed another Bourne movie. I mean, I really dig the Damon trilogy and really pretend hard that the Renner one isn’t a thing. But I didn’t know I needed another Bourne movie until that trailer dropped around the Super Bowl. OH MY. Suddenly my life seemed somewhat incomplete having not yet seen this new cinematic masterpiece. We’re so close to this one I’m starting to actually foam at the mouth a bit, that’s how much I can’t wait for Jason Bourne. Or I might have rabies. We’ll see.

 2. Passengers (December 21) – Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence, Martin Sheen
So I’m breaking my no trailer rule here because, gosh darn it, I just can’t keep Passengers off the list. I wrote around it a couple of times but I’m just so psyched for this one, I’m willing to endorse it sight unseen. Chris Pratt plus Jennifer Lawrence in a high concept sci-fi piece IN SPACE? Is this real life? That sounds like a fake movie someone would make to lure me into trap.

 1. Rogue One (December 16) – Felicity Jones, Ben Mendelsohn, Forest Whitaker
Too much was made about the re-writes and re-shoots taking place on Rogue One. These things happen on a big budget movie. Call me when we get confirmation that Jar Jar is involved; then I’ll get worried. I think this is the perfect story to kick off the Star Wars anthology spin-off movies. It’s not an origin story (there’s time for those later) but rather an exploration into the wide world of the Star Wars universe that happens to tie into the known story quite closely. I’m obviously an easy mark for pretty much any Star Wars property but if this works with mass audiences (it won’t be Force Awakens big but it should top $800 million) it opens up a thousand possibilities for upcoming movies.

Ranking The DC Comic Book Movies

Listeners of the show and people who know me in real life know about my Completionism, a life altering condition that forces me to be all in or all out on pretty much everything in my life. I like lists, I like rankings, but in order for my brain to work properly (or very NOT properly as the case may be), I feel like I have to have as much knowledge as I can possibly have about said subjects. As such, when I set out to put together a ranking, I feel like I HAVE to do a deep dive into the particular franchise or universe I’m writing about in the interest of fairness. Sometimes, that’s no problem. I love the Marvel movies and have no problem watching any or all of them any time. The DC movies are, ahem, a different animal.

I want to put this out there right up front: I love Batman. He’s my favorite superhero, hands down. Moreover, growing up, outside of Spider-Man, all of the comic book characters I cared about were DC, not Marvel. I desperately WANT the DC universe of films to be as good if not better than the Marvel universe just because of my longtime interest in the characters. I would be lying, however, if I said that was anywhere close to the truth. The DC brand has been dragged through the movie mud repeatedly and drudging through this collection of films was a chore at times, a punishment at others. This is an incredibly top heavy list, followed by a host of films that, in my book, range from “not good” to “very bad” to “oh sweet Death, please come and take me quickly.” I tried to stay positive but, dear readers, this was a difficult task. Here now, I present to you my official ranking of all the DC comic and graphic novel film adaptations from worst to first.

(NOTE: I didn’t have time/interest/brain power to see Steel, Supergirl, or the Swamp Thing movies. I am okay with these exclusions.)

21. Batman & Robin (1997) Rotten Tomatoes: 11%, Worldwide Gross: $238M
After having watched all of these illustrious movies over the last couple weeks, I think it would be more than fair to put Catwoman or even Green Lantern at the bottom of this list. They’re probably actually worse movies. But Batman & Robin physically hurts me. There’s not one frame, one line of dialogue, one subplot that works for even 30 seconds and that just should not be possible in a Batman movie. From the Bat Nipples on the Bat Suit on down, this movie is a travesty. I think watching it again actually took years off my life.

20. Catwoman (2004) Rotten Tomatoes: 9%, Worldwide Gross: $82M
True story: I had never had the pleasure of seeing Catwoman until I started this project. Lucky me. Who would’ve guessed that a movie directed by someone who goes by simply Pitof would be bad. This is a special kind of bad, though. Catwoman has an atrocious script and features probably the worst performance that an Oscar winner has ever given. Seriously, it’s a wonder that Halle Berry’s golden statue wasn’t reposed after this mess. My favorite scene was when Catwoman, imbued with special powers from some cat she saved, uses her abilities to play a game of sexualized one-on-one basketball with Benjamin Bratt while a host of elementary school kids look on in awe.

19. Green Lantern (2011) Rotten Tomatoes: 26%, Worldwide Gross: $219M
I hadn’t seen Green Lantern since I attended a midnight premiere in 2011. (Side note: I’d like to punch 2011 me in the face.) What an absolute trainwreck. To be fair, Reynolds himself isn’t TERRIBLE as Green Lantern but he’s also not good and he certainly doesn’t do anything to bring up the material. Also, Green Lantern gets special credit for attacking my eyes with some of the worst special effects I have ever seen in my entire life. This is an aggressive assault on the eyes.

18. Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1984) Rotten Tomatoes: 12%, Worldwide Gross: $36.7M
Wooo boy, this one is a peach. Preachy and outdated even when it premiered, The Quest for Peace basically finished the job that Superman III started and killed off the character for 20+ years. Made on a shoe string budget and featuring a clearly uninterested cast, the highlight of this movie is when Superman uses a net to ferry all of the world’s nuclear weapons into the sun. Seems logical.

17. Jonah Hex (2010) Rotten Tomatoes: 12%, Worldwide Gross: $10.9M
With a cast that includes Josh Brolin, John Malkovich, and Michael Fassbender based off of a fairly beloved graphic novel, you would think that Jonah Hex would be at least passable. And you would be wrong. Even the studio knew they had a dud in their hands, opening it against Toy Story 3 and essentially pulled it from theaters after two weeks. In truth, I don’t think Jonah Hex is QUITE as legendarily bad as the buzz surrounding it would have me believe but that certainly doesn’t mean it’s anything less than “very, very bad.”

16. Superman III (1983) Rotten Tomatoes: 26%, Worldwide Gross: $59M
I have a (VERY) small soft spot for Superman III because at least it attempted to do something a little different by bringing in Richard Pryor. But oh sweet goodness, what a TERRIBLE plot! I know it was 1983 and our understanding of computers and satellites was minimal but sheesh, the stuff that Pryor’s character is able to do with access to one satellite is so absurd that it becomes unwatchable. And while Superman splitting into two separate beings is a fun twist, the battle before and after said split is awful.

15. The Losers (2010) Rotten Tomatoes: 49%, Worldwide Gross: $29M
The Losers so badly wants to be fun and yet it fails to come through on that effort time and time again. A decent cast (including Idris Elba and Chris Evans just before his break out as Captain America) is overshadowed by a cumbersome, uninteresting plot and a painfully bad performance by Jason Patric as the lead villain. The bad taste Patric leaves behind is really the only thing I remembered from The Losers before my rewatch and I thought he couldn’t possibly be as bad as my memory would have me believe. But no, he’s incredibly bad and he takes what could be a B- sort of movie and plunges it downward.

14. Batman Forever (1995) Rotten Tomatoes: 41%, Worldwide Gross: $336M
There are parts of Batman Forever that work in some capacity or another. Kilmer isn’t a bad Batman, really, and some of the action set pieces hold up fairly well. But it is just so far over the top in almost every scene that after 20 minutes or so you start to feel like Jim Carrey is in your house and he’s just SCREAMING in your ear. To me, the whole thing boils down to horrendous direction, which makes the decision to give Joel Schumacher a shot at Batman & Robin even more frustrating.

13. Man of Steel (2013) Rotten Tomatoes: 56%, Worldwide Gross: $688M
This is undoubtedly the most frustrating film on this list. I didn’t care for Man of Steel upon first viewing and had soured on it even further over the last three years. When I sat down to rewatch it, I was struck by how good the stronger moments (the father-son element, some of the early action sequences, a slightly different take on the Superman origin story, etc.) really are…and how those moments are completely swallowed up by bad camera work, stilted dialogue, and a vision of Superman (and the universe he exists in) that thoroughly flies in the face of what Superman is all about. In the hands of a better director, I think Man of Steel could be a very fine film; instead, it’s mostly a mess.

12. Batman Returns (1992) Rotten Tomatoes: 80%, Worldwide Gross: $266M
Batman Returns gets worse with every viewing. Ten years ago I would’ve probably had this one somewhere around the top five. Five years ago, it would drop a bit but would still find a place in the top ten. Now, I think it only sits this high because of how much I dislike the films beneath it. On the plus side, Keaton is fine and DeVito is creepily great. On the downside, Pfeiffer’s Catwoman is excruciating from beginning to end and Burton lets almost every scene drag on and on, like he forgot the camera was rolling. In hindsight, we were probably past the Burton experience in 1992, it just took 15 years to realize it. Regardless, time has not been kind to Batman Returns.

11. Constantine (2005) Rotten Tomatoes: 46%, Worldwide Gross: $230M
Okay, I like Constantine. It’s a bit of a guilty pleasure for me. Back off, we all have our weak spots! I would never say this is a “good” movie but I kind of dig Keanu’s zoned out take on the character and I’ve always found the concept interesting. Moreover, Peter Stromare’s portrayal of the devil in the final act is, I think, fantastic and bumps the movie as a whole up a grade or two for me.

10. Watchmen (2009) Rotten Tomatoes: 65%, Worldwide Gross: $185M
I will say this for Zack Snyder’s epic adaptation: it tries hard. I think as a whole, Watchmen rides the “is it good or bad?” fence in nearly every scene but there are moments of greatness (mostly involving Rorschach) and moreover, the graphic novel it’s based on is probably unfilmable if we’re being honest. I mostly despise Snyder’s sensibilities but it is ironic that it is Watchmen, on the surface his least accessible film, that brings out his best work (minus the music cues, most of which are awful). It’s a VERY flawed film but at least it’s one that received an honest effort.

9. Batman The Movie (1965) Rotten Tomatoes: 80%, Worldwide Gross: $3M
Campy, cheeky, and somewhat stupid, the original Batman movie is still a whirlwind of fun. Most people of my generation grew up with the Batman TV series playing some role in our lives and I probably watched the movie a hundred times in my younger years. I can’t say that the movie has held up over the last 50 years save for one element: It’s still extremely fun to watch. Adam West for president.

8. Superman II (1981) Rotten Tomatoes: 89%, Worldwide Gross: $108M
I’m not entirely sure which versions of Superman II I’ve seen and which I haven’t. Production issues resulted in Richard Donner being replaced at the helm and a final cut that was different from the original concept. Regardless, Reeve’s Superman saves this movie for me. Lois Lane, somewhat annoying in Superman, becomes INCREDIBLY annoying in Superman II and the fight between Superman and Zod looks pretty terrible 30+ years later. But Reeve really hits his peak here and carries the film to greater heights than maybe it deserves.

7. Superman Returns (2006) Rotten Tomatoes: 76%, Worldwide Gross: $391M
I will stand by Superman Returns as a quality comic book movie and I think it is the Superman movie that comes the closest to capturing the spirit of its hero while also delivering a somewhat interesting plot. I think it’s much more rewatchable than any of the other Superman films. It has two big problems, however. For one, at times it falls into a pattern of over-romanticizing the hero and his values to the point of become hokey. But more important, Bryan Singer and company missed on casting almost entirely. Brandon Routh isn’t a bad actor by any means but he doesn’t jump out at you as Superman. Kate Bosworth is overmatched by her role and seems out of place. And Kevin Spacey is just plain bad as Lex Luthor, which is weird because it seems like he’d pull this off quite well. I think if you made this movie with different actors but kept everything else the same, it’s a better product overall.

6. Superman (1978) Rotten Tomatoes: 93%, Worldwide Gross: $300M
This is one of those times when I’m forced to weigh the difference in personal opinion and objective criticism. I actually don’t care for this movie much. I think it’s boring and for the most part, it just doesn’t speak to me in tone or content. But, I can recognize that it’s a well-made movie featuring a quality actor in a prestige role and accept that while it’s not my cup of tea, it deserves a prominent place on this list.

5. V for Vendetta (2005) Rotten Tomatoes: 73%, Worldwide Gross: $132M
I had V quite a bit lower on my list when I first sat down to put this thing together. But after my rewatch, I came away much more impressed with the movie than I’d ever been before. It’s actually better in 2016, I think, than it was in 2005 and that’s quite an achievement. I’m a sucker for dystopian glimpses into the future but I gotta be honest, this one doesn’t seem too farfetched given the insanity of the Donald Trump phenomenon. V is well acted (the last truly good Portman performance?) and the writing mixes “playful” and “deathly serious” in an interesting way that keeps the plot moving at a solid pace.

4. The Dark Knight Rises (2012) Rotten Tomatoes: 87%, Worldwide Gross: $1.08B
I love The Dark Knight Rises. That’s not an extremely popular opinion but I’ll defend it to my dying day. To me, the big issues with the film are Bane’s mask (fixed on the blu-ray) and the over-packed plot. That could’ve been fixed by splitting the movie into two parts but then people would’ve accused Nolan and WB of money grubbing so it’s kind of a lose-lose. Obviously I think it’s the weakest of the Nolan Batman films but it’s still a darn good movie and one that wraps up a tremendous trilogy quite well, I think.

3. Batman (1989) Rotten Tomatoes: 72%, Worldwide Gross: $411M
I debated moving this one up a slot based on my personal attachment to it. Seeing Batman in the theater at age six was a formative experience for me. I love Keaton’s Batman, I love Nicholson’s Joker, and I think it’s an example of what Burton is capable of when his crazy creativity is harnessed appropriately. You could release Batman tomorrow and it would look almost just as good now as it did in 1989. It holds up extremely well in my book (minus the weird musical cues; late 80’s pop/hip-hop should be eradicated from our society).  “Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?” is an AWESOME quote. Plus, Batman gets extra credit for being THE standard of what a superhero movie should look like for a solid 15 years.

2. Batman Begins (2005) Rotten Tomatoes: 85%, Worldwide Gross: $374M
I remember only being vaguely interested in Batman Begins back in 2005 and now that seems ridiculously foolish. Nolan’s vision for the Batman reboot is so fantastic and his choice for the Caped Crusader was superb. Mock the voice all you like, but Christian Bale played both sides of the Batman-Wayne coin tremendously well. I’m not sure there’s ever been a better origin story in the comic book movie universe and Batman Begins sets the table brilliantly for what was to come.

1. The Dark Knight (2008) Rotten Tomatoes: 94%, Worldwide Gross: $1.04B
This should come as no surprise as there’s no other sensible option to sit at the top of this list. The Dark Knight is the greatest superhero movie of all-time and in my book, it’s not particularly close. From a technical standpoint, it is a master class in filmmaking: shot selection, sound editing, production design…they’re all perfect. PERFECT. Add in a very strong narrative, an outstanding cast, and an iconic, untouchable performance and you’ve got an incredible film, regardless of comic book affiliation. I don’t think there will be a better superhero movie in my lifetime and I’m completely okay with that.

Movie Rankings 2015

A+
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Creed
Inside Out
Spotlight
The Martian
Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck
Going Clear

A
Steve Jobs
The Big Short
Sicario
Love & Mercy
The End of the Tour
What We Do in Shadows
Black Mass
Room
Trainwreck
Dope

A-
Straight Outta Compton
Ant-Man
Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
I Am Chris Farley
The Hateful 8
Amy
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Ex-Machina
Brooklyn
Best of Enemies
Paddington
The Good Dinosaur
Call Me Lucky
Furious 7
Bridge of Spies
Slow West
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Nowitzki: The Perfect Shot

B+
The Revenant
Mad Max Fury Road
Sisters
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2
Cinderella
Back in Time
Concussion
Monkey Kingdom
Peanuts
Everest
Pitch Perfect 2

B
Mr. Holmes
Southpaw
Jurassic World
Crimson Peak
Tomorrowland
McFarland USA

B-
Spy
Joy
Spectre
The Maze Runner: Scorch Trials
Minions
San Andreas
Man From UNCLE
Focus

C+
The Gunman
Kingsman
The Gift
Hotel Transylvania 2
Black Sea
Terminator Gynesis

C
Ted 2
Trumbo
Run All Night
The Visit
Vacation
Z for Zachariah

C-
Taken 3
Home
Insurgent
Get Hard

D
Hot Tub Time Machine 2
Pan
Aloha
Chappie
Entourage

F
Blackhat
Pixels
Fantastic Four
Ridiculous 6
Jupiter Ascending

Top 10 Movies of 2015

10. The End of the Tour - Jason Segel, Jesse Eisenberg

9. Love & Mercy - Paul Dano, John Cusack, Elizabeth Banks

8. Sicario - Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin

7. The Big Short - Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale

6. Steve Jobs - Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen

5. The Martian  - Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels

4. Spotlight - Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo

3. Inside Out - Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader

2. Creed - Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson

1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens - Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver

Top 10 Performances of 2015

When I make this list each year, I write out (with a pen and paper because I am old and I like the things of my ancient youth) just about any performance that I enjoyed in a good movie and then try to pare it down. Some years I wind up with 12 or 14 names that vie for these top 10 spots; some years it’s closer to 20. This year, my informal “finalists” list included 27 names. That’s how awesome 2015 was at the box office. I legitimately agonized not just over who to cut from the list but in which order to slate the lucky 10. It’s a tough fake job but I guess someone has to do it.

I’d like to note (as always) that this is a list of favorites, not necessarily “best.” There are plenty of crossovers between this list and my hypothetical Oscar ballot but I’m not here to argue that Emily Blunt’s turn in Sicario was somehow better than Brie Larson’s in Room, only that I enjoyed Blunt’s more. So keep that in mind as you browse through and look for reasons to yell at me.

HONORABLE MENTION – Mark Rylance – Rudolf Abel, Bridge of Spies
On the whole, Bridge of Spies was slightly underwhelming given its pedigree. Rylance, however, was anything but underwhelming. A great stage actor whose turn in the movie spotlight has been limited, Rylance turned in one of the quietest, least showy performances of the year and yet he constantly compelled the audience’s attention. It’s rare to go into a Tom Hanks movie and come out talking about another actor.

 10. Emily Blunt – Kate Macer, Sicario
Blunt gets a spot on my list for the second year in a row and I’ll probably just save her a spot every year from here on out. A brilliant actress who takes challenging roles and always impresses, she’s also turning into a full on action star but in far headier action movies than we might typically expect. Sicario is one of my favorite films of the year and as the only woman in the cast, she more than holds her own in the midst of a dark, gritty story that would swallow up a lesser actress. Once again, I say to you, Disney: This is your Captain Marvel. Look no further.

 9. Walton Goggins – Sheriff Chris Mannix, The Hateful Eight
Since his early days on The Shield on through his delightful run on Justified, few actors have grabbed my attention the way Goggins does. His drawl, his snake-y charisma, his Southern Shakespearean manner of speech is unlike any other guy in the industry. As such, Goggins is PERFECT in the Tarantino universe and in a vast sea of outstanding actors, it is he who stands out the most for me. He delivers Tarantino’s lines better than perhaps any actor ever has. And that is saying something, of course.

 8. Johnny Depp – Whitey Bulger, Black Mass
My frustration with (bordering on disdain for) Depp over the last decade plus has been well noted. At one point, Depp was both the biggest star and the most sought after actor (and make no mistake, those are two remarkably different things) in Hollywood. Then his next 20 movies or so were a mish mosh of mediocrity, laziness, and white face paint, to the point that I hoped he would just stop acting altogether. Black Mass (for all its flaws) proved, however, that when Depp is motivated, he can still deliver a mesmerizing performance. I loovvvveee his take on Whitey Bulger. He finds the right mix of menacing charisma that you need to portray an outlaw like Bulger, the complete 180 from his lackluster turn as John Dillinger in Public Enemies. It’s an Oscar-worthy performance and I hope it gives him the jolt he needs to stop doing Alice in Wonderland sequels and get back to real acting.

 7. Harrison Ford – Han Solo, Star Wars: The Force Awakens
I’m not sure what kind of list this would be if I left out Han Solo, the greatest American franchise character ever, in his triumphant return to the big screen. To be fair, there’s a little too much “Old Han Solo Being Cheeky Old Han Solo” in The Force Awakens. Just a little. But for me, that did nothing to diminish the unbridled joy I experienced when Harrison Ford was on my screen (all four times I saw the movie) nor the fun that Ford seemed to have playing his most famous character once again. These movies are in great hands moving forward (see below) but this one needed a guiding hand and Ford/Solo did that so brilliantly.

 6. Jason Segel – David Foster Wallace, The End of the Tour
I had very little familiarity with David Foster Wallace heading into The End of the Tour and really only watched it because one of my cohorts on the podcast talked it up. Wow, am I glad I did. The vast majority of the film is just a series of conversations between Segel and Jesse Eisenberg and in its simplicity resides its depth. Segel is better known for comedy but he has some serious range as an actor and that’s on full display in Tour. He’s vulnerable and fragile yet brilliant and likeable, which is by all accounts who DFW truly was. In a lesser year, Segel probably garners some real award attention.

 5. Michael B. Jordan – Adonis Johnson, Creed
I’ve been a fan of Jordan since his days on Friday Night Lights and I cannot begin to tell you how happy I am that Creed will be the film that defines his year, not The Fantastic Four. It would’ve been so easy to let Creed become Rocky Balboa’s film but Jordan refuses to let that happen. He’s just so stinking good and he will not be ignored for even one moment on screen. His portrayal is fierce and genuine and earnest and his approach to the character is near flawless.

 4. Matt Damon – Mark Whatney, The Martian
Before The Martian debuted, there were those that said Damon “needed” a hit. I didn’t subscribe to that theory but he sure got one nonetheless. When I read this book, I thought Damon would be great as Whatney and he more than exceeded my expectations. What separates The Martian from other survivalist stories like Castaway is the sarcastic, downright fun nature of its protagonist and Damon nails that to a T. You also need Whatney to be extremely likeable in order to justify the expense of trying to bring him home and few actors embody “likeable” the way Damon does. He’s the perfect fit for this role and he plays it beautifully.

 3. The Cast of Spotlight (Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Brian d’Arcy James, Stanley Tucci)
I’m cheating here because I couldn’t begin to pick out one member from this extraordinary cast and exclude the rest. Rarely have I seen a drama ensemble work so effectively. Spotlight has almost zero flash or showiness to it and while that may be a detriment to the cast’s Oscar chances, it’s also what makes the film so good. Each of these actors serves as a vital cog in the Spotlight machine and the combined weight of their performances is staggering. Each gets a moment or two to shine but it’s really all about the collaborative effort that takes Spotlight to great heights.

 2. Sylvester Stallone – Rocky Balboa, Creed
Despite a long and at times illustrious career, Stallone never seems to get the credit he deserves. I get it, he sounds dumb and looks like a meathead. But he’s an INCREDIBLY smart guy who “gets it” better than almost anyone. I don’t think anyone on the outside expected Creed to be the triumph that it is but you know who did expect it? Stallone. He knew exactly what he was getting himself into here and how it would be received. Always his best character, returning to his Balboa roots the way he did here was a stroke of genius, allowing him to stay in his range (admittedly small) while transitioning the character into a role that suits his age and experience. He’s funny and jovial for the most part but when he’s called upon to deliver genuine emotion, he gives us that in spades. I’m getting a little choked up just thinking about it.

 1. Daisy Ridley – Rey, Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Of all the performances on this list, Ridley’s is the one that surprised me the most. I’d been looking forward to The Force Awakens for three years before December 17th and had run through the gamut of emotions and expectations of what was to come before stepping into the theater. At no point did it even cross my mind that of all the actors and characters involved in this story, the one I’d be the most intrigued by, interested in, and genuinely fond of would be the one played by a young girl I’d never heard of. And yet here we are. To be fair, Rey is a fantastically written character and Ridley had a lot to work with. But oh, how she NAILS every note perfectly! This is the “strong female character” we hear referenced so frequently, the soon-to-be iconic action character we want our children to look up to. I’m still blown away by how this fresh face was able to handle a daunting task like sharing scenes with Harrison Ford and coming out on top. She stole scenes from Han Solo, for goodness sake! It’s a fantastic character, Ridley was the perfect choice to play her, and when it all came down, I don’t think she or anyone else could’ve done a better job.

Top 10 Worst Movies of 2015

There’s a dark side to movie blogging/podcasting that they don’t tell you about in Fake Movie Podcasting School: even in great movie years like 2015, there are still a lot of bad movies and you have to see some of them. Now, let’s start off by saying that I’m pretty good at avoiding really bad movies. We’re in an era of media saturation where it is very difficult to not know anything about a movie that opens in wide release. So I’m rarely caught off guard by a movie that just comes out of nowhere to completely suck the life out of me. As such, I mercifully avoided cinematic classics such as Mortdecai, The Cobbler, Victor Frankenstein, Jem and the Holograms, The Boy Next Door, Hot Pursuit, Rock the Kasbah, 50 Shades of Grey, and most importantly, Paul Blart 2 this year and thank the Lord, because that right there would be a who’s who of indescribably bad films from 2015. Nevertheless, if you see 100 films in a given year, you’re going to get involved with some stinkers and for all of its many merits, boy did 2015 have some stinkers. Here are the ten that stuck out the most for me.

 DISHONORABLE MENTION: Trumbo (Box Office Total: $7.3M, 70%)
To be fair, Trumbo is not nearly as bad as nearly as bad as the rest of the films on this list and I probably could swap it out for a handful of others that may, in fact, be worse. I have Trumbo as a “C” and there’s a big difference between a “C” movie and a “D” movie in my book; it takes a lot to earn a sub-C grade from me. This movie deserves a mention here, however, because it’s gotten good reviews and even taken up a healthy amount of award chatter (including an Oscar nomination for its star) in spite of the fact that it’s basically a Hallmark Channel movie with a good cast. The script is a mess, the preachy-ness would seem heavy handed coming from a TV evangelist, and almost all of the acting outside of Cranston is cringe-worthy. It’s just a bad movie. Maybe not a terrible movie, maybe not a “worst of the year” movie, but a bad movie nonetheless and for some reason, we’ve decided to give it a pass. Well, the buck stops here for all six of you who’re reading this post.

10. Get Hard/Hot Tub Time Machine 2 (Box Office Totals: $90.4M/$12.3M, Rotten Tomatoes Scores: 29%/14%)
In 2009, The Hangover reinvigorated the R-rated comedy with a huge take at the box office and a ton of respect from critics. We are still paying the price for that success (as if two poorly received Hangover sequels weren’t enough). 2015 was rife with poorly conceived, even more poorly executed raunch-coms that felt tired and unnecessary (Ted 2 and Vacation also spring to mind). But for me, Get Hard and HTTM2 were the real “winners” of this malaise. Both are unfunny, horribly offensive, and populated by too many gross out “jokes” that seem beneath everyone involved. I need more from everyone involved in both of these movies. Except Kevin Hart. Less Kevin Hart. ALWAYS less Kevin Hart.

 9. Pan (Box Office Total: $35.1M, Rotten Tomatoes Score: 26%)
I wasn’t excited about Pan (and judging by its box office take and almost immediate disappearance from theaters, neither were any of you) but I expected it to be at least decent. I was so far off. This is the most recent film on this list so its particular awfulness is still fresh on my mind. There really isn’t anything positive I can say. Pan is unnecessary, ugly, poorly acted (you’re better than this, Hugh Jackman), and ill-conceived. Hook is a divisive film and it seems like the entire pitch for Pan was, “What if we made Hook thoroughly unwatchable?” Success!

 8. Aloha (Box Office Total: $21.1M, Rotten Tomatoes Score: 20%)
This one actually, physically hurts me. Cameron Crowe is one of my three favorite filmmakers of all time and he has proven that he is capable of creating not just a good film, but a total masterpiece. Unfortunately, he’s also now proven that he’s capable of creating a total piece of garbage. The signs were there that Aloha was a major misfire: the trailer was awful, the movie got pushed back multiple times, Sony basically tried to bury it, etc. But I just couldn’t bring myself to accept that Crowe, with a cast that includes Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, and Bill Murray could make a terrible movie…until about 10 minutes into the movie when I started crying and tearing my clothes in anger. And if we’re being honest, the first 10 minutes might be the best part of the whole movie. There’s a major subplot involving a satellite that neither makes sense nor even begins to fit in the fabric of the narrative. Aloha is, point blank, a disaster that I may never personally recover from.

7. Chappie (Box Office Total: $31.6M, Rotten Tomatoes Score: 31%)
Coming off of the smashing success of 2009’s District 9, Neill Blomkamp could’ve had his pick of just about any sci-fi project he wanted (including the Alien spinoff movie that is perpetually on again, off again). Then Elysium was a huge disappointment in 2013 and now we’re down to Chappie, one of the most singularly confusing big budget films I’ve ever encountered. What should’ve just been a Short Circuit remake instead turns into a Die Antwoord music video staring an obnoxious, ridiculously hokey, blinged-out robot with attitude. Nothing about Chappie makes even a lick of sense.

6. Blackhat (Box Office Total: $8M, Rotten Tomatoes Score: 32%)
“From the year that brought you Aloha comes another really depressingly bad movie from a director you love!” Michael Mann has made some INCREDIBLE films in his career, not the least of which is Heat, one of my ten or 12 favorite movies of all time. Somehow he’s now also responsible for Blackhat, a cyber-thriller that is light on both the “cyber” and “thriller” aspects of that combination and somehow makes Chris Hemsworth dull. I can forgive a storied director dropping a flop that seems like a passion project (Aloha probably fits that category) but in this case, I can’t even comprehend how or why Mann got involved with a film like Blackhat that seems so incredibly far out of his wheelhouse.

5. Entourage (Box Office Total: $32.3M, Rotten Tomatoes Score: 32%)
There are people whom I like and respect who think Entourage is a great TV show. (Those people are wrong, by the way; it’s the worst.) But no hit show has ever aged faster or more poorly than this one. I have to believe that even hardcore Entourage truthers found the movie to be an utter mess of frat boy braggadocio and appallingly misogyny. Then again, misogyny, pointless plots, aggressively bad acting (there’s a good reason why no one from this cast has done anything of substance outside of this world), and stupid cameos are what the Entourage empire are built on so maybe it’s exactly what cool Entourage bros were looking for. OOOHHHHH YEAHHHHHHH!!!

4. Pixels (Box Office Total: $78.7M, Rotten Tomatoes Score: 17%)
I could tell you any number of terrible things regarding Pixels. I could tell you that it might be Adam Sandler’s most mailed-in script to date. I could tell you that it somehow makes Peter Dinklage unlikable. I could tell you even Sandler himself seems tired of this bit. I could tell you there’s a plot point that involves Michelle Monaghan hiding in her closet, drinking wine from a sippy cup even though her youngest child is 12 years old and no one thought that was weird. All that and so much more. Instead, as an example of the brutal, embarrassing nature of the Pixels experience, I’ll simply tell you that in this movie, Kevin James is the President of the United States. That’s enough, right?

3. Fant4stic aka Fantastic Four (Box Office Total: $56.1M, Rotten Tomatoes Score: 9%)
Bad superhero movies are nothing new. Catwoman, Daredevil, Spider-Man 3, and dozens more could make up a list that would bring even the most fervent fanboy to tears. But Fantastic Four is a special kind of terrible. It was supposed to be a reboot for a franchise that had already suffered some heavy damage due to the previous films and instead, it set Dr. Incredible and his friends back even further. It was supposed to be Josh Trank’s stepping stone between the delightful, small sci-fi hit Chronicle and a crack at the Star Wars universe. Instead, he had an utter melt down and lost both control of Fantastic Four and his spot in the Star Wars chair. It was supposed to be Miles Teller’s opportunity to take the momentum of Whiplash and turn him into a household name of star quality. Instead, he came across like a petulant child performance is wholly dependent on the work of others around him. In short, Fantastic Four is a complete and utter disaster; the kind that ruins studios; the kind that ends franchises; the kind that could very easily make its director unemployable. Fantastic Four might really and truly be the worst superhero movie of all time. Let that sink in.

2. The Ridiculous 6 (No Box Office, Rotten Tomatoes Score: 0%)
Oh, Adam Sandler. You really are the MVP of Worst of the Year lists. 12 year old Brian is so disappointed in you, Adam. While Pixels is atrocious, I will say at the very least, it has a mildly funny “one line” concept: “What if aliens sent a bunch of video game characters to fight us and our only hope to survive is a group of arcade nerds?” (Notice I said “mildly funny”; maybe “VERY mildly funny.”) It just happens that everything else about that movie is terrible, including (or especially) the writing of every line after that “one line” concept. In comparison to The Ridiculous 6, Pixels is a masterpiece. A painfully obvious send up of The Magnificent 7 (in case you are dumber than this script and couldn’t figure that out), the lack of jokes in this thing is STAGGERING. I truly don’t know that I’ve ever laughed less during a “comedy.” The best part of The Ridiculous 6 is Taylor Lautner’s horribly offensive portrayal of a “simple” man. Think about how bad the rest of the movie must be if that’s the worst part. *Gives you a minute to think* EXACTLY. There’s an entire subplot revolving around Rob Schneider’s diarrhea-riddled burro. That’s also sort of a high point, if I’m being honest. I physically hate this movie and everything in it.

1. Jupiter Ascending (Box Office Total: $47.3M, Rotten Tomatoes Score: 26%)
I’m going to give Jupiter Ascending one thing before I eviscerate it once more: It is so incredibly bad that it’s almost fun. Like, if in 20 years, this movie is a regular feature at an alternative theater’s midnight screenings for cult classic movies, I’d get it. It is BEGGING for the Mystery Science Theater treatment. That said, all things considered, Jupiter Ascending is the worst movie I’ve ever seen. Look, I’m sure there are worse movies out there; maybe there were even worse movies this year. But I’m pretty good at avoiding total stinkers like this and in truth, there are very few movies that have ever had money, resources, and a good cast at their disposal like this one  that have turned out this badly. At one point, the Wachowskis could have gotten funding for any movie they wanted…and they did, three times in a row (Speed Racer, Cloud Atlas, and now Jupiter), all of which were MASSIVE flops that have combined to essentially end their careers. (That’s a bit of hyperbole but not by much.) Some of the high points of Jupiter include Channing Tatum playing a space werewolf with angel wings, Eddie Redmayne sleeping through an entire movie in which he was starring, “visually stunning” creatures that look like the Koopas in the Super Mario Brothers movie, and gripping dialogue like, “You’ve never been stung by a bee before, have you, your Highness? That’s because bees can smell royalty.” If someone strapped me to a polygraph machine, put a gun to my head, and demanded that I name one honestly good thing about Jupiter Ascending or face death, I would simply say, “Tell my family I died with dignity” and greet death as an old friend. This movie is so bad that if I’d won Powerball, I would’ve rented the world’s largest theater and forced all of my friends, family, and acquaintances to watch it so we could all talk about how bad it is. Jupiter is an unmatched, uniquely awful experience that can only be appreciated by the few of us who suffered through it and lived to tell the tale. I will never be the same as I was before Jupiter. 

Most Anticipated Movies of 2016 - Part I

I’m just going to level with you guys. I feel like we’ve built up some trust over the last three years of podcasting and I like almost all of you. So here’s the thing: 2015 was one of the best years in film history…2016 is not. Yeah, there are always surprises every year and yeah, the back half of 2016 is much better than the first six months. But still. I’ve been making this list for the last five years or so (I always break it into two parts, with the second set coming in late June) and never have I struggled so mightily to find films to fill out the rankings.

2015 was a year full of fresh ideas, highly anticipated blockbusters, and strong independent films. 2016 is a dumping ground for needless sequels, bad franchise films, and underwhelming biopics. You guys pumped for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the World of Warcraft movie (I’m not joking), or Oliver Stone ranting like a mad man with Snowden? What about Zoolander 2 (BE HONEST!!!), The Huntsman 2, or a movie about a Brit who competed as an Olympic ice jumper? Me either. 2015 was that incredible trip to Disney World your family took when you were just the right age to love Disney World and money was no object. 2016 is that weekend trip to the lake where it becomes clear that your family is still paying for the aforementioned trip to Disney World and you just feign excitement because your know your parents are trying hard. So that’s what we’re dealing with here, friends. I worked hard to find 10 movies and I stand by at least four of them.

Before we move on, a word about Batman v Superman. I know there are plenty of people who are stoked about this movie. I am not one of them. I am the exact opposite of one of them. I fully expect Batman v Superman to be horrible. I hate Zach Snyder, I think the casting is atrocious, and the general tone/look of the film (which is really all you can gather from a trailer) makes me cringe. I’d love to be wrong. I love Batman and I’d like for Superman to be interesting. But until proven otherwise, I’m anticipating a dreadful movie that will disappoint all but the most fervent Snyder Truthers. Therefore, you will not see that film on this list.

(Final note: If I’m being totally honest, I think I’m most looking forward to Now You See Me 2 because that first film has been a driving force behind the podcast since the early days and I so look forward to tearing it apart with my cohorts. But that goes against the spirit of this list so I left it out. Please be just as bad as I think you will be, NYSM2.)

HONORABLE MENTION: Zootopia (March 4) – Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba
The concept of a Disney animated murder mystery isn’t bad at all and I like the voice talent assembled here. The problem comes up in the most recent trailer where I feel like you can see the struggle to make the concept relatable (read: “not scarring”) to kids and interesting to adults. I’m much more excited about Disney’s other animated film, Moana, which debuts in November.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jWM0ct-OLsM

 10. Midnight Special (March 18) – Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst
Every year, there’s a film that makes my list due to my affinity for a given director or actor that turns out horribly. Midnight Special has been voted “Most Likely to Disappoint” from this class but I can’t help myself because I love director Jeff Nichols. Taking Shelter is a unique, excellent film and Mud was my number one film of 2013. This one looks…weird, let’s say. I would very much like for this to be good. Please be good.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1zuQTmVCEn4

 9. Free State of Jones (May 13) – Matthew McConaughey, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Keri Russell
I had this higher on my list until the trailer dropped last week. Now it just seems like The Patriot for the Civil War. Which is fine, I guess, but the excitement of McConaughey (yay!) plus the Civil War (yay?) has been lessened. Also, can I just say that even though he’s been on an amazing run and I’ve become a huge fan, it’s still a little weird to be excited about a McConaughey movie? I assume I’ll get adjusted eventually.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3EMkxEKKSQI

 8. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (March 4) – Tina Fey, Margot Robbie, Martin Freeman
This entry basically just boils down to, “I like Tina Fey.” The trailer is humorous if not “funny” and it’s definitely a different kind of role for Fey, which is good. Of greater, interest, though is the career path of the directorial team, Glenn Ficarra and John Requa. They made one of my favorite films of 2011 (Crazy, Stupid, Love) and one of the most ho-hum movies of 2015 (Focus). So with Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, we might get a good feeling for what to expect from them moving forward.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dxAcIWDi8ps

 7. Independence Day: Resurgence (June 24) – Jeff Goldblum, Liam Hemsworth, Joey King
The fact that this movie made it this far up the list really shows the weakness of 2016. I’ve been fairly anti-Independence Day sequel since Roland Emmerich started talking about it a few years back and I still don’t see how you make this movie without Will Smith. But darnit if this stupid trailer hasn’t grown on me. Someone help me.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LbduDRH2m2M

 6. Finding Dory (June 17) – Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Idris Elba
Pixar just came off of perhaps their best year ever so I’m okay with them going back to the familiar well a bit over their next few films. Finding Nemo isn’t my favorite of their films but it is quite popular and I do think there’s a decent story to explore here. I don’t expect Inside Out but I also don’t expect Cars 2.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3JNLwlcPBPI

 5. Deadpool (February 12) – Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, TJ Miller
I quite honestly have no idea what to expect from Deadpool. He’s a great character, I think he COULD be part of a great anti-superhero movie, and I actually think Reynolds is the right guy to play him. But make no mistake, this is a risky production and it’s probably Reynolds’ last chance at leading a big budget movie. I feel like there’s a slight hint of desperation in these trailers and that makes me nervous. But if it’s done right, fanboys will have a blast.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9vN6DHB6bJc

 4. The Jungle Book (April 15) – Neel Sethi, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson
The animated Jungle Book is one of my all-time favorites and while it’s received the live action treatment in the past (1993) and will again in the future (2017), I feel like this one is the most likely to get it right. Jon Favreau knows how to make a blockbuster (Cowboys and Aliens aside) and the effects look INCREDIBLE. Oh, and also, Bill Murray singing “The Bear Necessities.” I didn’t know I needed that in my life but now I need it desperately. (This honestly might be the first movie on this list that I’m actually, truly excited about. This makes me sad.)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yt7jEI83_FI

 3. X-Men: Apocalypse (May 27) – Michael Fassbender, Oscar Isaac, James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence
I feel like Apocalypse is getting lost in the superhero shuffle which is a real shame because the last two X-Men movies were outstanding and the franchise is in extremely capable hands. Apocalypse is a great adversary, too, and adding Oscar Isaac to anything makes it instantly better (see: Star Wars). There’s a world in which this movie turns out better than Civil War (see below).
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=COvnHv42T-A

 2. Hail, Caesar! (February 5) – George Clooney, Josh Brolin, Scarlett Johansson
I’ve never been more confused by a movie than I am by Hail, Caesar! and I know I’m not alone in that. We’ve talked about it plenty on the podcast. It has an impeccable pedigree: Between the Coen Brothers writing and directing, a superb cast, and a fantastic setting, this movie should be the front runner for Best Picture. And yet…it comes out February 5th. I can’t remember the last time a good movie came out before the previous year’s Academy Awards, let alone a GREAT movie. So either the trailer is a lie and this is the occasional Coen Flop or the studio is hanging everyone involved out to dry in a major way. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kMqeoW3XRa0

 1. Captain America: Civil War (May 6) – Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson
At the outset of Marvel’s Phase One, if you would’ve told me Captain America would be the most interesting character of the core Avengers, I would’ve actually physically fought you. How in the world could plain old Cap become a better character than Tony Stark or Thor or The Hulk or Hawkeye (just kidding about that last one)? But it’s totally true. The Russo Brothers took the strong foundation laid out in The First Avenger and added in a timely, exciting storyline and some fantastic action sequences in The Winter Soldier to create maybe the best standalone in the MCU. Now they get to jump into Civil War, widely regarded as one of the better comic book series, and I think we’ve been every reason to expect a great film. This is basically the exact opposite of what I see in Batman v Superman. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xnv__ogkt0M

Month O' Movies Review: January

Once upon a time I made it my goal to write a review for every movie I saw each year. Then I moved over to this site, welcomed a child into the world, and found myself with far less time to write and far fewer people interested in my writing that did not include pictures of said child. Regardless, I like writing the reviews and having something to schedule and work toward gets the ink flowing, as it were, and helps motivate me to write other pieces along the way. So this is sort of a compromise. Every month, I’ll put together a collection of smaller reviews for each of the films I saw in the previous month and save the longer reviews for only the most significant films that come along. This way, those of you who don’t care at all about such things can bypass them more easily and hopefully it’ll spur me on to put out more non-movie content through the year. Slema

Selma (David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo, Tom Wilkinson) One Line Synopsis: Martin Luther King Jr. leads a march on Selma, Alabama to secure equal voting rights for African Americans. Ava DuVeray’s MLK drama came awfully late in a jam-packed award season. So late, in fact, that Selma’s Oscar chances were drastically affected by the poor release strategy. Even so, this is an outstanding, powerful film that features one of the strongest performances of the year. Oyelowo embodies Dr. King perfectly, carrying the film through its weaker moments and driving it to excellence at its best. When he is on the screen you cannot take your eyes off of him, which is precisely what Selma requires of him. Grade: A (Still in theaters)

A Most Violent Year (Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, David Oyelowo) One Line Synopsis: During New York City’s most violent year on record, an honest business man attempts to keep him life’s work afloat in the face of rampant corruption. This is a hard film to dissect. It is well-made and features a fantastic cast delivering superb performances. And yet, at the end of the day, I’m not completely sure the movie actually amounts to much. A Most Violent Year is a slow-burn of the highest order and while I was far from bored, I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop and it never really did. When the movie came to an end, I was left feeling like I’d just seen a very well-made film that didn’t have much to say. I can definitely see why critics have embraced A Most Violent Year but I can’t imagine the average moviegoer finding much to grab on to beyond the strong performances. Grade: B+ (Expanded into theaters nationwide this week)

Paddington (Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Ben Whishaw) One Line Synopsis: A young talking bear from Darkest Peru journeys to London in search of a new family to take care of him. I expected nothing from Paddington, dear readers. No, that’s not true. I expected less than nothing from Paddington. I expected that if I ever saw Paddington, I would have to do some serious soul searching to determine what exactly put me on such a terrible path. But I took Cooper to see “Paddy Bear” (as he puts it), thinking he might only make it through the first 45 minutes and then we’d be able to leave. Instead, we both had an absolute blast. Paddington is fun, it’s lively, it’s far more intelligent than the trailer would ever have you guess, and it’s positively full of heart. It reminded me of a Muppet movie. Cooper loved and I both loved it. Grade: A (Still in theaters)

Whiplash-Poster-slice

Whiplash (Miles Teller, JK Simmons, Paul Reiser) One Line Synopsis: A talented jazz drummer butts heads with a fiery music instructor who might drive him to excellence or an early death. One of the bigger surprises of 2014, Whiplash built from its roots as a short film to a Sundance film festival darling all the way into a Best Picture contender. Simmons is almost a lock to win Best Supporting Actor, and rightly so, as his turn as the furious perfectionist hell bent on driving his students to the brink of insanity pushes the film to its greatest heights. But I’m almost more in awe of the precision with which first time writer-director Damien Chazelle brings his feature together. Whiplash is not an easy watch by any means but it’s a tremendous achievement and one that features the best scene of the entire year (the final 20 minutes is one long drum sequence and it is MESMERIZING). Grade: A (In select theaters)

The Railway Man (Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman, Jeremy Irvine) One Line Synopsis: Decades after his horrible experiences in a POW camp, Eric Lomax travels back to Japan to exact revenge on his tormenter. If, like me, you were left unsatisfied with the uneven, stunted experience of Unbroken, then this is the movie for you. The Railway Man is basically the British Unbroken except it actually delivers on the promise of its story. Firth is excellent as the older Lomax whose life has been crippled by his inability to overcome the harm done to his younger self (Irvine) and the crossover between the two time periods is near seamless. This is a much smaller film than its American counterpart but it packs quite a punch and its emotional impact rings true. Grade: A- (Available on DVD/Blu-Ray)

AmericanSniper

American Sniper (Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller) One Line Synopsis: Based on the true story of Chris Kyle, the most decorated sniper in US Military history. Chances are you’ve already seen American Sniper since it has broken all kinds of records at the box office and will likely go down as the biggest January release in the history of the world. It matter not, then, that I think this movie stinks. That might be a little strong. American Sniper has some tremendous moments and features a fantastic lead performance. Moreover, Chris Kyle’s story is inherently cinematic and worthy of telling. It just needed to be told by someone who actually knows how to tell a story and unfortunately, Clint Eastwood isn’t capable of doing that anymore. Many of the war scenes are well-shot and there’s a tense atmosphere through much of it that works in American Sniper’s favor. But the scripting for this movie is ATROCIOUS and Eastwood doesn’t do anything to pull the script out of the muck. Over and over, he takes the time to beat the viewer over the head with visual and auditory cues for exactly how you SHOULD feel and react to each turn in Kyle’s story. It’s not that American Sniper takes a stand on whether this man was a hero or a psychopath that bothers me (for the record, I believe he was the former); it’s that I felt like Clint Eastwood was standing over me as I watched demanding that I agree with him and that I have the appropriate emotional reaction at the appropriate times. In the process of all this, I lost the actual emotional connection that I would’ve felt naturally if I just would’ve been allowed to think for myself. I get why audiences are responding to this film and I fully admit I am perhaps overly sensitive to and frustrated by the sort of heavy-handed storytelling Eastwood utilizes here. But through the entirety of American Sniper all I kept thinking was how much better it could’ve been if it was handled appropriately. Grade: B- (In literally every theater)

Top 10 Movies of 2014

This was one of the stranger years in film in my time as a fake film critic (going on 10 years now, like a boss). I say that because, as it progressed, I never felt like it was a particularly strong year for film overall. There were plenty of weeks when there was literally nothing showing that I had any interest in seeing and most of the bigger budget movies failed to impress either me or the wider audiences judging by the sluggish box office. And yet, when I sat down to make my annual Top 10 list, I had a much harder time cutting it down than I expected. I think this is a year in which we were treated to very few (if any) “10 on a scale of 1 to 10” movies but we got a ton of 8’s. There’s not much separation, for me at least, between the number two movie on this list and, say, the 17th movie on my list. And that’s not a bad thing, if you think about it. All that to say, 2014 had some really strong highs even if the week-to-week showcase was fairly weak. 

As always with this list, I have to put forth the following disclaimer: my top 10 list is not necessarily the 10 “best” films of the year. For the “best” list, check out the Odds and Ends post from yesterday to catch my hypothetical Oscar ballot. But for this list, while Quality certainly counts (significantly so), favoritism and rewatchability play a large part as well. So bear that in mind. 

Honorable Mention #1: Edge of Tomorrow (Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Brendan Gleeson)
I had this one in the top 10 for a long time and it pains me a little to have it sit on the outside. For some reason, American audiences didn’t buy into Edge of Tomorrow and I guess that’s because the studio had no stinking idea how to market it. Even the movie’s title changed a time or two to the point that my Blu-Ray copy marks the title as, “Live. Die. Repeat/Edge of Tomorrow.” That’s not unstable or anything. Regardless, those who saw the movie saw Cruise as his Cruiseiest and (hopefully) took note of just how incredible and versatile Blunt really is. On rewatch, the ending still bothers me a tiny bit and that’s ultimately why it got bumped out.

Honorable Mention #2: Whiplash (Miles Teller, JK Simmons, Paul Reiser)
This was the last 2014 movie I saw and wow, did it crash the party! Throughout the vast majority of Whiplash, I was only somewhat on board with the movie as a whole, chalking it up to more of an actor’s showcase than a great film. And then the final scene kicked off and 20 minutes later I was sitting on the edge of my seat, completely riveted and utterly mesmerized. This is a REALLY difficult movie to watch and thus, it’s a tough sell as far as rewatchability goes. Still, Simmons is remarkable, writer/director Damien Chazelle shows off some immense talent, and the subject matter itself is interesting. But that final scene very well might be the best scene in any movie I saw this year and jumped Whiplash up a grade or two in my book. I’m still kind of reeling over it. 

10. Godzilla (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen)
When Godzilla was announced a couple years back, I’m not sure my eyes ever stopped rolling. “No one wants this!” I said. “This will be terrible!” I said. “Why do we keep making pointless reboots?!” I said. So I was wrong. In a year that was seriously lacking in high quality blockbuster fare, this was one of two, possibly three movies that really felt like a summer blockbuster and I mean that in the best way possible. The plot is more than adequate, the direction is superb, and the effects are FANTASTIC. Just a glorious piece of popcorn filmmaking. 

9. The Lego Movie (Chris Pratt, Elisabeth Banks, Will Ferrell) 
I don’t often get too hot under the collar over an Oscar “snub” but I’m not sure I’ll ever understand how The Lego Movie missed on a Best Animated Feature nomination. In my mind, it had an outside chance at an overall Best Picture nomination. It was robbed. Snubbing aside, this is one of the freshest, most original films of the year and ranks as one of the best family films in a long time, maybe since Toy Story 3. I’ve watched The Lego Movie at least three times thanks to the magic of Blu-Ray/DVD and the jokes still land every time. It’s just too much fun to ignore. Unless you’re the Academy Awards. 

8. Chef (Jon Favreu, Emjay Anthony, Jon Leguizamo) 
When I started making this list a couple weeks ago, Chef was on the outside looking in. Some of its charm had worn off over the six or seven months since its release and I talked myself into believing it was simply good, not great. But having rewatched it with my wife, I rediscovered how much I absolutely love this movie. Chef has a rhythm that few other movies achieve; it’s lively, it’s upbeat, and it feels like a passion project, which is exactly what it was for Jon Favreau. Each scene takes on the characteristics of the setting it takes place in and that gives it an authenticity that propels the film forward. And the cooking scenes alone, backed by a killer soundtrack, would probably make this thing worthwhile.

7. Foxcatcher (Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo) 
No other film on this list pits “favorite” against “best” more than Foxcatcher does. It’s a supremely well-made and exquisitely acted film that also happens to be somewhat difficult to watch and not exactly enjoyable. That’s okay, of course, as there are plenty of GREAT movies that you don’t exactly what to sit down and watch on a daily basis; it’s just that those films don’t usually crack my personal Top 10. I’m not sure I’ll ever watch this movie again and yet I found it mesmerizing throughout my first viewing. At the end of the day, the performances are just so strong that I couldn’t find a way to exclude Foxcatcher from either this list or my hypothetical Oscar ballot and I’m still a bit haunted by Carell’s dark depiction of insanity. 

6. Wild (Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Thomas Sadoski) 
On the surface, Wild looks like an easy showcase for a good actor. “White woman treks alone through the wilderness in order to find herself” isn’t exactly a risky proposition. But there is so, so much more at work within this film. Jean Marc Valles is rapidly becoming one of the best dramatic directors in the business, going straight from his incredible work on Dallas Buyers Club last year to this to which he brings an impeccable approach to a film that just so easily could’ve been a lazy affair. Wild holds its protagonist accountable to her actions with more vigor than most films of its kind and asks a great deal of its lead. And wow, does Witherspoon come through. Every year there’s at least one movie that I force upon my friends until they’re all tired of hearing me talk about it and I’m pretty sure Wild is that movie. 

5. Interstellar (Matthew McConaughey, Jessica Chastain, Anne Hathaway) 
This is a movie that provokes strong emotions. You love it or you hate and very few people fall in the middle. Clearly I love it. I’m predisposed in its favor (Christopher Nolan, McConaughey, Chastain, space, all coming together?!) but due to the mixed early reviews, I went in with a clear mind and came out so completely on board. I like that Nolan switched up his M.O. and went for a much more emotional chord than he usually strikes. I like that Interstellar attempts (and sometimes fails, if I’m being honest) to tell a human story in the midst of a galactic overarching plot. And I like that it has the guts to ask its viewers to come along for a ride and worries not that some are bound to check out. Interstellar is ambitious and beautifully and so wonderfully well-shot and for me, all of its many virtues far overshadow the issues others have gotten tripped up over.   

4. Guardians of the Galaxy (Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper) 
Without question, Guardians of the Galaxy is my favorite film of the year and without question it is the movie that I will watch with the most frequency. It has absolutely everything that I want in a blockbuster and then some. James Gunn’s direction is dynamic, the script is smart and filled with fast humor, and Chris Pratt is the perfect lead for this sort of lively, out of the box popcorn movie. On the whole, Guardians works so well that you hardly notice the ridiculousness of a talking raccoon and a walking tree. It’s kind of the opposite of Interstellar in that it tells a galactic story on a human level. This is just a riotous film and I’m going to stop writing about it now so I can go watch it again. 

3. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, F. Murray Abraham) 
This movie was hovering somewhere toward the bottom of the list at the beginning of this process. So much of it had faded from my memory in the nine months since it debuted and I had sort of glommed it all together into a hodgepodge of Wes Anderson-ness that I liked and appreciated but wasn’t in love with. Then I rewatched it and, much like Chef, remembered all the details of my love. GBH is the funniest movie of the year and it’s not particularly close. But moreover, Anderson may have found the perfect muse in Fiennes who takes so well to the director’s well-established quirkiness that I was left feeling as if my life was somehow incomplete until I saw this movie. It is easily the most Anderson-y movie of all of Anderson’s movies and that makes it darn near perfect if you are, in fact, a fan of Anderson. (I apologize for the all the Andersons.) 

2. Birdman (Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts) 
Much like Interstellar, there are two distinctive camps on Birdman with very little room for a gray area in between. I think, more than any other film this year, this one boils down to a subjective question: did you get it or not? That’s not to say that anyone who doesn’t “get” Birdman is wrong or unable to appreciate good cinema or anything like that. It’s just a really odd movie and that means some viewers just aren’t going to be able to jump on board. One thing that is clear, however, even to this film’s detractors, is that Michael Keaton is AWESOME and he gives a staggering performance. I’m 99% sure he’s winning the Oscar for his work here and I couldn’t be happier with that. Beyond Keaton, though, the rest of the film is a stylish, one-of-a-kind roller coaster that moves at an almost disorienting pace. I’ve personally never seen anything quite like Birdman and it simply worked for me on virtually every level. 

1. Boyhood (Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke) 
In some ways, I almost feel like Boyhood topping my list is somehow a default ranking. I saw it in July and it led to some of the deeper thoughts I’ve ever put into a film and yet I just kind of expected eventually something would bump it down my list. I tried to put Birdman, GBH, Guardians, and even Wild in this spot at one point or another and every time I would come back to some element, some scene, some emotion attached to Boyhood and I’d have to push it back to the top. Boyhood puts you through the wringer, runs you through the emotional gamut of the human experience, and somehow manages to be mostly enjoyable in the process. This is such a unique experience (and I use that word purposefully as this is really more than just a film) that will never, EVER be duplicated; it is truly unlike any film I’ve ever seen or ever will see. It is the epitome of what being a filmmaker is all about and I don’t know that anyone besides Richard Linklater could’ve pulled it off. When I look back on 2014, I am 100 percent certain that Boyhood will be the movie I consider first and in the end, I think that’s what topping this list is all about. 

Odds and Ends 2014

In the creation of all of these end-of-year lists, there are always plenty of movies and movie contributors I’d like to talk about that don’t quite fit into the standard categories and/or warrant a post on their own. This piece is a bit of a catchall to briefly make mention of some movies that deserve attention for one reason or another that didn’t make it into the bigger posts through this week (finishing up tomorrow with my Top 10 Films list). The goal was to exclude mention of any of the films that cracked the top 10 (or worst 10) of the year for me but as you’ll see I cheated a tad in one category. I threw in my Oscar picks just for the heck of it. Enjoy. 

THREE BIG SURPRISES
To be truly surprising, a film would either have to come from off my radar and jump in unannounced or look terrible in all the marketing and somehow turn out well. World War Z was the latter last year, as I fully expected it to be a trainwreck and instead, I really enjoyed it. All of the big surprises this year, however, fall into that first categories as movies I had no knowledge of until just before their respective releases.

1.) Snowpiercer (Chris Evans, Ed Harris, John Hurt) – I’m pretty sure Snowpiercer is topping just about everyone’s “Surprise!” list this year. It turned out to be a pretty decent hit both in theaters and on demand and I’ve seen it on numerous top 10 lists this winter. Quality, smart, original sci-fi at its finest. It is available on Netflix now.
2.) The One I Love (Mark Duplass, Elizabeth Moss) – To describe The One I Love would be to give it away entirely so you’ll have to take my word for it. Very few films have managed to blend quirky sensibilities with thrilling/sci-fi concepts like this one did. And it’s kind of a romantic comedy to boot. It is also on Netflix. 
3.) The Rover (Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson, Scoot McNairy) – I resisted The Rover because I didn’t believe Robert Pattinson could act at all. I was wrong; he’s really good here. But it’s totally Guy Pearce’s show as this is exactly the sort of movie he’s made for: small action films that highlight his toughness. It all culminates in a strange, almost hidden twist that casts the entire movie in a different light. 

THREE BIG DISAPPOINTMENTS
By definition, to be a true disappointment, I have to have had some reason to actually expect something from these movies. Transformers: Age of Extinction isn’t here because I knew that one would be terrible and thus went in with the proper expectations. These films, though, should have been better, plain and simple.

1.) The Monuments Men (George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray) – With this cast and this story, Monuments Men should’ve been a no-brainer. Instead, it left most of us wondering whether or not George Clooney is actually good at directing. There’s a lot to work with here and it all comes out as below average at best. 
2.) This is Where I Leave You (Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver) – I think I’m higher on TIWILY than most but that doesn’t mean I didn’t leave the theater with extreme frustrations. I loved this book so much and the cast had me hoping for a great adaptation. But the scripting and directing are a mess and the whole thing feels somehow incomplete.
3.) The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx) – It shouldn’t be that difficult to make a “good enough” superhero movie and yet Sony and director Marc Webb continue to flop with their Spider-Man films. This is one of the more ill-advised franchises in recent memory and every installment just reinforces that idea. 

THREE GREAT SOUNTRACKS
Here’s where I cheated. I really wanted to highlight some soundtracks because I feel like the creation of quality soundtracks is a lost art. But to make this list without including a couple of films that (SPOILER ALERT) will find spots on my Top 10 list would be irresponsible. So there it is. 

1.) Chef – Jon Favreau certainly illustrated his love for great food with Chef but he also showed off his talent for selecting perfect songs for each scene in his movie. They are always authentic selections, closely tied to the plot and setting, heightening the strength of the entire film.
2.) Guardians of the Galaxy – Whereas the songs in Chef always feel thoroughly thought out and expertly linked to the plot, the Guardians soundtrack felt like James Gunn said, “Here are 15 songs I love, just put them in there somewhere.” And it worked just as well! So good, so upbeat, so much FUN.  
3.) Begin Again – Much like writer/director John Carney’s previous film Once, I’m not nearly as high on the movie as I am the soundtrack. Carney has a lot to learn when it comes to filmmaking but in terms of selecting and writing music for a movie, he’s head and shoulders above the rest of the crowd. 

THREE BREAKOUT DIRECTORS TO WATCH
Each year brings a new list of actors and actresses who storm on to the scene and make names for themselves out of nowhere. I, however, am usually more interested in the directors who pull a similar move and greatly look forward to what the future holds for these three. 

1.) Steven Knight, Locke – At some point, I imagine Locke will make it to Netflix and when it does, I hope everyone watches it. I’m not as high on it as some are but it’s a totally unique movie (Tom Hardy is the only actor who ever appears on screen) and while Hardy has gotten most of the attention, it is Knight’s vision that keeps it steady and on track. 
2.) Ted Melfi, St. Vincent – Melfi delivered one of the funnier films of 2014 and got a great performance out of his lead, Bill Murray. But it is the authenticity of St. Vincent that caught my attention. It’s difficult to deliver heart without drifting into sappy, happy-go-lucky territory and Melfi manages to pull that off with flair. 
3.) William Eubank, The Signal – More and more big budget sci-fi films have been finding their way into the hands of directors who have previously only helmed small, indie films. Gareth Edwards jumped from Monsters to Godzilla (and soon a Star Wars movie), Colin Trevorrow from Safety Not Guaranteed to Jurassic World, and Duncan Jones from Moon to World of Warcraft. I think Eubank is a name that will join this list in the near future. The Signal isn’t perfect but it shows the director’s great potential and some studio will wisely snatch him up. 

OSCAR VOTES IF I HAD A VOTE
This is not a prediction of what will come in the morning (there’s a good chance the Oscar nominations will be out there before you read this) nor is it necessarily a collection of my favorite performances and films. This is my hypothetical ballot for the big categories if the Academy were to (deservedly) give me a vote. Each collection of nominees are listed in order from top to bottom so the entry at the top would be winner. 

BEST ACTOR
Michael Keaton, Birdman
David Oyelowo, Selma
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
Steve Carell, Foxcatcher
Ralph Fiennes, The Grand Budapest Hotel
There are at least seven worthy candidates in this category and I don’t think I could really get upset if any of these guys came away with the trophy. But for the record, I’m pretty sure it’s Keaton’s to lose and I’m obviously good with that. 

BEST ACTRESS
Reese Witherspoon, Wild
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Emily Blunt, Edge of Tomorrow
Amy Adams, Big Eyes
Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything
I have not had the opportunity to see Still Alice or Cake which are expected to land Oscar nominations for Julianne Moore and Jennifer Aniston, respectively. I can only go off what I’ve seen. There is literally a 0% chance that Blunt comes away with a nod but I can dream. Witherspoon gave, without question, the best female lead performance I saw this year but I doubt she will come away with the win.

SUPPORTING ACTOR
Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
JK Simmons, Whiplash
Edward Norton, Birdman
Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
Channing Tatum, Foxcatcher
This is always the toughest category to narrow down. Some years there are 20 performances that actually deserve a nomination and only five break through. Personally, I would vote for Hawke but I couldn’t fault anyone for going with Simmons and he is almost certainly going to win. 

SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Emma Stone, Birdman
Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game
Laura Dern, Wild
Kim Dickens, Gone Girl
This, for me, is by far the weakest category of the year. I had some issues with Arquette’s performance in Boyhood but those have faded over time and no one has come along to knock her off that top spot. I don’t feel great about including Dickens but she was solid and I really don’t have another nominee to go to (having not seen A Most Violent Year which will likely get Jessica Chastain a nomination). 

BEST DIRECTOR
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Alejandro Inarritu, Birdman
Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Jean Marc Valles, Wild
Christopher Nolan, Interstellar
I feel stronger about this category than any other. I love ALL of the films represented here and I think ALL of these directors did tremendous work. (There’s no chance, by the way, that Nolan gets nominated and Valles has only a slightly better shot. Still, they belong in my book.) But if Richard Linklater doesn’t win this award, we should all band together and burn Los Angeles to the ground. 

BEST PICTURE
Boyhood
Birdman
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Wild
Foxcatcher
Interstellar
Guardians of the Galaxy
Whiplash
Selma
The Imitation Game
I’ll write more about some of these movies tomorrow in my Top 10 list, though it won’t look exactly like this ballot does (I’ll explain that tomorrow). I am 100% sure that neither Interstellar or Guardians of the Galaxy will find a place on the nominations list but for me they hit the mark of what I want in a Best Picture. Maybe that sounds crazy to some of you but I don’t care, this is my (fake) ballot and I’ll vote how I like! I’m pretty sure The Theory of Everything will get a nomination which is…fine, I guess. In the end, I think Boyhood wins and deserves to win but I couldn’t get too upset by any of the top five coming away with it. 

Top 10 Favorite Performances of 2014

Picking ten performances out of the 80-odd films I see in a given year is never an easy task, even in a year like 2014 that wasn’t quite as strong as some of its recent predecessors. I could probably double the list and still feel as if I was leaving someone out. But for whatever reason, ten is the magic number we’ve agreed upon as a society and who am I to rebel against that? As always (this is, I believe, the fifth year I’ve done this list), I must stress that the following list counts off my favorite performances and not necessarily the ten best performances of the year. This year the gap between “favorite” and “best” was smaller than it usually is, a comment on both the likability of the awards-y films and the mediocrity of the blockbuster fare. Now that the disclaimers are out of the way, let’s get on with it, shall we?

Honorable Mention: Shia LaBeouf – Boyd Swan, Fury
It should be noted that I am not a LaBeouf fan. Not since his Even Stevens days have I had much use for him. I also, in all fairness, don’t care much for Fury as a whole. I found it very disappointing and oppressively bleak. All of that should speak to the strength of LaBeouf’s performance. It is pure and authentic in a movie that I think overall tried and failed to convey those same attributes. I hope this is the sign of things to come, not the outlier.

10. Edward Norton – Mike Shiner, Birdman
Norton has long had a bit of a reputation for being surly and difficult to work with. His recent resurgence has come about, in part, because he’s taken steps to soften his personal interactions and become more likeable (though some of us always liked him because of how surly he was). So to see Norton, in a moment of complete self-awareness, take on the role of a pretentious, drunken stage actor who does his very best to wreck a production he considers to be beneath him is an inspired piece of acting. I had more sheer fun watching this performance than almost any other on this list. 

9. Emily Blunt – Rita and Baker’s Wife, Edge of Tomorrow and Into the Woods
I’m cheating a little here but this is my opportunity to heap praise on one of the best leading ladies in Hollywood so I’m jumping at the chance. Emily Blunt might be the most versatile actress in the industry right now and to prove that, in 2014 she out-action-starred Tom Cruise in his own movie and sang her way beautifully through an otherwise up-and-down musical affair. As tough and strong as she was in Edge of Tomorrow she was equally as charming and funny in Into the Woods. If she’s not the frontrunner for a female-centric Marvel movie then I don’t understand the world.

8. Bill Hader – Milo Dean, The Skeleton Twins
Speaking of versatility, Saturday Night Live alum Hader showed off his serious side in The Skeleton Twins, taking on a tough, demanding role in which he shined. Hader was personally responsible for some of the bigger laughs I had at the theater this year as well as some of the deeper emotional reactions. It’s a great portrayal that has unfortunately been overshadowed by the obligatory depth of quality leading man performances. 

7. David Oyelowo – Martin Luther King Jr., Selma
Coming out of our showing of Selma, the other members of my viewing party all asked me, “Who was that guy and what else has he been in?!” Oyelowo delivers such a powerful, commanding portrayal of one of history’s most iconic people and in much of his screen time, you find yourself just sitting in awe of him during much of his screen time. It’s incredibly difficult to play someone that most of the audience knows so well and yet Oyelowo somehow makes the role his own in a remarkable way.

6. Steve Carell – Jon DuPont, Foxcatcher
For a long time I felt like I was one of the few people who understood what a great actor Steve Carell truly is. Too many people wrote him off as the guy from The 40 Year Old Virgin or failed to understand the sublime nuances of his performance as Michael Scott on The Office. As such, I had long awaited his coming out party, of sorts, in Foxcatcher and he did not disappoint. It’s a subtle, quiet contemplation on insanity and Carell completely owns it. 

5. Michael Keaton – Riggan Thomas, Birdman
If 2014 was the year in which the masses recognized the greatness of Steve Carell, it also stands as the year that the world suddenly remembered the greatness of Michael Keaton. Like, as an entire society, we met together one day and the entire agenda was, “Hey, remember how awesome Michael Keaton is? Let’s do more stuff with him.” Birdman is an actor’s dream and the entire cast is tremendous but Keaton delivers a mesmerizing performance that will almost certainly earn him a well-deserved Oscar. 

4. Bill Murray - Vincent, St. Vincent
I won’t argue that St. Vincent is overly original or that Murray’s performance is somehow better than the leading men who are likely to draw the Oscar nominations this year. I will argue, however, that no other film has the same amount of genuine and well-earned heart that St. Vincent has and almost every ounce of that is brought forth by Murray alone. Look, it’s no secret that I love Bill Murray. He can do no wrong in my eyes (Garfield movies aside). But there is something special about him when he’s truly invested in a role and this is one of his very best performances.

3. Ralph Fiennes – M. Gustave, The Grand Budapest Hotel
I’m not sure if Fiennes would’ve made this list if I hadn’t rewatched GBH this week. It had been so long since the movie debuted and I’d kind of assigned all of my love and appreciation for the film to Wes Anderson over the cast. But man, how stinking great is Fiennes here?! Gustave is delightfully absurd and entirely too serious for his own good and yet the whole performance comes off as playful. Moreover, GBH is one of the few truly funny films of 2014 and while some of the credit goes to Anderson’s script, much of it is due to Fiennes’ sharp delivery of his ridiculous lines. 

2. Reese Witherspoon – Cheryl Strayed, Wild
It’s fair to say that I’ve never been a fan of Witherspoon and would never have imagined that one of her performances would rank so high on my annual list. So, as with LaBeouf, let that predisposition to dismissal serve as an illustration of just how good she really is in Wild. I quite love this movie as a whole but there is no way that the film reaches even half of its heights without the command performance of its lead. This is a difficult role that asks a great deal of Witherspoon and she responds with a brave, vulnerable, and heart-gripping performance that I won’t soon forget. 

1. Ethan Hawke - Dad, Boyhood
Boyhood has already taken home a truck load of totally deserved awards and looks to add a few more on Oscar night. It’s unlikely that Hawke will receive the same adulation that the movie itself will and while it’s true that Boyhood probably stands up on its own, I believe it is Hawke’s performance that holds the whole thing together. He is the stabilizing force for a film that could’ve gone off the rails if it didn’t have that anchor to hold it together. His work is quiet, even small at times, but when Boyhood really clicks on all cylinders, I think it’s because of Hawke and his easy relationship with his inexperienced costar. It’s an absolutely brilliant performance that made a crazy, unique project work better than I think anyone could have imagined.

Top 10 Worst Movies of 2014

I’m pretty good at avoiding the really bad movies. I mean, I don’t need to see I, Frankenstein or Sex Tape or Tammy to know they’re all terrible. As a result, most of the truly bad films I come in contact with in a given year are either total surprises in their awfulness or I have to see them as a direct result of being a part of a movie podcast. This is the down side of the lucrative (haha, just kidding) world of movie blogging/podcasting that they don’t tell you about in movie podcasting school: Sometimes America says, “Hey, we should all go see 300: Rise of an Empire this weekend!” and then you’re forced to go see that abomination so that you can tear it apart with your podcasting buddies. It’s a tough life, you guys. Anyway, 2014 had its fair share of rotten films (even some that weren’t “rotten” on Rotten Tomatoes) and I had the misfortune of seeing at least 10 of them. Please enjoy and feel free to chime in with your own picks. 

Dishonorable Mention: Sabotage (Box Office Total: $10.5M, Rotten Tomatoes Score: 19%)
The only reason this “film” didn’t crack the top 10 is because I couldn’t finish it. As you may know, it is a point of pride that I finish any movie I start. I walked out on a movie in a theater for the first time ever last year and my in-home viewing track record is very similar. Sabotage, however, is so aggressively ugly and disgusting that I couldn’t make it through. I’m not even sure I made it 30 minutes, to be honest. The comeback effort from Arnold Schwartzeneggar has been rough at best and this might be the nail in the coffin for me. 

10. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Box Office Total: $191.2M, Rotten Tomatoes Score: 21%)
There’s a huge gap between the quality of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the quality (or lack thereof) of the movies that fill the rest of this list. If I hadn’t been so good at avoiding the worst of the worst, this one probably doesn’t make the list. Whereas many of the following films are “awful”, “terrible”, or “abominable”, TMNT is simply “bad.” And in fact, when the turtles and only the turtles are on screen, there are times it’s even “relatively not bad.” But then the humans (most notably Megan Fox and, alas, Will Arnett) return to the screen and drag the entire thing back into the depths of the movie abyss.

9. A Million Ways to Die in the West (Box Office Total: $43.1M, Rotten Tomatoes Score: 33%)
2014 was not a good year for comedy. For me there was one GREAT comedy (Grand Budapest Hotel which will be a big player later this week), one good comedy (22 Jump Street) and a bunch of meh. The frustrating thing about A Million Ways to Die in the West is that there was a funny idea in there somewhere but it got swallowed up by raunchy, gross-out stuff that didn’t work. (For the record, while that’s not my preferred brand of humor, I get that it can work; it just didn’t here.) It felt like a half-baked idea and judging by its reception, I’m not the only one who felt that way. 

8. 3 Days to Kill (Box Office Total: $30.7M, Rotten Tomatoes Score: 29%)
It was a tough year for Kevin Costner supporters like me. We’ll get into the Costner aspect more in a moment but I’ll say this in defense of 3 Days to Kill: I get why he did it. A total Taken knock-off, I’m certain that this movie looked like an easy cash grab that would make its star look cool even if critics didn’t buy it. Instead, it completely drowned itself in a nonsensical plot and way, way too much Amber Heard who lacks the charisma of, say, a piece of drywall. I don’t know how many more opportunities McG gets to direct a movie but let’s hope we’re on the back end of his career.

7. The Fault in Our Stars (Box Office Total: $124.9M, Rotten Tomatoes Score: 81%)
I get that I’m not the target audience of this sort of material and I’d be willing to cut it some slack if its reception was mildly positive. But 81%?! Are you kidding me?! The Fault in Our Stars is basically a Nicolas Sparks movie for teens, although it does make an attempt at some humor and I’m pretty sure Nicolas Sparks has never told or understood a joke. Some of the worst dialogue of the year is contained within this thing and the scene in which our star-crossed lovers make out in the Anne Frank House deserves special mention as one of the worst of the year.  

6. 300: Rise of an Empire (Box Office Total: $106.6M, Rotten Tomatoes Score: 42%)
Pointless sequels and remakes are prime fodder for “worst of the year” lists and while 300: Rise of an Empire might not be the worst sequel/remake of the year (see below!!!), it is definitely the most pointless. Few big-hit movies of the last decade have aged as poorly as the original 300 and most of the time this thing looks like it was cobbled together out of the editing scraps from that movie. Oh, and did I mention the pivotal scene that was best described as “battle rape”? That was fun. But at least it somehow made a ton of money so we’ll probably get another one soon!

5. Transformers: Age of Extinction (Box Office Total: $245.4M, Rotten Tomatoes Score: 18%)
Why, you ask, doesn’t Transformers: Age of Extinction qualify as a pointless sequel? Because it made a BILLION dollars worldwide and everyone expected that. Sometimes audiences just get it wrong, guys. I can’t tell you why, after sitting through the three previous, overstuffed chapters of this illustrious franchise, millions and millions of people ran out to the theater to put themselves through three hours of Mark Wahlberg pretending to be a GEEKY SCIENTIST FROM TEXAS but that’s exactly what happened. So, when we get Transformers 5 in 2016, you have no one to blame but yourselves. 

4. The Legend of Hercules (Box Office Total: $18.8M, Rotten Tomatoes Score: 3%)
There’s always a movie or two on this sort of list that is so comedically bad that I have to text my movie nerd friends and demand they watch it immediately so we can discuss. Enter The Legend of Hercules. Not to be confused with the better-but-still-bad Hercules starring The Rock, this Hercules brought us the remarkable acting talents of Twilight¬-alum Kellan Lutz and featured WITHOUT QUESTION the worst special effects I have EVER seen in a major motion picture. My friend and I had a longwinded debate on what the budget for this movie was and settled in on $3 million before discovering director Renny Harlin actually had $70 million to work with. I highly recommend The Legend of Hercules as a comedic break from your otherwise hard and stressful lives. 

3. Dumb and Dumber To (Box Office Total: $85.7M, Rotten Tomatoes Score: 28%)
As mentioned previously, 2014 was not a banner year for comedies but all of them bow down to the awfulness of Dumb and Dumber To. I’m not sure a comedy has ever made me sadder than this one did. The whole thing just felt so incredibly desperate to the point that I just wanted to hug Jim Carrey and tell him everything will be okay while knowing full well that it won’t. I got one genuine laugh out of this thing and wanted badly for it to end almost as soon as it started. 

2. Lucy (Box Office Total: $126.6M, Rotten Tomatoes Score: 66%)
In addition to quality comedies, 2014 also sorely lacked for throw away action films that could fall into the category of “guilty pleasure.” You need that sort of mindless entertainment every once in a while. That’s what Lucy should have been. Instead, it turned out to be perhaps the stupidest film of the year and yet, it foolishly attempted to make some sort of grandiose philosophical statement about life. Lucy lacks originality, entertainment value, and overall coherence. But otherwise, it’s great! 

1. Draft Day (Box Office Total: $28.8M, Rotten Tomatoes Score: 60%)
When we recorded our podcast for Draft Day, I found myself literally yelling into the microphone, unexplainably furious over the completely idiocy of this movie. As such, no movie in 2014 made me as downright angry as this one did. Draft Day had it all: painfully bad acting; a romantic subplot that added absolutely nothing to the narrative; a preposterous central storyline that laughably attempted to come off as true to life; and 60 year old Kevin Coster throwing a temper tantrum like a pre-teen when his mom shows up at his office on the biggest day of the year and demands that he help her spread his father’s ashes immediately. This really happened in the middle of a movie that is clinging desperately to the notion that it is an accurate representation of real life. Draft Day isn’t a movie, it’s a practical joke played on sports fans everywhere and I may never forgive anyone involved with it for putting me through this fresh hell. 

Mini-Movie Reviews Catchup

So it’s been awhile since I’ve been able to write anything in this space. I had shoulder surgery in November and it turned out to be more serious than I might have hoped. I was rendered a one-armed man for a while and typing with only left hand was just silly. My injury didn’t keep me from seeing movies, of course, and thus, today’s collection of mini-movie reviews to help you make good movie decisions this holiday season. I’ll be back tomorrow with a Cooper-centric post so fret not, those of you who only come here for tales of my ridiculous child. BigHero6

Big Hero 6 – Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, James Cromwell Rated PG for thematic elements and comic book violence One sentence synopsis: A teenage genius teams up with some fellow genius and a robot to take on a mysterious villain in San Fransokyo. The first combination of Marvel and Disney animation, Big Hero 6 comes off as a smashing success both financially and creatively. This has the look and feel of a Pixar movie but with a superhero origin story mixed in for good measure. The visuals are lavish and beautiful and while the story isn’t all that original, the characters are strong to say the least. I think Disney has a certifiable star on their hands in the form of the robot Baymax, an iconic character that could likely carry a successful sequel on his own. Big Hero 6 should be a winner for kids and grownups alike and the obligatory short before the movie will likely force any pet owner to become a puddle of tears. Grade: A- (Podcast here)

Nightcrawler – Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton Rated R for language and violence One sentence synopsis: A nut job discovers the high paced world of new stringing in L.A. and takes his new found occupation to psychotic levels. Serious question: does anybody like Jake Gyllenhaal? I don’t mean, “Does anybody think Jake Gyllenhaal is a good actor?” He’s clearly extremely talented. I’m just wondering if anyone gets excited about a Jake Gyllenhaal movie because I find him nearly unbearable and it seems like most of my friends agree. That said, his performance in Nightcrawler is superb and will likely earn him a very well deserved Oscar nomination. His character is thoroughly unlikable but just as thoroughly compelling and that’s due entirely to Gyllenhaal. I found the film as a whole to be only alright but it is shot wonderfully in a style reminiscent of Michael Mann, Grade: B+ (Podcast, sans my involvement thanks to a sick child, here)

Wish I Was Here – Zach Braff, Kate Hudson, Josh Gad Rated R for language and thematic elements One sentence synopsis: A struggling actor tries to keep his family together in the midst of his father’s terminal illness. Remember Zach Braff? Once upon a time he was one of the hotter up-and-coming names in the industry who probably stayed with Scrubs too long and missed his big break, then kind of disappeared for a while. Wish I Was Here is his third directorial effort and it is both pleasurable and frustrating. On the one hand, Braff knows what he is good at: the movie is dark and melancholy at times but always hinges on light humor, the soundtrack plays a big role, and the cast is solid. On the other, in the 10 years since Garden State, Braff hasn’t grown much as a filmmaker and still allows his movies to drift in and out of competence. When he’s good, he’s VERY good but when he’s not, his movies come off as film school-level. This movie is likable enough but not loveable and that’s a bit disappointing. Grade: B-

4

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I – Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth Rated PG-13 for violence and intense sequences One sentence synopsis: Fresh out of the Hunger Games arena, Katniss becomes the face of the rebellion in Panem while struggling with the loss of Peeta, held captive in the Capital. I’m a much bigger fan of this film series than I am the books and this entry definitely has its merits but falls short of the high standard set by the previous films. Mockingjay simultaneously improves upon the source material while being hamstrung a bit by the lack of literary foundation (straight up: the “Mockingjay” novel is bad, let’s be honest). The movie drags a bit in parts and I think that illustrates why it shouldn’t have been split into two parts. But that said, the elongated runtime allows for more opportunities for its stars to actually acts and all of them, particularly Lawrence who is truly a movie star at this point, perform quite well. Grade: A- (Podcast here)

Mr. Peabody and Sherman – Ty Burrell, Max Charles, Ariel Winter Rated PG for mildly intense themes I guess? Do G-rated movies even exist anymore? One sentence synopsis: A genius dog and his adopted human son travel through time in the Wayback Machine. The two important questions I ask myself when grading most non-Pixar animated features (and the very best of Disney and Dreamworks, too) are: 1.) Is it harmless/appropriate for kiddos? and 2.) Is it tolerable for adults? If the answer to both of those questions is yes, then great, the movie gets a “B.” Mr. Peabody and Sherman hits both marks but succeeds so well on both counts that I think it actually deserves some extra attention. This was a pretty stinking fun little movie and one that even my five-second-attention-span kiddo locked in on for a solid 30 to 40 minutes. It helps that it draws from some great source material but the visuals are good, the cast is strong, and there’s some fun moments that kept my attention as well as my kiddo’s. It’s been a strong year for animated films so this one is going to get left behind but for those of you with kids at home, it’s worth your time. Grade: B+

Exodus

Exodus: Gods and Kings – Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Ben Kingsley Rated PG-13 for violence and intense images One sentence synopsis: Moses clashes against the Pharaoh Ramses in order to free the Hebrews from slavery. The most frustrating part about Exodus is that it SHOULD be a good movie. Unlike Noah, which has a lackluster source material to pull from (89 verses in the Bible and a LOT left to the imagination), the story of Exodus is detailed and incredibly interesting (even if you’re not a believer) and moreover, there are so many theatrical elements within in. Unfortunately the movie just misses on so many levels. The casting is bad (Bale is alright but not great and most of the other actors feels extremely out of place), the script is messy, and about half the time I found myself wondering if Ridley Scott was even awake during production. Once upon a time Mr. Scott was a great director and maybe one day he’ll regain that form but too much of Exodus just felt like an exercise in lazy, voiceless directing. Moreover, the film dances around the subject of God and Moses’ struggle as a man without ever really picking a track to travel down. For all of its faults, at least Noah had the guts and ambition that Exodus lacks. Grade: C+

Dumb and Dumber To – Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels, Kathleen Turner Rated PG-13 for language, gross-out humor, and general awfulness One sentence synopsis: 20 years after the events of Dumb and Dumber, Harry and Lloyd reunite to track down Harry’s daughter. Ooh boy. Like all American males from my generation, I love the original Dumb and Dumber. It’s stupid and juvenile but it’s also insanely quotable and stands as one of the few comedies that holds up from an era that doesn’t look so good in hindsight. What it NEVER needed and what it DEFINITELY doesn’t need 20 years down the road is a sequel. Dumb and Dumber To is a painful and at times desperate attempt to regain the magic from a long-gone era during which all parties involved enjoyed much greater success (with the possible exception of Daniels though The Newsroom might suggest otherwise). It comes off as a cheap knock-off that cheapens the original. Grade: F (Podcast, sans my involvement thanks to the aforementioned surgery, here)

The Signal – Brenton Thwaites, Olivia Cooke, Laurence Fishburne Rated PG-13 for some language and sci-fi freakiness One sentence synopsis: After tracking a rival hacker to Nevada, three college friends encounter a power that may not be of this world. I’m a big fan of good sci-fi done on a low budget and The Signal fits the bill. It straddles the line between horror and sci-fi quite well and manages to keep the audience on their toes without falling into the trap of opening up a thousand questions that can’t all be answered. I’m not sure that everything within this movie makes sense and it definitely jumps around a bit toward the conclusion but still, it’s a solid little movie that will make for an enjoyable Netflix viewing at some point. Grade: B

BillMurray

St. Vincent – Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy, Jaeden Lieberher Rated PG-13 for language and dramatic elements One sentence synopsis: A grumpy old man with a complicated past becomes friends with his new neighbor, a pre-teen boy. I saved the best for last so we can end on a high. I’ve been looking forward to this one for months and not only did it not disappoint, it blew my expectations away. There is so much more to the story within St. Vincent than you would guess from the trailer, which is kind of frustrating because in a down year for awards contenders, this film could’ve had a shot at some consideration with a better marketing campaign. Regardless, St. Vincent is wholly charming and emotionally impactful and I loved it. Murray gives his best performance in a decade and the chemistry he develops with newcomer Lieberher is superb. Lots of laughs, plenty of tears, and an all-around, highly enjoyable movie. Grade: A