Top Movies of the 2000’s

They may not have been around long enough to be considered classics, but there is still no denying the importance and stature of these modern works of brilliance.  Here are my top films from the 2000s:

10.  The Pianist: While it doesn’t quite reach the heights of Schindler’s List, the Pianist is still a brutally realistic and elegantly crafted Holocaust film that vividly portrays the fall and eventual rise of a Jewish piano player in the 1940’s.

9.  Casino Royale: The film that gave the Bond franchise a full makeover and recovery from the average Pierce Brosnan saga, Casino Royale is complex and intelligent while containing classic Bond film action sequences, charm, and smooth dialogue.

8.  No Country for Old Men: With the Coen Brothers’ at the peak of their powers, No Country for Old Men is a tense and darkly executed thriller with one of the most amazing villains ever conceived in Javier Bardem’s ruthless coin-flipping murderer.

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7.  The Hurt Locker: The pinnacle of movies about the Iraq war, this film made Kathryn Bigelow a legend in 2000s movie history by combining great action and brilliant acting with some of the tensest scenes ever captured on camera.

6.  Pan’s Labyrinth: A fairy tale for grown ups, this brilliantly executed foreign language film portrays the horrors of war in such a way that you begin to question what is more terrifying: the little girl’s reality or what is seemingly going on in her imagination.

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5.  Wall-e: My favorite Pixar film besides the Toy Story franchise due to its lovable characters and brilliant storytelling, this gorgeously animated futuristic adventure is entertainment at its purest with the timely subtext about the exponential effect we are having on the environment.

4.  The Departed: With one of the best ensemble casts ever assembled, this intricate crime drama of cat and mouse between the Irish Mob and the Boston State Police Department is as brilliant as it is violent and contains all the classic Scorsese elements we have come to adore over the years.

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3.  There Will Be Blood: With heavy metaphors relating to religion, this film about a greedy and uncompromising oil tycoon is one of those deeply layered creations that only gets better the more you see it. The decent into insanity of the main character Daniel Plainview, played by Daniel Day-Lewis in an Oscar winning performance, is followed perfectly by Paul Thomas Anderson as the film catapulted him into the history books.

2.  The Dark Knight: Changing what the definition of a superhero movie could be, this Christopher Nolan epic improved upon the first by showing that superhero movies could be so much more than simple box office hits by creating a dark, chaotic, crime noir.

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1.  Lord of the Rings: Return of the King: By combining the elegant storytelling of the first movie and the epic battle sequences of the second, the third installment of this Peter Jackson directed trilogy stands as the best of them all and garnered a record 11 Oscar wins.

Honorable Mentions: Up, Finding Nemo, Gladiator, Into the Wild, Spirited Away, Mystic River, Letters From Iwo Jima, Inglorious Bastards, City of God, Children of Men, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

20 Films to Watch Come Awards Season

With only a few more weeks of Summer Blockbuster Season left, it’s time to look ahead to my favorite time of the year: awards season at the movies. Disregarding the Sundance Film Festival and the Cannes Film Festival, a majority of the higher quality film festivals tend to run during September through to November. The Venice Film Festival kicks us off on September 2nd, and with the beginning of the festival, we will start to see the release of the films that will be in contention for all the big awards, including the Oscars. Here’s a list of the films I am most excited to see that may be in contention for awards:

Black Mass: Despite Johnny Depp having some poor outings recently, most notably in Mortdecai, this film looks like it could be a turn around that may see the actor reach the heights he achieved when he received an acting nomination for Sweeney Todd. With the director of Crazy Heart, which won Jeff Bridges best actor, and a supporting cast including Benedict Cumberbatch, Kevin Bacon, and Siena Miller, this gangster film has all the ingredients to be a hit.

Bridge of Spies: Well, it’s Steven Spielberg as the director, Tom Hanks is the main actor, and it’s set during the Cold War. What more could you do to garner pre-Oscar attention? This will be Spielberg’s first film since the spectacular Lincoln, and it’s hard to see this Cold War spy drama going bad.

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Carol: After receiving high praise from its premier at the Cannes Film Festival, where Rooney Mara won the best actress award, this Cate Blanchett/Rooney Mara led period drama about two lesbians is sure to see some nominations.

Creed: Fruitvale Station was one of my favorite films of 2013, and in Creed we see the same director/actor combination of Ryan Coogler and the up and coming Michael B. Jordan working together on this Rocky spinoff that has me excited to see the two working together again.

The Danish Girl: Eddie Redmayne was phenomenal in his Oscar winning role of Stephen Hawking last year, and this role seems to be another platform for him to showcase his talents. This film is about the first person to undergo a male to female sex change. With the director of the King’s Speech (best picture for 2010) and Les Miserables at the helm, this film could see Redmayne repeat his best actor win.

Everest: Set to be the Opening Film of the Venice Film Festival (previously opened up by Birdman and Gravity the past two years), this survival thriller stars a strong cast including Jake Gyllenhaal, Josh Brolin, Robin Wright, Kiera Knightly, and Emma Watson.

The Hateful Eight: The new film from Tarantino is another Western, just like his previous outing, that will hopefully follow Inglorious Bastards and Django Unchained in the pattern of being nominated for the Best Original Screenplay award at the Oscars. Also, when has Tarantino ever faltered from his mantle?

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In the Heart of the Sea: Originally scheduled to be released in March but moved to the heart of awards season serves as a good omen for this Ron Howard (Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind) directed epic about the story that began the myth of Moby Dick.

Joy: David O. Russel has seen great success with Jennifer Lawrence in his recent films (Silver Lining’s Playbook, American Hustle), and hopes to continue that success as he hands Lawrence the lead role in his new film about a single mom who becomes a prominent businesswoman.

Legend: Tom Hardy (one of my favorite actors currently) stars as both Ronald and Reginald Kray, two twin gangsters who ruled London during the 1950s and 60s. This movie, scripted by the writer of L.A. Confidential, sets the stage for Tom Hardy to mount a vicious attack to prevent DiCaprio from winning his first acting Oscar in The Revenant (mentioned below).

Macbeth: The next in a long line of modern (in setting or style) adaptions of Shakespeare plays sees Marion Cotillard and Michael Fassbender lead this dark and dramatic adaptation of the great play. Praise from the Cannes film festival along with a dark, brooding trailer means this film will stay on my radar over the coming months.

The Martian: Matt Damon is an astronaut stranded and struggling to stay alive on Mars while a team comprised of Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty), Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave), Jeff Daniels, and Kristen Wiig work to bring him back. Ridley Scott (Alien, Gladiator) takes up the director’s mantle for a film that has as much promise as any of them.

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The Program: Biopic is also a strong genre to work with when trying to gain Oscar recognition, especially when it is about someone as controversial as Lance Armstrong. Add in a director who gave Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln, There Will Be Blood) his first big role as well as helped Helen Mirren to an Oscar win for The Queen and Judi Dench a nomination for Philomena, and it becomes reasonable to believe that this could be a breakthrough role for Ben Foster (Lone Survivor).

The Revenant: The movie I am most excited to see has DiCaprio taking another shot at winning that elusive Oscar statue under the strong direction of Alejandro González Iñárritu, the man who just so happened to director last year’s Best Picture winner: Birdman. The story of a man out for revenge after being left for dead following a bear attack could finally be the stage for Leo to win the Oscar he has so longingly deserved.

Snowden: An Oliver Stone (Platoon) led film about a man who went from being in the army, to the CIA, to being one of the most wanted men in the world. With actors Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zachary Quinto (American Horror Story, Star Trek) and Tom Wilkinson leading the way, this film could be a potential return to glorious form for Oliver Stone.

Son of Saul: The runner-up at this year’s Cannes Film Festival is almost guaranteed to be nominated for the Foreign Language Film award at the Oscars. It is a unique Holocaust film about a Hungarian-Jewish prisoner at Auschwitz who is in charge of the disposal of gas chamber victims. This one will be a tough film to watch for most.
Spotlight: Mark Ruffalo, Amy Adams, and newly revived Michael Keaton (Birdman) look to set director Tom McCarthy back on the right path after his miss, The Cobbler. The movie revolves around the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist team that uncovered the child molestation scandal in their local archdiocese. Could this be similar to All the President’s Men? One can only hope so.

Steve Jobs: While the Ashton Kutcher film about the same man was a massive flop, this film looks to be in much better hands as Danny Boyle (127 hours, Slumdog Millionaire) directs and Michael Fassbender plays the titular character. A movie that will apparently focus on a shorter time period than the other Steve Jobs film, this could also allow Fassbender to swipe away an Oscar from poor Leo.

Suffragette: Three of the most powerful female actors today in Meryl Streep, Helena Bonham Carter, and Carey Mulligan take to the big screen about this film regarding the Women’s Social and Political Union that is set to open the London Film Festival.

The Walk: Acclaimed director Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future, Forrest Gump) leads Joseph Gordon Levitt as the two tell the story of the man who attempted to walk between the Twin Towers on a wire. This movie will certainly try to replicate the accolades garnered by the documentary about the same subject (Man on Wire).

Bonus Film – Spectre: While it may not be a film that will be in contention for any awards, this is still my second most anticipated film (behind The Revenant) for 2015. I just can’t get enough of James Bond at this moment in time. P.S. A new trailer for this was released a couple days ago

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Minions Review

I like the minions. I think they’re funny, cute, entertaining, and incredibly creative. They were one of the x factors that made the first Despicable Me film so great. Even though trying to understand what they’re saying through their Italian, English, French, and Spanish mixed language is difficult, you still get the general sense of what their emotions are and how playful they are as creatures. They are the perfect sidekicks to the perfect villain for Gru. Unfortunately, that’s all that they can be. Nothing more. As I was watching their film, “Minions,” there was this overwhelming feeling that the minions are destined to be always be sidekicks and never the actual superheroes. They thrive in an environment where they are the support cast. They just don’t have a strong enough presence to command a solo movie for its entire run time. Everything about this film just seems to fall that little bit short: the comedy, the story, and the characters. So much of it just feels that little bit too forced, just like the image of the minions has been forced down our throats for the past few weeks.

There are some funny moments in it, but it’s never comedy that makes you laugh out loud.   The jokes tend to just produce a sort of chuckle every now and then. There were about four different families with young children in the theater when I saw it, and the children were laughing throughout the entire movie. The comedy is definitely geared more towards a younger audience and won’t be enjoyed as much by anybody over the age of thirteen. That’s probably the biggest area where this film falls short in comparison to other great animated films, such as Inside Out from earlier this year. Inside Out had to ability to create great comedy that was funny for children and adults alike in order to keep people of all ages entertained and engaged in the film. Minions is the sort of movie that I imagine will be the bane of all babysitter’s and parents’ existences when it comes out on DVD because they will have to live with it constantly playing in the background. It will keep the kids entertained, but it will get old very quickly for the older age groups.

I applaud them for attempting to make this film because it had the potential to be something special and add an extra element to the Despicable Me universe, but sadly it pales in comparison to the other two films. It is interesting to see the origin of the minions, and they still remain some of the most original characters ever created. They will always be slightly entertaining no matter what and children will enjoy the movie, but it just lacks that little bit extra to make it worthwhile.

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Minions (2015): 2/4 stars

Top Movies of the 1990s

The 1990s are the second best decade for cinema in my opinion (closely following the 1970s).  In this decade, we see huge advances in special effects, the introduction of Tarantino, and Steven Spielberg take command of the world of cinema.

10.  Pulp Fiction: Slightly ruined for me by the unnecessarily violent and pointless Bruce Willis storyline, this Tarantino classic is still perfect for all other parts of the film with it’s fantastic dialogue, brilliant pop culture references, and inventive interwoven story lines.

9.  Terminator 2: Arguably even better than the original, this brilliantly scripted action film proves that action films can in fact have an intelligent storyline and brilliant special effects at the same time. It’s up there with Aliens and Toy Story 2 as the best sequels ever created.

8.  The Lion King: An emotional roller coaster and a must-see for all children of the 90s generation,  this brilliant animation film, along with its impeccable soundtrack, can stand up and go toe to toe with the classic Disney giants, and in some ways, win.

7.  American Beauty: A highpoint for the late 90’s and strong platform for Kevin Spacey to shine, this darkly humored film metaphorically discusses the struggles of going through a mid-life crisis in a mature and, yes, beautiful way.

6.  Toy Story: The film that opened up the entire world of computer animation films and placed Pixar on the map with a bang, Toy Story remains the best animated film I’ve ever seen due to it’s lovable characters, flawless animation, and ever-brilliant script.

5.  Goodfellas: Martin Scorsese’s equivalent of Godfather is the only mafia drama we have seen come close to matching Coppola’s classics. Overflowing with style and brilliant acting, this movie is arguably the best in a long line of Scorsese classics.

4.  The Shawshank Redemption: A movie that does everything perfectly and changed the game for prison films by combining realistic prison interactions with a unique depiction of hope and uplifting emotion.

3.  Silence of the Lambs: The first horror film to win best picture and garner the big five awards at the Oscars, Silence of the Lambs balances its two story lines of the hunt for Buffalo Bill and the interactions between Starling and Lector perfectly. What drives this film to new heights, however, is the all-time creepiest performance by Anthony Hopkins as Dr. Hannibal Lector.

2.  Saving Private Ryan: One of the best war films, Saving Private Ryan asks tough moral questions while simultaneously praising the courage and determination of all WWII veterans. A movie (along with Schindler’s List and Jurassic Park) that allowed Spielberg to dominate the decade.

1.  Schindler’s List: An uncompromising look at the harsh realities of the Holocaust combined with the simple story of the hope and salvation, Schindler’s List is Spielberg’s crowning achievement and required viewing for all adults.

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Honorable Mentions:  Jurassic Park, The Matrix, Fight Club, Fargo, Good Will Hunting, Reservoir Dogs, The Big Lebowksi, L.A. Confidential, Braveheart, La Vita é Bella

“Amy” Review

Creating a documentary has to be one of the hardest stories to tell because you need to recreate the full life of a person who you may know little about before gathering information. A good documentary about a person’s life is not only detailed, but also portrays the individuals personality and emotional complexities in a way that makes it feel like we are hearing their life story through the individual’s own words rather than through a camera medium. If someone told you to tell the story of your own life, how would you tell it? I don’t know about all of you, but for me, that has to be one of the most difficult questions to answer. What aspects of my life do I want to include, which people, which hobbies, which emotions, and what should the overall tone of my life be? It’s a question that would take a lot of personal reflection for me to answer; it becomes even more difficult when you take that question and apply to a life that isn’t your own. The challenge of creating an unbiased, informative, and realistic portrayal of a person’s life is daunting to say the least. Luckily, when all the pieces work together, the end result is usually a masterpiece.

“Amy” already checked two boxes off on the way to being a great documentary: able filmmakers and an intriguing subject. There is no debate that Amy Winehouse was one of the most controversial music sensations the world has ever seen. She was the bad girl that did what she wanted, when she wanted, and was able to get away with it because of the seemingly limitless amounts of musical potential she possessed. I was never big into Amy Winehouse until I went abroad and one of my roommates on the trip was obsessed with her. Because of him, I started listening to her music and found it utterly engrossing and brilliant. This documentary can be described using the same characteristics. There are so many things done well from broad scale storytelling to the little details, such as displaying her song lyrics on screen in conjunction with the aspect of her life that the lyrics pertain to. Amy Winehouse had a hectic life that held more emotional and dramatic depth than most people’s daily routines would hold. The filmmakers were able to caption the raw emotion of her personality, music, and lifestyle in a hauntingly realistic portrayal that presents the singer/songwriter in a nonbiased light. She is neither praised nor criticized for the way that she lived her life or the decisions she made. Instead, the film simply tries to answer the question of “what was the life of Amy Winehouse like?” And it answers that question with such depressing bliss and painful realism that it becomes as entertaining and engrossing as it is difficult to watch. Seeing the talented young singer with so much potential fall down into this never-ending spiral of self-destruction is one of the most difficult viewings I have ever experienced.

This is one of the best documentaries I have seen in a while, and ranks right up there with “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” “Senna,” and “Undefeated” as one of my favorite documentaries of recent years. This is a masterpiece of a movie about a masterpiece of a musician that should go down as required viewing for not only any fan of Amy Winehouse’s music, but for all fans of music in general. The main thought I had when I left the theater a thought of wonder about how much this young musician could have achieved had she lived longer. The “27 club” gained another astounding musician to join the ranks of Jimi Hendricks, Kurt Kobain, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison to name a few. Listening to “Back to Black” will never be the same after watching this overall perfect documentary.

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Amy (2015): 4/4 stars

Top Movies of the 1980s

Following the momentous time period that the 1970s was for cinema, the 1980s did its best to try and produce its own batch of influential films.  The movies may not be as grand as those of the 70s, but they are still enjoyable and historic nonetheless.

10.  Ghostbusters: Fantastic chemistry from the impeccably casted group of actors and hysterical writing make Ghostbusters brilliant for repeated-comedy viewing.

9.  E. T. The Extra Terrestrial: One of the most magical family films ever crafted, adding even more diversity and range to the already expansive repertoire of Steven Spielberg.

8.  Die Hard: What more do you want than bare-footed Bruce Willis going up against a German Allan Rickman? Brilliant action and memorable scenes makes this flick an action film with an exclamation mark.

7.  Gandhi- Backed by the electrifying performance of Ben Kingsley as the titular character, Gandhi serves as a film built for personal reflection that is so grand we probably won’t see anything like it created for quite some time.

6.  The Breakfast Club: The teen classic that defines teen classics and would ultimately go on to influence other films such as Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Breakfast Club is a great testament to youth, rebellion, and the uniqueness of the individual going through high school.

5.  The Shining: While it differs in many aspects from the source material, Stanley Kubrick successfully creates a multi-dimensional tale of madness and despair with one of the greatest horrors at its core: being hunted by a member of your family.

4.  Aliens: James Cameron is one of the only directors that could take Alien and improve on it in so many ways, including special effects and acting strength. While just as suspenseful as the original, more entertaining characters and action sequences ensure this film is one of the best sequels ever created.

3.  Raiders of the Lost Ark: While the rest of the Indiana Jones films (except for Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) are all good, Raiders stands as the movie that defines the trilogy and gave us one of the most iconic action adventure characters.

2.  Raging Bull: One of Scorsese’s classics and containing one of the most memorable opening shots, Raging Bull takes the concept of boxing and uses it to paint a portrait of struggling American life in the mid century, revolving around themes of domestic abuse and the pursuit of success.

1.  Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back: Darker, bolder, and more entertaining than the original Star Wars, the second installment acts as “The Dark Knight” to the original’s “Batman Begins”.

Honorable Mentions: Blade Runner, Star Wars VI, Back to the Future, Ferri’s Bueller’s day off, The Terminator, The Princess Bride, The Karate Kid

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Transformers: Age of Extinction Review

Well. It’s a Transformers movie. Michael Bay is still the director. Mark Wahlberg is the main actor. What do you expect it to be like? If you are a fan of long, drawn out, and mostly unnecessary action scenes, pointless scripts, and a storyline that has no substance whatsoever, then get in line for this movie right away. You’ll love every minute. If you are actually a moviegoer who enjoys intelligence, good acting, good writing, and a likeable story…basically anything that makes a movie remotely entertaining…then stay far away. There are so many things wrong with this movie and so many different plot holes that I wouldn’t even know where to begin listing them. There are so many problems I could probably make a list in three ways: chronologically, alphabetically, or on a scale of how much they annoy me from “well isn’t that convenient” to “this is down right insulting.” I just don’t understand this concept that modern action films feel like they are going to be judged on how many different special-effects driven action sequences you can pack into a two and half hour movie.  I would love to see the figures of how much money is spent on the special effects versus every other area of filmmaking because I can guarantee that more than half of the film’s budget went to the effects and about 10 cents of it went to actually writing the script. Every character is pointless, all the dialogue is meaningless, the plot is non-existent, things seem to happy for no reason whatsoever, it doesn’t explain anything, it makes no sense, it has no brain, and ultimately, there is no point to anything that happens in the film. You finish the ridiculously long run time (2 hours 44 minutes), take a breath, and realize “wait…did anything actually get accomplished for any logical reason in that entire time?” The answer: no. This may go down in history as the biggest waste of time ever in cinema history.

I have a few questions for the filmmakers that I would like to share because I think these are questions that deserve answers and can also serve as a means of personal reflection for the producers before they decide that the convoluted idea of making a 5th entry is the best decision since someone decided to create indoor plumbing. The questions are as follows:

  1. Do you ever have your characters think before they act? Or do you prefer to have them barge into random buildings, destroying everything left right and center, just because it allows you to make a couple more explosions?
  2. Could you have more product placement even if you tried? Also, if you’re going to destroy a bus, don’t make it a Victoria’s Secret bus! Rosie-Huntington Whitely could have been on that (not that you didn’t already destroy her film career before it even formulated during the third movie).
  3. Who read this script and thought to themselves, “Yes! This will make a brilliant movie and we must put it into production immediately.”
  4. Is Mark Wahlberg so desperate for work that he had to do this film? Shia LaBeouf I can understand, but not you Marky Mark. Not you.
  5. Did you see the plot holes and decide to not waste time filling them in or were you so blinded by the mindless explosions that you actually didn’t see them somehow?

I’m going to stop there because I think if I continue this rant I may actually lose my mind. This movie drives me crazier than the obnoxious seven-year-old rebel child in the tennis summer camp I used to coach last year. I would rather give him private lessons every day for a year than waste three hours of my life watching this loud, overblown, idiotic, monotonous piece of metal-filled trash again.  I pray that they stop the torture after this entry. I don’t think I could stand another Transformers movie after this one. But I just know that there’s a least going to be talks about a 5th film being made because unfortunately, Hollywood is made of money grabbing producers who care more about the box office than contributing to the rich history of cinema. And that is the reason why these Transformers films, and so many others like them, end up being so terrible.

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Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014): .5/4 stars