BIG HERO 6
ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE - REVIEW
BLUE RUIN - A gritty, independently-produced revenge movie with an unlikely leading man. Stylish, emotional, and incredibly violent. Reminiscent of Simon Rumley's RED, WHITE AND BLUE.
OCULUS - REVIEW
ALL IS LOST - Who'da thunk that Robert Redford stuck at sea would be so good? Making a one-setting (and, in some cases, one-man) movie interesting can be tricky, but this one manages to pull it off thanks to the unpredictable and ever-changing weather conditions, as well as some gorgeous cinematography to keep things interesting on a visual level.
JOE - Like Steven Soderbergh, David Gordon Green (PINEAPPLE EXPRESS) is a director who likes to go back and forth between mainstream "popcorn" fare and lesser-profile films that boast more artistic merit, which makes him one of the more interesting filmmakers working today. JOE is one of D-Double-G's more recent anti-Hollywood projects, and it revolves around a tragic character who takes a troubled boy from a damaged family under his wing. It features great performances from professional actors like Nicolas Cage and even better performances from non-actors, including a show-stealing portrayal of the boy's alcoholic father by an actual homeless man who Green found on the streets.
RETURN TO NUKE 'EM HIGH VOL. 1 - I might be in the minority of people who truly loved this movie and I'm fine with that. It should be noted that I'm not a Lloyd Kaufman mark, nor am I an apologist for Troma. Truth be told, I don't even like the original CLASS OF NUKE 'EM HIGH movies all that much. But this one is so hilarious and absurd that I couldn't help but enjoy it, and it has a garish, 80s punk rock aesthetic that I love. "Unle Lloyd" literally throws everything at the wall with this movie, and whether any of it sticks or not is subjective; this just happened to work for me on numerous levels. Bring on volume 2!
BATMAN: ASSAULT ON ARKHAM - I've always been more of a Marvel guy than DC. I absolutely love Christopher Nolan's DARK KNIGHT trilogy, but that's sort of where my interest in DC's cinematic and animated output begins and ends. This one appealed to me, though, because it's all about the villains, and I've always been a fan of the vastness of the rogues gallery when it comes to the Batman universe. ASSAULT ON ARKHAM is basically the Suicide Squad being awesome and wreaking havoc as they assume an anti-hero role against Batman's more established nemeses.
THE SIGNAL - This was a big surprise. What I thought was gonna be just another Sci-Fi movie ended up being quite an extraordinary and visually-stunning superhero origin story of sorts. The film features somewhat of a Cyberpunk aesthetic, and, when it was all said and done, it reminded me of M. Night Shyamalan's UNBREAKABLE for reasons that I don't need to get into. I'm also officially a huge fan of actor Brenton Thwaites because of this movie.
NOAH - This had trainwreck written all over it from the start, but I'll watch (and try my best to like) anything that Darren Aronofsky directs for as long as he's pumping out movies, regardless of what type of subject he's tackling. The story of Noah is so ridiculous in the first place, so it's only appropriate that Aronofsky disregards any sort of historical or Biblical accuracies right off the bat by incorporating giant rock-monsters into his movie, resulting in something that's more of a Sci-Fi disaster movie than an accurate portrayal of what many perceive to be a factual part of our planet's history. Aronofsky could have gone in any direction with this movie and I would've liked it just as muchif certain things remained intact, like the amazing cast and the gorgeous visuals. And, regardless of what my personal beliefs are and how much emotional investment I had in the mythology of Noah himself, I walked away from this lamenting the overall shitty condition of our precious planet, which, in my opinion, is a testament to the power of Aronofsky's latest.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: WINTER SOLDIER - This was just a solid Action movie, plain and simple. Some of the fight sequences looked like they were choreographed and shot by Gareth Evans (minus the stabbings and broken body parts), which I certainly wasn't expecting, and I found the darkness to Cap's light in this movie to be very intriguing. The stinger at the end is also an exciting glimpse of Marvel's cinematic future.
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, MY NAME IS PAUL HEYMAN - Lately I've only seen one or two of these WWE documentaries per year, but the ones I watch usually end up being really good. Either that or I'm just biased because I'm a wrestling fan and go into them with a built-in interest in the subject matter. In this particular case, the subject is former ECW mastermind Paul Heyman, who's always been one of my favorite talkers in wrestling. This is a pretty thorough, well-produced documentary that covers the highs and lows of his career with some cool behind-the-scenes footage to boot.
BENEATH THE HARVEST SKY - A coming-of-age drama set against the backdrop of a potato harvest in rural Maine. This is the type of movie that could go either way with people; some will appreciate it and some will be bored out of their minds. I obviously appreciate it. For starters it features two cast members of THE WIRE, which is the greatest show ever made. Seriously though, this is a solid indie film with a simple story about two friends who try to stick together despite being pulled apart by fate (and some bad choices). What sealed the deal for me is the small-town setting and how beautifully it's shot.
FILTH - Based on what some believed to be an unadaptable book of the same name by Irvine Welsh (TRAINSPOTTING), FILTH features my favorite James McAvoy performance to date for whatever that's worth. This is a bonkers film with a great cast, a lot of style, and one of my favorite endings of the last year. Oh, and it's very Scottish, which is a plus if you're like me and are thoroughly amused by Scottish slang and thick accents.
THE LEGO MOVIE - I don't watch a lot of kids movies because, well... I don't have kids. Don't want any either. But that's another story. Anyway, I made an exception for this one because I know a lot of people who saw it and they all raved about it. Turns out their ravings were accurate. The animation is spectacular and it's a fun ride full of amazing surprises that nerds everywhere will appreciate. If I could somehow acquire a version with the obnoxious "Everything is Awesome" song omitted, I'd like it even more.
MALEFICENT - A visually stunning film that gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling for reasons that I can't put into words.
WITCHING AND BITCHING - REVIEW
HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2 - Again, I don't watch many kids movies, but I went out of my way to watch HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2 and its predecessor after seeing the trailer for this one on the big screen. This is total eye-candy. I'm a fan of old-school, hand-drawn animation despite how rudimentary some of it looks because I appreciate the work that's put into it. It's not to say that computer animation doesn't require a lot of hard work, but someone (or a group of people) sitting down and spending hours tracing and coloring is a lot sexier to me than people plopped down in front of computers. Movies like this, however, are so stunning on a visual level that my preferences become irrelevant and I find myself in awe from start to end. Plus, I love the characters, and the designs of the dragons are wildly imaginative.
X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST - I'm pretty biased when it comes to this one. I don't read comics anymore, but I used to be all about the X-Men back in the day when I did collect them. Or pretty much anything with "X" in the title in general. That said, I love all of the X-MEN movies (even the third one), so this one had to really shit the bed for me to not be all over its jock. Turns out this ended up being one of my favorite entries in the series so far. It's literally like the first three mashed up with FIRST CLASS, which introduced new characters and cast members, so, as a fan, I got the best of both worlds with DAYS OF FUTURE PAST. On top of that, it's entertaining and features a lot of eye-candy and great special effects. The plot is a mess but whatevs.
THE ACT OF KILLING
ABC'S OF DEATH 2 - REVIEW
GIRL RISING - I knew nothing about this one beforehand and picked it up just wanting to see something new. This is a documentary about young women from all over the world and different walks of life broken down into specific chapters with styles that vary from animation to live action to combinations of both. Each chapter also features narration from actresses like Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway, Kerry Washington, and Liam Neeson. Oh wait, he's not an actress! Liam, you sneaky bugger. Seriously, though, this documentary is a creative way of giving us Westerners an insight into not only what young women in various parts of the world have to deal with on a daily basis but of other cultures and countries in general. You go girl!
BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR - Because Adele Exarchopoulos pretty much.
FRUITVALE STATION - Based on a true story, this is a heartbreaking and wonderfully-acted film that documents the final day of a young Bay Area resident who was killed by an improperly-trained police officer. This is just a solid film all across the board. Nuff said, yo.
DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES - Is it weird that some of my favorite performances in recent years have been from actors who we never see, and whose means of conveying dialogue are through sign language, grunts, and soundbites? Such was the case a few years back with Andy Serkis in RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, and it's the case once again with Serkis reprising his role as Caesar in its sequel. Even more impressive this time around, however, are Toby Kebbell (DEAD MAN'S SHOES) and Nick Thurston (WHITE IRISH DRINKERS) as Koba and Blue Eyes respectively. While I think I prefer RISE over this one, I could really go either way depending on my mood. This is a solid sequel and director Matt Reeves has done some amazing work with this resurrection of the APES series. The thought of future chapters makes me want to beat my chest (or beat something else - ha!) with excitement. Hail Caesar!
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY - I'm sure you know at least one person who's raved about how fun this movie is. Well, I echo their sentiments. So there. Moving on.
JODOROWSKY'S DUNE - This documentary came pretty close to taking the top spot. I hadn't even seen DUNE before watching this documentary but was well aware of its history (I've since watched it by the way), in that director Alejandro Jodorowsky (EL TOPO) was originally attached to the project before David Lynch and intended on making it the most ambitious film ever made. And even when David Lynch took over there was still some drama behind the scenes, resulting in Lynch disowning the studio's cut of the film. But this documentary isn't about Lynch; it's about Jodorowsky wanting to make his version of the film and how close (yet far) he came to doing so. It's about a determined, visionary (and very high) filmmaker assembling an army of artists to help bring what ended up being a doomed project to life. JODOROWSKY'S DUNE is an absolutely fascinating, eye-opening, and entertaining look at what some consider to be the holy grail of unmade movies and the most inspirational film that no one will ever see.
MUSCLE SHOALS - This a beautifully-shot documentary about a legendary music studio in Alabama that produced a number of hits in the 60s and 70s thanks to some talented producers, miraculous session-musicians, and a magical vibe of the rural surroundings. This has everything that makes a music documentary work: style, gorgeous cinematography, memorable and insightful talking-head interviews, a complete lack of Dave Grohl, and, most importantly, a great story. Of course music is always a factor in the overall package, but it sort of comes with the territory in this case. If you have any appreciation whatsoever for the art of creating music, I guarantee this is one of the best documentaries you'll ever see.
*I watched GONE GIRL in between the time I compiled this list and posted it, and yeah, it definitely would've ended up in my Top 30.