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The Double (2014)

The Double

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ out of 5

Directed by Richard Ayoade

Starring Jesse Eisenberg as James Simon/Simon James

Mia Wasikowska as Hannah

Imdb Link

A shy, socially awkward office worker named Simon is challenged when James moves into the building next door and starts working at his office. A man with an identical face and an opposite personality.

This is a surprise addition to my top ten of the year. The Double is like Terry Gilliam’s Brazil meets Wes Anderson meets Enemy, and it is pretty spectacular. I had previously seen and not enjoyed Richard Ayoade’s Submarine, so my hopes were not all that high for this one, but I thought it seemed like it could be good, and I really liked Enemy which is this film’s doppelgänger about doppelgängers, and I was curious about this. Somehow, I ended up loving The Double even more than I did Enemy. This movie is just off the walls crazy, it’s full of some really great deadpan humor, some darker stuff, and a whole lot of references to Terry Gilliam’s sci-fi stuff except set in a non-science fiction setting. Brazil is one of my ten favorite movies, and the fact that this film comes so close to doing what Brazil does but taking a completely different path in terms of story and setting makes me love it all the more. Jesse Eisenberg does an incredible job with his two roles, and though it’s hard to buy him as a womanizer, I could suspend my disbelief enough, and I really enjoyed the subtle differences between the two characters, he really does a good job here. I love the production design as well, how it manages to look almost timeless by having sets designed like a mix of 195os Los Angeles and a strange surreal painting. The Double is an incredible film, it’s a lot of fun, really well made and creative, and ultimately one of the best films of the year.

Field of Dreams (1989)

Field of Dreams

★ ★ ★ ★ out of 5

Directed by Phil Alden Robinson

Starring Kevin Costner as Ray Kinsella

Ray Liotta as Shoeless Joe

Imdb Link

A corn farmer, Ray Kinsella, starts hearing strange voices while he’s out in the corn, telling him to build a baseball field.

While I was watching this I kept thinking, “this is overly sentimental, cheesy, ridiculous to the point that it’s hard to suspend disbelief sometimes, and pretty much nonsensical, so why am I enjoying it so much?” And the answer is because Field of Dreams is one of those films that feels like those that they don’t make anymore. This is basically It’s a Wonderful Life with baseball, it’s the type of movie that Jimmy Stewart could have starred in. Even though it does seem overly sentimental, and a lot of the plot points make no sense even in a fantasy movie, it’s just so enjoyable, which can help you look past those flaws. I didn’t have to believe everything that I was seeing, it’s more about the themes than the plot. The themes are really what holds the film together. Without such nice messages about family, about chasing your dreams, and about life after death, the film can make you think. I wouldn’t say it’s a great film or one of my favorites, Field of Dreams is just pleasant, it has lots of flaws that keep me from loving it, some of which I’ve already mentioned, the plot doesn’t keep me from liking it, but it does keep me from really loving it, then of course there’s Kevin Costner, who I can’t stand as an actor, and he made some scenes hard to watch. Also, I don’t think it’s really an incredibly well crafted film. The direction is fine, nothing outstanding, the editing works well, the camera work is nothing special. It’s all just very passable, nothing spectacular. Field of Dreams is like chicken soup for the soul, it makes you feel all warm and fuzzy and nice, it’s not the best kind of soup, it’s not really the classiest or most lavish soup, but it’s a soup that everyone can at least enjoy.

Birdman or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance (2014)

Birdman or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ out of 5

Directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

Starring Michael Keaton as Riggan

Emma Stone as Sam

Edward Norton as Mike

Imdb Link

Riggan Thomson is a washed up actor, famous for playing a superhero, Birdman, who hopes to get his career back on track by mounting a Broadway play, which he wrote, directed, and is starring in.

So what everyone has been saying is true, the best movie of the year has arrived in the form of Birdman, a clever, surrealist black comedy satirizing superhero films, Hollywood, Broadway, and fame in general. This is what I’ve been waiting to see all year, something that I think about non-stop for days afterwards, something that I can’t wait to watch a second time. In a year full of an enormous amount of great movies, Birdman blows everything else out of the water. This film manages to be one of the most technically impressive, as well as one of the most subtle films I’ve seen in a while. Usually it’s one or the other, but Birdman really is both. The technical side being supported by the whole “made to look like one shot” thing that I’m sure you have heard about, which works perfectly, making the film feel exactly like a piece of theater, but in the most cinematic way possible, as well as having some very impressive CGI (actually, the film wins the award for having both the best and worst CGI of the year in the same scene, having a very shitty looking floating Birdman following Riggan, followed by one of the most impressive looking monsters I’ve ever seen on top of a brownstone apartment). The subtlety is supported by a brilliant script, full of witty dialogue, and symbolism and metaphors that I’m going to need to rewatch the film to fully understand, as well as some great understated performances by Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, and a standout performance from Edward Norton. Even though all the actors give career best performances, the real star of the show in Birdman is Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and his direction. You can tell how perfectly everything comes together because of his vision. The film is full of incredibly strong choices, and without these choices, I doubt the film would be even a quarter as impressive as it ended up being. This movie is one of a kind, and it’s the kind of thing that you don’t see often. This is a brilliant film, and I can’t wait to see it a second time.

Interstellar (2014)

Interstellar

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ out of 5

Directed by Christopher Nolan

Starring Matthew McConaughey as Cooper

Anne Hathaway as Amelia

Imdb Link

The earth is dying. We can’t sustain food for all the people on the planet to live. As a way to keep the human species alive, NASA launches a mission to find other habitable planets on the other side of a wormhole, just beside Saturn.

My most anticipated movie of the year has finally arrived. Was it as good as I was hoping? Close, but not exactly. Was it still absolutely amazing and one of the best films of the year? Definitely yes. Nolan is still on his A-Game with Interstellar. This movie is one of the most amazing, spectacles I’ve seen in a long time. I would actually argue that seeing this is maybe the best theater experience I’ve ever had. Go see it on a big screen. On the biggest screen possible. It immerses you like no other film can. And I say that as an enormous fan of Gravity (which I think is a better film overall, but Interstellar is a better theater experience). The visuals are incredible. This is Christopher Nolan’s best looking film in terms of the cinematography. Hoyte Van Hoytema did a stellar job with the lighting and the framing. Every part of the film, even the very underwhelming opening on Earth, looked gorgeous. Actually, I think some of the best camerawork happened down on earth. The visual effects are amazing too. I think we can just give the Oscar to the effects in this film right now. The competition is over in that department. Now onto the script, which I thought was pretty good, but very uneven. The one thing people complain about most in Nolan films is his screenwriting, I don’t usually have a problem with it, but I did at a lot of points here. Nolan really likes high concept work, and the concepts can be hard to grasp, so he writes explanations in. A character explains what’s going on to another character so that the audience now understands. I didn’t mind that at all in Inception, but there were three or four moments in Interstellar where I just said “oh come on, really?” For example, Cooper explaining what an Indian surveillance drone is to his kids, as they chase it down as if they’ve done this a hundred times. Or the scientist explaining what a wormhole is to Cooper as they approach it. And a few more moments that I won’t spoil. The rest of the script was brilliant, if a little heavy handed at times, but nothing takes you out of the moment like a very, very dumbed down explanation of wormhole theory. The direction is absolutely brilliant though, Nolan really cares about delivering the best experience possible, and you can tell that. He is the best director in the game right now in my opinion. I have one more complaint about this great film though, it’s not really about the movie, but the audience I was in. The person beside me was one of the worst audience members ever. Was he talking? No. Was he on his phone? No. Did he eat two tuscan chicken paninis from Tim Hortons over the course of the movie? Yes he did. Did he breathe as loudly as is humanly possible? Yes he did. Was he bouncing his leg the and making my seat shake through the entire film? Yes he was. So this is a public service announcement. Try to not breathe like a neanderthal in a theater, try to not make the people beside you have shaky seats because you can’t sit still for two hours. And most importantly, don’t bring a fucking gross smelling panini into the theater. Much less two gross smelling paninis. Nothing takes you out of the experience more than the smell of tuscan chicken panini. God damn. Anyways, I loved Interstellar, despite its many flaws, I still think it’s one of the greatest films of the year. An absolutely beautiful, breathtaking experience that I know will only get better upon rewatching. Nolan knocks another one out of the park and into the skylight of an oddly placed house once more.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

2001: A Space Odyssey

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ out of 5

Directed by Stanley Kubrick

Imdb Link

2nd watch

After discovering a giant black monolith buried under the surface of the moon, an expedition is sent out to Jupiter to find extraterrestrial life.

Another movie I watched in preparation for Interstellar, I had seen 2001 once before, and of course I loved it. The blu-ray has been sitting on my shelf, just waiting to be rewatched for about a year now. On my first watch, I thought it was a great movie, now, after my second watch, I might argue that this is the best movie ever made. Not my favorite, but possibly the best. This movie is an incredible exploration of everything, starting with the dawn of man, the discovery of a tool/weapon, then moving abruptly to the future, where we have colonized the moon. I actually think that this is both the most visually stunning movie ever made, as well as the most timeless movie I have ever seen. First, the visuals. This movie, even though it was filmed nearly half a century ago now, remains the most visually stunning piece of film I have ever seen. Kubrick’s use of colors is brilliant, his framing is excellent, the special effects remain mindblowingly good, and it feels like you are actually in space. It’s hard to believe that the moon landing happened after this film was made. The special effects look brilliant even by today’s standards. Which leads me to my next point. This movie is timeless. Even though the title itself dates the film, making us think of that “scary futuristic time where space travel is a possibility! Thirteen years ago at this point”, 2001 manages to feel like it could have been made yesterday. A lot of films from the sixties and seventies look like they were made in that time, I’ll give an example of another one of my favorite films from 1968, Planet of the Apes, which you can tell is from the sixties, just by the image, and the sound.  2001 has none of these qualities that make it look old, it is filmed in a way that makes it absolutely timeless. The symbolism here is also just absolutely amazing. I love how it was written, in a way that is more of a spiritual odyssey than a literal odyssey. I just really love everything about this movie. This is Kubrick’s masterpiece, and now my 11th favorite film of all time, and one that will rise up higher in the rankings on my next watch.

Jodorowsky’s Dune (2014)

Jodorowsky’s Dune

★ ★ ★ ★ out of 5

Directed by Frank Pavich

Featuring Alejandro Jodorowsky

Michel Seydoux

H.R. Giger

Imdb Link

A documentary about the greatest movie never made. An adaptation of Dune by filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky, which was never made, and yet has had a hugely significant impact on the science fiction genre of film.

Jodorowsky’s Dune is incredibly an interesting topic. A movie that came so close to being made, but just never got there, and yet it remains arguably the most influential film on science fiction. Jodorowsky’s Dune is basically a talking heads documentary, with the added component of lots of storyboards and other parts of the unmade film. I’m usually not a huge fan of talking heads documentaries, but Jodorowsky’s Dune was just so incredibly interesting. It’s not just about a movie that wasn’t made, it’s also about this absolutely insane but brilliant director who has an inspiring amount of motivation. One thing I didn’t expect was for this movie to be so motivational. Jodorowsky gathered this amazing team of actors and crew members, and even though his dream project was never fulfilled, it manages to make you want to get up and do something extraordinary. Looking at all the effort that went into this, the beautiful storyboards, the pages from the script, the concept art, looking at all this hard work that went to waste is definitely inspiring in a strange way. I have never seen a film by Alejandro Jodorowsky, but watching this movie makes me want to go and check out The Holy Mountain soon. I definitely recommend watching this movie if you have any interest in what it takes to get a film made.

Horns (2014)

Horns

★ ★ ★ 1/2 out of 5

Directed by Alexandre Aja

Starring Daniel Radcliffe as Ig Parrish

Imdb Link

Ig Parrish, who has been accused of murdering his girlfriend, wakes up one day with strange horns growing out of his forehead. Horns that have strangely persuasive powers.

I have to say, I enjoyed this movie just as much as I had hoped I would, and it is a lot better than the reviews it is getting lead you to believe. Horns isn’t a new masterpiece of horror or anything, but it doesn’t try to be. It’s a twisted, fun, and oftentimes very creepy horror movie. The director of the film, Alexandre Aja, is actually very talented. Of everything that he’s directed, Horns has the most artistic value for sure, although Piranha 3D’s strongest feature was Aja’s direction. A lot of the directorial choices made in Horns were simply excellent, for example, the first shot, which was a long take, is the perfect way to set up a movie. It sets up the love felt between this couple, and then destroys that all in a minute by showing Daniel Radcliffe lying on a floor alone, passed out with a bottle of vodka. I was really surprised at how well Aja set up the tension without having to use his trademarks of over the top gore and shock horror. 90% of Horns is just suspense, and the suspense is incredibly high. The film is also incredibly funny. There’s a lot of wit here, and a ton of really dark humor involving people confessing their darkest secrets, which get really out there, and really crazy. I couldn’t stop laughing at the entire doctor scene. The script is well written in a sense that it delivers what you want out of a movie like this, some good scares and some weird laughs. However otherwise it can be a bit of a mess. It’s full of cheese, and it jumps back and forth tonally a lot, never getting a perfect mix, and instead just flipping between dramatic and comedic. I also really need to give Daniel Radcliffe a shout out. He disappears into this role, and his American accent is spot on. Not once did I see Harry Potter trying to be American, but I just saw an incredibly talented actor doing an incredibly outstanding job in a genre film. I may not have loved everything about Horns, but it is a fun movie above all else, and I had a great time watching it.

Summer Wars (2010)

Summer Wars

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ out of 5

Directed by Mamoru Hosoda

Starring Ryûnosuke Kamiki as Kenji

Imdb Link

A computer programmer, Kenji, works for the world’s largest Internet company, Oz. The most popular girl in his school asks him to pretend to be her boyfriend to appease her grandmother, and Kenji spends a weekend with her crazy family, while Oz is hacked into by a military artificial intelligence.

I’m not a huge fan of anime outside of Studio Ghibli’s work, and don’t often watch it, but I’d been told that Summer Wars is fantastic, so I decided I might as well give it a shot. It really was fantastic. This movie is everything I want out of an animated film. It has great visuals, a heartwarming story, really funny dialogue, and a concept that is absolutely ridiculous. The animation is beautiful, and it looks like so much more than “just another anime”, with some truly brilliant coloring choices (mainly in Oz, where everything is white but the characters, so they stand out in a vibrant way). The story’s human part is really sweet, with characters that suit it perfectly, including one of the most badass grannies I’ve ever seen on film, and a very dynamic protagonist. The parts set inside a computer are completely ridiculous and the premise behind Oz just would not work when you think about it, but what makes it work in Summer Wars is the fact that it makes you believe it would work so fully. Then of course, one thing I was really happy about was the fact that it didn’t take itself seriously at all. One thing I find with a lot of anime I don’t like (COUGHpaprika) is that even though the premise is ridiculous and the visuals are outlandish, it feels the need to be some super serious sci-fi drama. Summer Wars was all about having fun,  you can tell the writers had fun writing it, the actors had fun voicing it, the director had fun creating it, and the audience has a fun time watching it. It’s just one of those movies that is just two hours of pure enjoyment. It’s really a fun, funny, and visually beautiful movie that I recommend to all.

Let the Right One In (2008)

Let the Right One In

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ out of 5

Directed by Thomas Alfredson

Starring Kare Hedebrant as Oskar

Lina Leandersson as Eli

Imdb Link

Oskar is a young boy living with his single mom, and being bullied day in and day out. A man and a young girl Oskar’s age move in next door. Oskar and the girl, Eli become fast friends, but as Eli moves in a series of murders start happening around town.

Let the Right One In is the anti-Twilight, and by that I mean, it’s a good vampire paranormal romance. The movie really surpassed my expectations, I had previously seen the English language remake Let Me In, and I thought it was decent, nothing special. So I thought that this would probably be about the same. I’m having another The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo moment now. Where both the original and remake are very similar, and yet the original feels so much more interesting. I don’t know for certain what makes it so much better than the remake, but it really is a million times more enjoyable even though Chloe Grace Moretz was superior, and Let Me In is a very high quality film. I think what makes this film work so much more than Let Me In is the different tone. Let the Right One In focuses more on the romance and the innocence of youth than it does on the scares. This is more of a romance than it is a horror, which is a wise choice, and it’s actually one of the best romances I’ve seen in a while. Another focus the film has is on the innocence of childhood, which is one of the best choices in the film. The way the film is shot is very basic, flat white lights instead of high contrast fancy lighting, which gives us a kind of innocent feel. Then there’s the music, which is a bright, maybe even playful melody on the piano. All this adds to the creepiness of the film. Even though there isn’t much focus on the scares themselves, this movie is certainly really creepy and unsettling. The ending is also one of the most incredible endings I’ve seen in a long time. But I’ll leave it at that because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen the film. Go watch it if you haven’t.

Piranha 3D (2010)

Piranha 3D

★ ★ 1/2 out of 5

Directed by Alexandre Aja

Starring Steven R McQueen as Jake

Elizabeth Shue as Julie

Imdb Link

After an earthquake unveils a passage to an underground lake, thousands of vicious prehistoric piranhas are unleashed on Lake Victoria, a college party hot spot, just as Spring Break comes around.

I remember when this first came out, I looked at a trailer and thought to myself “this looks ridiculously stupid, why do people buy into pieces of crap like these? I will never watch it” and of course now I find myself watching it for that very reason. Piranha 3D is ridiculously stupid, but that’s the point of this whole genre, it’s stupid for the sake of comedy. Joy can be derived from watching so-bad-its-good movies, but unfortunately this one missed the mark. This can’t be blamed on the filmmaking though, it’s actually a damn well made movie. It takes talent to do bad well. Piranha 3D also has surprisingly good camerawork and special effects, it consistently looks good. Also the cheesy deaths were done perfectly, and some of the scenes were incredibly well blocked. For example, the spring break massacre scene is chaotic in every sense of the word, and Alexandre Aja filmed and blocked it perfectly. Filmmaking wise, it’s a well done tribute to the B-movie horror flicks of the 70s. However even though the filmmaking was spot on, the creative team behind the film seemed to forget the one thing that makes a bad movie good, a funny script. Every so-bad-its-good movie has one thing in common, a ridiculously cheesy script to match its premise. Look at Sharknado, a film that I would not call good, but a film that has some perfect moments script wise. It’s built around a ridiculous premise, and it embraces that, and puts forth some of the best cheesy dialogue out there (the “now I hate sharks too!” scene had me rolling on the ground laughing). Piranha 3D‘s script never embraces the fact that it needs to be over the top and cheesy, and instead just plays it safe. Which is disappointing because with the right script, this really could have been a masterpiece of a B-movie.