Post Date Dec 18

10 Best Films of 2014

Every year, I say how hard it is to narrow down my best-of list to just 10 titles. But this year, it was especially true. Looking back on my favorite movies of 2014, I definitely see a theme emerging: otherworldly beings on the prowl in the middle of the night. I wonder what that says about me …. But there’s also great joy to be found here. Everything is awesome, after all. So enjoy. And I’d love to know what you’d pick for your top-10 list.

1. “Birdman”

Birdman Movie Review

The central gimmick is daring and thrilling, of course: the sensation that director Alejandro G. Inarritu shot this movie in one long, single take, through narrow corridors and up and down stairways and onto the streets and rooftops of Times Square. But sharp writing and powerful performances (namely from star Michael Keaton) give “Birdman” real substance and a deeper emotional resonance. There’s nothing else like it. I left this film exhilarated.

Read the full review here

2. “Boyhood”

But “Boyhood” is pretty astonishing, too, and very easily could have been my No. 1. It’s also predicated on what could be called a gimmick: writer-director Richard Linklater shot it over the course of 12 years, following the same actors as they grew and changed and forged the course of a life. But it’s so subtle and beautifully observant, it sneaks up on you with a cumulative emotional wallop. There’s nothing else like this film, either: It’s a major achievement.

Read the full review here

3. “Under the Skin”

Under the Skin Movie Review

Beautiful, strange, dazzling and daring, this is a minimalist sci-fi masterpiece. Visionary director Jonathan Glazer draws the greatest performance from Scarlett Johansson of her eclectic career as an alien prowling the streets of Glasgow in a minivan with nefarious intent. If you like your movies tidy — if you treasure closure and need to have all your questions answered — this is not the film for you. Otherwise, embrace the mesmerizing vagueness of it all.

Read the full review here

4. “The Lego Movie”

The Lego Movie Movie Review

The most fun I had at the movies all year. I remember walking out of the theater with Nic after a Saturday morning screening and thinking to myself: “Holy crap. I have to give ‘The Lego Movie’ four stars.” It is so clever and so vividly detailed and moves with such an infectious energy, it achieves its goals brilliantly. But it also has a profound, third-act twist that actually made me cry. Yeah, I’ll admit it.

Read the full review here

5. “Locke”

Locke Movie Review

More nighttime prowling, this time with Tom Hardy giving a tour-de-force performance entirely from behind the wheel of a car. Writer-director Steven Knight’s meticulously controlled film also features a premise which might sound like a gimmick: It takes place in a single space in real time during a drive to London. But as Hardy’s purpose becomes clearer, the story reveals great surprises and grows unbearably tense.

Read the full review here

6. “Ida”

Ida Movie Review

Every single shot in this understated black-and-white drama is an exquisite work of art. Pawel Pawlikowski returns to his Polish homeland with a film that’s austere aesthetically but intense emotionally. The fresh-faced Agata Trzebokowska stars as a shy young woman on the verge of taking her vows to become a nun, but first she must explore her true heritage. As the aunt who aides in her investigation, Agata Kulesza gives a powerhouse performance that’s both darkly funny and devastating.

7. “Only Lovers Left Alive”

Even more nighttime prowling, this time with Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston as the hippest vampires on the planet. Their centuries-long love affair is achingly romantic and impossibly cool. This is an extremely Jim Jarmuschy Jim Jarmusch film, and if that’s right up your alley, then you’ll dig this. It’s funny and melancholy with impeccable production design and a precise mood. Who would have thought there was any new life to breathe into the vampire genre?

8. “Gone Girl”

Gone Girl Movie Review

Not exactly the feel-good date movie of the year, but a film you should at least see with someone you enjoy debating. This is David Fincher’s Alfred Hitchcock picture; sleek and sexy, it’s a twisty mystery that’s both dark and darkly funny — surprisingly so, given the lurid subject matter. The equally matched Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike constantly keep us guessing and force us to reevaluate whose side we’re on, who we believe, who we even like.

Read the full review here

9. “A Most Violent Year”

This movie isn’t even out yet — it hits theaters Dec. 31 in limited release — but please trust me when I tell you that it’s great. It’s only the third film from writer-director J.C. Chandor (“Margin Call,” “All Is Lost”) but it shows the maturity and control of a master; comparisons to Sidney Lumet are not unwarranted. Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain both give pitch-perfect performances as a married couple whose lives are intertwined in love and business in 1981 New York. Try as they might to tell themselves they’re doing the right thing, they just can’t help but slip into their criminal tendencies. This is a serious drama for grown-ups.

10. “Snowpiercer”

Snowpiercer Movie Review

This movie is just a batshit-crazy blast, but it also fits within this list in a couple of ways. It features prowling in the darkness and it takes place within a confined space: an enormous train that makes a loop around the globe annually in an icy, dystopian future. The latest from Korean director Bong Joon-ho is nothing short of wondrous to look at in varied, detailed ways. It’s marvelously detailed in terms of production design, vividly shot and full of surprises. All aboard …

Read the full review here

Post Date Dec 17

Chambers Stevens’ Top 5 Performances From Young Actors


There’s a new film version of the musical “Annie” coming out this week, starring Quvenzhane Wallis as a modern-day version of the optimistic orphan. Full review coming soon, but just know that it’s terrible, and you should avoid it.

However, “Annie” does provide a good opportunity for a discussion of great performances from young actors, and for that I turned to my friend and fellow school parent Chambers Stevens. Chambers is a longtime actor, playwright and author, but he’s probably best known as a respected child acting coach. Each year, he gives out The Chambie Awards for the best work from actors under age 18. He sees through the cloying and precocious tendencies that have become cliches among child stars, and he has great taste (because he usually agrees with me). As you can see from the above photo, he also really likes cake.

So I asked Chambers to pick his five favorite performances from young actors. Here they are below, in his own words and with my thanks.

Jack Wild in “Oliver!” (1968): There are some performances that are badly acted, some that are well acted and some that are so believable that you can’t believe that this is not a documentary. And then there are peformances that are a force of nature. Jack Wild in “Oliver!” is that. His Artful Dodger makes you want to run away from home and join him as a pickpocket.

Natalie Wood in “Miracle on 34th Street” (1947): I have seen this film over 50 times and I have yet to see a false note in her performance. It’s like when they started filming, this jaded little studio actress didn’t believe in Santa. But by the last shot, just like us, she believes.

Tatum O’Neal in “Paper Moon” (1973): It’s easy to see why she won an Oscar for this one. Part little girl, part 40-year-old con man, she steals every scene she is in.

Quvenzhane Wallis in “Beasts of the Southern Wild” (2012): Remember the first time you heard Prince play? Or you saw Shakira shake? Remember when you first tasted a Cinnabon … that perfect mixture of cream and spice? Nothing would ever be the same. When I saw Quvenzhane’s performance, I felt exactly like that.

Matthew Lewis in “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” (2001): I love the “Harry Potter” books. I love the “Harry Potter” movies. The three main actors grew to be very good actors. In the beginning, they were a little green, and it shows on the screen. But there is one performance in the first film that is pitch perfect. Matthew Lewis as Neville Longbottom perfectly captures the loser in all of us. The insecurity. The feeling that we are not the lead in our own movie. And he does this all with only a couple of lines. And in the end — spoiler — when he wins the cup for the house, my heart leaps with joy.

Post Date Dec 12 — Exodus: Gods and Kings

Exodus: Gods and Kings Movie ReviewRidley Scott’s biblical epic “Exodus: Gods and Kings” is a numbing, soulless spectacle of 3-D CGI run amok. The plagues are fun, though. My review.

Read the review here

Post Date Dec 11

What the Flick?! — Inherent Vice

We are all fans of Paul Thomas Anderson around here, but none of us really dug his hazy, druggy, comic noir. Maybe it requires another viewing to appreciate it fully, but I just can’t bring myself to endure this slog once more.

Post Date Dec 11

What the Flick?! — Exodus: Gods and Kings

Yet another opportunity to discuss how terrible Ridley Scott’s biblical epic is.