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Best of 2015: Movies

We’re right in the middle of awards season, and things are going to be heating up over the coming weeks as nominations are announced right and left. 2015 was a big year for movies, as we saw record-breaking grosses along with new distribution models and the domination of Walt Disney Studios. I gained a lot of new favorite movies this year, and my list runs the gamut of blockbusters to the art house specialties.

Honorable MentionsThe Walk, Clouds of Sils Maria, The Martian, Sicario, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Bridge of Spies

And now, my Top 10 Movies of 2015:

Carol

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Beautifully told and gorgeously shot, Carol succeeds in all departments. The story of two young women who fall for each other in 1950s New York feels like a relic of time gone by. Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara are convincing lovers, and sell you on their love with minimal dialogue. Sly looks, sensual provocations bring Carol and Therese together, and the film is a perfect representation of what makes people fall in love. Todd Haynes’s has such respect and admiration for his protagonists, and he extends that care to the filmmaking, with breathtaking cinematography and costume design.

The Big Short

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The Big Short, like Steve Jobs, is a riveting drama with its own rhythm. Adam McKay’s film gives you a behind-the-curtain look at what caused the housing collapse of 2008, and if this sounds like a bore, trust me, it’s anything but. The accessible approach makes it an appropriate film for any adult looking to learn some economics but also what caused them to lose their job. It’s a film that will make you mad but also intrigue you. The Big Short‘s ensemble of characters gives you a new perspective on the national economy.

Trainwreck

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Judd Apatow’s protagonists are always stunted in emotional growth, and what makes Trainwreck so invigorating is Amy’s transformation over the course of the two-hour film. She goes from carefree serial dater to mature professional 21st century woman, but her journey never feels like an “A to B.” Her speed bumps along the way harden her emotionally, and you’ll lust for her new relationship with Aaron to go well for her own sake. The film never makes judgments about behavior, as every character in Amy’s life has flaws of their own. Amy Schumer’s star vehicle is more than a great case for her leading lady status, it’s a complex yet straightforward raunchy comedy with an unforgiving cast of characters and sharp writing.

Love & Mercy

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Music biopics are a dime a dozen, but the best ones are the ones that truly understand their subject. Comparing it to Straight Outta Compton might seem presumptuous, but both these films are creative endeavors that reflect the artists’ music as an extension of the artist themselves. Bill Pohlad’s Love & Mercy, however, is unique in its take on Beach Boys’ frontman Brian Wilson’s life, as it tells a parallel narrative of Wilson’s life in the 1960s and his life in the 1980s. The two different actors show Wilson’s transformation from troubled creative to patient zero but never feel disconnected from the overall narrative. Gorgeously directed music recording sequences are contrasted with the somber reflective second half of Wilson’s life, and the links between the two are never ostentatious, always accessible.

Spotlight

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Spotlight is unbelievable. Tough subject matter aside, this is a thrilling film, back when journalism would be described as “hard-hitting.” The ensemble is remarkable, and seeing them grapple with the personal and professional stress of the story is made riveting thanks to director Tom McCarthy’s emotionally rich script. It’s a film about deception and scandal, but also one about truth and justice, as the Spotlight team knows the stakes behind this story are sky-high. Coupled with great production design and more than a few standout sequences, Spotlight joins the ranks of Zero Dark Thirty and the podcast Serial as the best modern-day journalistic endeavors.

Mistress America

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Screwball at its finest, Noah Baumbach’s second film of 2015 is one of his greatest, and marks his collaborations with Greta Gerwig as one of the finest in the indie business. There are a lot of films and programs about millennials in New York City, and Mistress America‘s take on a young college girl who bonds with her soon-to-be sister is simply a delight. There’s shades of Woody Allen here as the city comes to life as a supporting character, but the friendship between Tracy and Brooke is the real heart and soul, and gives the film a personality of its own. It’s the kind of film that you put in on a rainy afternoon, as it sucks you into their world and makes you feel not like an observer of the hijinks, but a real participator.

Brooklyn

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On the surface, there may not be anything immediately fascinating about the movie Brooklyn. The story is not the most complex one, and it may look like a typical immigrant tale if you’re just window shopping. But Brooklyn’s simplicity is what makes it stand out, and it was refreshing to see a movie so classically told, one that won’t make you scream or shout, but rather one you’ll be admiring for years to come. Saoirse Ronan sells you on Eilis’s experience, as she’s torn between her new home in New York and her old one in Ireland. The elegant simplicity of the filmmaking and writing allows Brooklyn to focus on other things, and the result is a new classic, one that will never feel old or dated.

Room

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I was possibly the biggest emotional wreck in the theater after the movie Room. Based on the novel of the same name by Emma Donoghue, and brought to the screen by director Lenny Abrahamson, Room has such a marvelous first act that you might wonder if the film can keep up the pace for the remainder of the film. Told beautifully and made with the tender touch of a mother, Room makes such a convincing bond between Ma and Jack. You’ll grow frustrated with them but also yearn for their release, and both Brie Larson and young actor Jacob Tremblay tap into these fictional characters and make them feel “ripped from the headlines” real.

Steve Jobs

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Steve Jobs is electric filmmaking. The film retains such a rhythm throughout its entire run, and it makes the experience feel like you’re watching history being made, which you kind of are. Michael Fassbender gives the best performance of his career as the enigmatic Jobs, and Danny Boyle’s film allows him to explore new angles of Jobs that we may not have previously known. The brilliant three-act structure gives a Shakespearian atmosphere to the whole affair, and Boyle and writer Aaron Sorkin never let the film lose momentum. Boasting brilliant direction and some great supporting turns from Kate Winslet and Jeff Daniels, Steve Jobs is unlike any other film you’ll see this year.

Inside Out

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Many (including this writer) thought that Pixar’s glory days were behind them, yet Inside Out is the studio’s best film to date. It’s worth repeating that Inside Out is a creative masterpiece, overflowing with ingenuity and attention to detail, with accomplished voice actors and a beautiful score. But then again, so are all of Pixar’s films. What makes Inside Out so special is that it may be the first animated film truly made for adults and children. Yeah, there are jokes that range from slapstick to witty quips, but the emotional mileage that Inside Out gets out of its protagonist Riley is simply unprecedented. You’ll think of your own adolescence as Riley struggles with hers, you’ll relate to Joy and Sadness and their adventure through Riley’s head, you’ll laugh and cry along with Riley’s parents as they adjust to a new home. What Inside Out does is make these experiences universal, while allowing the viewer to make it personal. All of this is coated with the signature Disney-Pixar polish that we’ve known and loved, and you’ve got a new classic for the ages.

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2016 in Other

 

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Best of 2015: Television

It’s that time of year again – yes, time for the ‘Best Of’ lists. 2015 was a big year for television, with the unofficial “Golden Age” winding down, as we saw more and more shows come out of left field and surprise us. The big four are no more, as they continue to be challenged by cable networks like FX and USA, but also streaming services like Amazon and Hulu, which have really upped their game in the original programming department.

First, some honorable mentions: Casual, Outlander, Bojack Horseman, Parks and Recreation, Downton Abbey, Homeland

And now, my Top 10 Television Programs of 2015:

unReal

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Perhaps the biggest surprise of the summer was unReal, coming to us from Lifetime, of all networks. Showing the dirty work behind the scenes of a fictional reality show, unReal’s characters are no better than the contestants they exploit. Female antiheroes don’t get much better than Quinn and Rachel, with Constance Zimmer and Shiri Appleby giving career-best performances. By the end of unReal’s 10-episode run, you’ll see a freshman drama so ruthless yet entertaining, and Lifetime has captured lightning in a bottle here.

Standout Episode(s): Truth

The Americans

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The Americans grew the most in its third season out of any show on this list. Its two leads continue to give understated performances, and season three saw the inevitable reveal of Paige’s parents double lives. The Americans remains tense and well-acted, with Keri Russell doing her best work and young actress Holly Taylor avoiding the ‘precocious child’ trope. Joe Weisberg keeps the show tight as a ship, with plots weaving in and out of each other, yet never becoming too overbearing. It’s a mature drama not for the feint of heart, and it’s one of the reasons we call it “peak TV.”

Standout Episode(s): Stingers

Master of None

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This one was a surprise, but we really should have seen it coming. Its star and writer Aziz Ansari is a natural comedic talent, able to make us laugh while commenting about young people’s lives in 2015. Sure, the show took some easy jabs at things like online dating and modern relationships, but it got deeper as each episode tackled a different theme. The absolutely brilliant “Indians on TV” was a social commentary for the ages, while “Parents” and “Old People” examined how we relate to those closest to us. Master of None was honest yet hilarious, and by the end of the season, the show exuded confidence and swagger.

Standout Episode(s): Indians on TV, The Other Man

Veep

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TV’s funniest show got even funnier in season four, and Veep, like its star Julia Louis-Dreyfus, looks like it will continue to get better with age. Season four found new-president Selina Meyer at a crossroads with her staff, as they butted heads and she found herself cornered at every opportunity. If this sounds like the description of a similar political program, House of Cards, that’s because Veep continues to tackle serious political issues with an edge. The writing is witty as ever, with flamboyant insults being shot right and left. You rarely have time to breathe, and that’s the mark of sharp writing.

Standout Episode(s): Data, Convention

Masters of Sex

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While not beloved by the critics who lauded its previous seasons, I found Showtime’s Masters of Sex to be at its best in season three, which focused on Masters and Johnson’s growing success in the 1960s. Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan give brilliant and understated performances in my favorite period drama now that Mad Men has set sail. This season focused on relationships, and the emotional turmoil that relationships cause. It may have hit a few bumps in the road when it’s lead characters were sidetracked, but Masters of Sex continues to take the taboo and conjure up television magic.

Standout Episode(s): Matters of Gravity, Party of Four

Orange is the New Black

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The best Netflix original series continued to show us why it’s the best in its third season. With its ever-expanding focus on its large ensemble cast to its flashback structure which continues to work without fault, Orange is the New Black is all about storytelling – telling the stories of these women marginalized by society and the system, but it always remembers to humanize them. The plot this season hits all the right notes, as everything converges in the final episode, and the result is the most entertaining show of the year.

Standout Episode(s): Where My Dreidel At, A Tittin’ and a Hairin’

Transparent

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I purposely waited to make this post because the second season of Transparent hadn’t yet aired, because I just knew it would make my list. My number one show from 2014 came back better than ever, with the dysfunctional Pfeffermans navigating through marriage, divorce, transition, and identity. It’s rare for a show to balance all of these elements without feeling overwhelming, and Transparent’s success rests on the shoulders of the brilliant cast. Tambor continues to be a revelation, while scene-stealer Amy Landecker gives her best performance to date. Transparent continues to be more than just an important show – it’s a smart and entertaining one at that, boasting some of the best direction I’ve seen all year.

Standout Episode(s): Kina Hora, Mee-Maw

Show Me a Hero

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I gave a glowing review to the HBO miniseries, and it definitely earns it’s spot at number two on my list. Show Me a Hero tackles timely issues and tells us a story of a city at a crossroads, when major decisions are made by the few and chastised by the many. Oscar Isaac’s Nick Wasicsko deserves awards recognition for a performance that faces opposition at all sides, and never seems to catch a break. With its brilliant storytelling and ‘made-for-miniseries’ structure, Show Me a Hero is more than just the best miniseries I’ve seen, it’s a relevant cultural statement.

Standout Episode(s): Episode 1, Episode 3

Mad Men

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There’s not much left to say about Mad Men, and in its final season, it reminded us why we fell in love with the advertising drama to begin with. The final season saw Don grapple with enlightenment and how to be happy with himself, as the final three episodes saw Don on the run from Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce (or whatever it’s called now). The cast gave incredible performances, from Elizabeth Moss’s stern Peggy Olson to John Slattery’s charismatic Roger Sterling, and the series leaves behind the legacy it created. Matthew Weiner’s drama may be one of the few television series to transcend the medium, and like its sister show Breaking Bad, Mad Men will also be remembered for ushering us into this “Golden Age.”

Standout Episode(s): The Milk and Honey Route, Person to Person

 
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Posted by on December 18, 2015 in Other

 

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Fall TV Roundup: Best/Worst New Shows

Fall TV is in full swing, and although we’ve still got a few shows left to premiere (looking at you, Supergirl), the networks have debuted their heavy hitters for 2015-2016. There hasn’t been a clear homerun hit, or a total bomb, rather most of these shows have had quiet pilots, and are now settling into their regular routines. Full season orders are coming soon, followed by cancelations, so I thought I’d chime in with what I think are the best and worst of the bunch.

BEST:

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

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Although it just aired two days ago, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is the only one of the fall shows that will stick in my head and make me eager for next week’s episode. Featuring the irresistible Rachel Bloom, Ex-Girlfriend is another great addition to the fantastic “new” CW, and a great follow up to Jane the Virgin. Its mix of brilliant musical comedy and potent relationship blues are perfect for anyone brought down by love, but ready to get back in the game.

Casual

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A Hulu original, Casual shouldn’t be glossed over because of its unoriginal premise. Unlikable characters are everywhere on these kinds of “sadcoms,” but Casual stands out thanks to clever writing courtesy of creator Zander Lehmann and director Jason Reitman (Juno, Up in the Air). With Michaela Watkins’s Valerie anchoring her more outlandish brother Alex (Tommy Dewey) and daughter Laura (Tara Lynne Barr), Casual won’t break any barriers, but stick around for its wit and charm.

Quantico

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I debated putting this one under ‘best’ or ‘mixed,’ but the Homeland lover in me got the best of me. ABC’s Quantico has the best pilot of any new fall show, hands down. The mix of CIA school drama (think Gossip Girl or How to Get Away with Murder) is contrasted with a giant terror attack on New York City, and its flashback structure will hook you immediately, and you’ll be begging to know more. The charismatic Priyanka Chopra is the fall’s breakout star, and she shines in an ensemble cast of mostly forgettable characters. Its twisty writing will draw Shondaland fans in but you’d be hard pressed to find a more exciting show this fall.

NEEDS TIME:

The Muppets

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As much as I adore The Muppets, ABC’s new comedy is a bit of a mixed bag. It’s always fun to hang out with the Henson crew, and I’m all for giving some of the lesser-known Muppets their chance to shine. But celebrity cameos can only take your show so far, and the writing leaves a lot to be desired. Double down on the winning formula straight out of The Office, drop the “Kermit straight man act” and The Muppets could bring a bit more zest to my Tuesday night.

Life in Pieces

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Sure, the structure is something new – four separate stories each night featuring the zany Short family – and the cast is bonkers, with Colin Hanks and Betsy Brandt going toe-to-toe with James Brolin and Dianne Wiest. Honestly, the cast alone is reason enough to tune in. But the writing is a bit cliche for my tastes, and it’s exactly what I’d expect from the family friendly CBS. I’ve had my fill of precocious kids and guys acting like children, but I can think of worse CBS sitcoms to spend your evening with.

Grandfathered

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The third sitcom to make the ‘needs time’ list, Grandfathered certainly boasts the heart. But John Stamos, Paget Brewster, and Josh Peck can’t bring the heat. The laughs are hit or miss, and the show is a bit too watered down. I’m not sure I could ride along with 22 episodes of this one, as I can call the plot developments five minutes before they occur. Additionally, the supporting cast needs work. But like the previous two, sitcoms are under extra scrutiny to hit the ground running right out of the gate, and I’m sure Grandfathered has a few more tricks up its sleeve.

WORST:

The Grinder

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I can only imagine the network pitch for this one. Being “meta” is all the rage now, but The Grinder comes off as a complete joke. Rob Lowe – bless his heart – can’t save this trainwreck about a TV lawyer who decides he wants to practice law for real. Co-star Fred Savage looks like he would literally rather be anywhere else than on this poor excuse for a comedy. The writing never lands, and the three episodes aired are practically complete clones. It’s a shame, because this one had me really excited. Pick FOX’s Grandfathered instead.

Blindspot

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Oh man the hype for this one was unreal. I’m sure given time this one could be a sleeper hit, but I’m putting it in the ‘worst’ column until its predictability comes to a halt. A Jane Doe is found in Times Square with no memory of where she is, yeah cool but how is this any different from The Blacklist, Person of Interest, Castle, need I go on? Throw in a weak and uncharismatic cast and you’ve got a recipe for a disaster. Pick ABC’s Agents of SHIELD instead.

The Bastard Executioner

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I’m not quite sure where this one went wrong. Clearly taking a page from HBO’s book on how to make the most popular program on right now, The Bastard Executioner is a good example of what not to do when crafting an edgy medieval period drama. Creator Kurt Sutter (Sons of Anarchy) seems too focused on making a lasting impact from the brutal violence than crafting a half-decent story. Adding in far too many characters and not enough I should care about, and this Bastard is dead on arrival. Pick BBC’s The Last Kingdom instead.

 
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Posted by on October 14, 2015 in Other

 

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Best Movies of 2015 (so far)

6 months into 2015 and it’s time to start looking ahead to awards season where the best films of the year will be recognized. This year has been record-breaking for the box office but we’ve also had a fair share of smaller films that have taken the art house scene by storm. With half of the year under our belt, I thought I’d share what I think are the best films of the year so far. This is in no particular order, as I’m not sure of where these will place come year-end, or if they will even make my final list.

Kingsman: The Secret Service

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This one I know for sure is my #1 this year. Kingsman is hands down the best kind of fun you can have at the movies. It’s sharp, tightly paced, well-acted, and features outstanding action sequences (including the best I’ve ever seen in a church). The great cast adds plenty of charm to the film and the plot will keep you engaged the entire time. No other film this year is as risqué, action-packed and hilarious as Kingsman.

Love & Mercy

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A spin on the traditional biopic, Bill Pohlad’s affecting drama about Beach Boys’ lead singer Brian Wilson is an outstanding portrait of a tragic man. The decision to feature two different actors at two different periods in Wilson’s life is a bold one, and it pays off handsomely. Paul Dano and John Cusack are excellent, and Elizabeth Banks shines in an unexpectedly well-developed supporting role. The unorthodox storytelling techniques, mirrored with unique cinematography and storytelling mechanics makes Love & Mercy a joy to watch.

Inside Out

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I try to avoid superlatives, but Inside Out is Pixar’s best film since Finding Nemo. Inside Riley’s head, a psychological plot unfolds like none other this year. Kids will adore the bright colors and funny slapstick, while adults will stick around for the affecting drama and sharp wit. But Inside Out goes the extra mile and delivers a commentary about the hardships of growing up and how being emotional is an important part of that.

Jurassic World

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Is there a better blockbuster this year than Jurassic World? Hell no. Jurassic World takes us back to before superhero movies ruled the summer, when all it took was good old dinosaurs. At the wheel are Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard, who are a great pair, and while the plot might not always sing, seeing dinosaurs never grows old.

Clouds of Sils Maria

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A very unconventional choice for me, as Clouds of Sils Maria is very experimental, but no less engaging than the other films on this list. Kristin Stewart gives my favorite performance of the year thus far, as Clouds examines one woman’s pursuit of career excellence in a Hollywood that would consider her past her prime. Olivier Assayas’s excellent script and wonderful dialogue make this trip to Switzerland one worth taking.

 

 
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Posted by on July 2, 2015 in Other

 

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Best of 2014: Movies

With Oscar season upon us, I’ve caught up on about all the movies I want to see this year. This list was difficult for me, because there are a few shockers that I didn’t think would make the cut. There were many movies this year that let me down, but just as many that surprised me. There’s quite a mix of indie and blockbuster here, as well.

First, some honorable mentions that unfortunately didn’t make the cut:

American Sniper

Begin Again

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Into the Woods

Neighbors

Nightcrawler

Unbroken

And without further ado, here’s my official top ten:

10. The Imitation Game

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While British biopics are plentiful this year, The Imitation Game stands out. Telling the story of Alan Turing, a mathematician brought in to crack the Nazi code at Bletchley Park, The Imitation Game honors his legacy as it should be. Benedict Cumberbatch gives the performance of his career as Turing. Morten Tyldum keeps the pace afloat, as it’s a tense and calculated film, but also a beautiful and uplifting one.

9. Obvious Child

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Female-led dramedies tend to get lumped into two categories: Lena Dunham, or mumblecore, but every once in a while a movie breaks through and puts all of those tropes through the wringer. Obvious Child is that movie. Full of wit and raw emotion, Obvious Child is a story of relationships; those that go bad, but also those that flourish. As comedienne Donna finds herself at a crossroads when faced with an unplanned pregnancy, we find ourselves not just along for the ride, but right there next to her.

8. Whiplash

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A completely different kind of music drama, Whiplash is the little indie that could. Courtesy of newcomer Damien Chazelle, Whiplash touches on themes of passion and the pursuit of excellence, and features a tight script and great music. But most of all, Whiplash gives us JK Simmons as drum instructor Fletcher, who pushes Andrew (Miles Teller) to his limits. He’s terrifying, and Fletcher is the best villain of the year. It’s a role that came late in Simmons’s career, but one that solidifies him as a great force.

7. Interstellar

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Christopher Nolan’s best film to date, Interstellar is one of the most ambitious films I’ve ever seen. But Nolan pulls it off, delivering sweeping sequences and jaw-dropping space imagery that will blow you away. It’s no Gravity, but Interstellar is something different. A deep and personal drama that just happens to be set in space. The stakes are high, and knockout performances from McConaughey and Chastain keep it afloat, leading up to a finale that will leave heads scratching and viewers hungry for more.

6. Boyhood

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I went back and forth on Boyhood multiple times after seeing it, but I’ve finally seen the light: Boyhood is an astounding achievement that will go down as one of the best movies of the 21st century. Directed by Richard Linklater, Boyhood was shot in 12 year intervals, as we see Mason’s development from boy to man. It’s risky, to be sure, but the beauty of Boyhood lies not in its “plot,” but rather in little moments. Little moments between father and son, between brother and sister, that add up to mean something more. It’s something beautiful.

5. Live Die Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow

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The best action film of the year, Edge of Tomorrow is just straight fun. But this never comes at the expense of the story, which is both razor-sharp and exciting. Newly minted sci-fi star Tom Cruise pairs brilliantly with Emily Blunt, and the two are the most unlikely duo of the year. With breathtaking action sequences and great visuals, Edge of Tomorrow is new old-fashioned fun.

4. A Most Violent Year

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An excellent crime drama, JC Chandor’s third film is as bleak as they come. Taking place in the most violent year in New York history, A Most Violent Year tells the tale of a struggling businessman Abel and his wife Anna as they navigate the dark world of entrepreneurialism. Gripping performances from Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain keep the crime drama always entertaining, and the film creeps up on you in a way unlike any other. Every sequence is calculated, every frame telling a tale. It’s masterful and smart filmmaking.

3. Wild

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Based on the memoir by Cheryl Strayed, Wild is the journey of Strayed to recover after her mother’s death, and rediscover herself. What could have been a one-note story like Eat, Pray, Love, Wild is exhilarating filmmaking courtesy of director Jean-Marc Vallee. Told in fragments, Wild zeroes deep into Strayed’s psyche, and we get a personal and deep tale of redemption and forgiveness. Reese Witherspoon gives the performance of her career, as she dives deep into what made Strayed tick. A faithful adaptation of the novel, Wild is just as exciting as it is moving.

2. Birdman

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From Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu, Birdman is one of the most original movies I’ve seen all year. The story of Riggan Thompson, who stages a comeback in the form of a broadway musical, touches on themes of redemption and family, but most prominently, Birdman is affecting and  intimate. Michael Keaton delivers an outstanding performance as the main role, and Edward Norton and Emma Stone provide excellent support. Comically bleak and often times laugh out loud hilarious, Birdman is cinematic perfection.

1. Gone Girl

GONE GIRL, from left: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, 2014. ph: Merrick Morton/TM & copyright ©20th

A mainstream hit with intelligent plotting and intrigue around every corner, Gone Girl is a miracle. Director David Fincher keeps you on your toes for the entire 150 minutes, and surprises and twists abound. But it never feels cheap. Gone Girl is the product of smart screenwriting from Fincher and book author Gillian Flynn, who wisely adapted her novel. Couple the excellent screenplay with amazing cinematography, score, and performances from Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck, and we have a new classic on our hands.

 
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Posted by on January 16, 2015 in Other

 

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Best of 2014: Television

Another year, another top 10 list. This time, I’ll be covering the best shows that aired during the year, new or old. We had a lot of good hits this year, from new staples like Jane the Virgin and The Affair to returning favorites like Mad Men and Veep. Netflix and HBO pave the way for great original programming, but that doesn’t discount some great network hits from ABC and NBC. It was hard making a list of 10 great shows this year simply because there were so many good ones, but I’ve come up with a confident list of shows that I think everyone should be watching now.

10. The Goldbergs

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In its first season, I didn’t think much of The Goldbergs. It was a funny, better than average network sitcom that luckily got a renewal. Season two so far has been the highlight of my Wednesday nights – it dethroned Modern Family as my favorite ABC sitcom. The family is just so likable, and the characters are so endearing and relatable. Barry, who I initially disliked, has quickly become my favorite. His one-liners and lovable stupidity is so charming that I look forward to seeing whatever mishaps he and Adam get into each week. Beverly as well, played with vigor by Wendi McLendon-Covey, is an under appreciated mom who any parent will relate to. The family’s interactions are hysterical, and the ’80s nostalgia is just icing on the cake.

9. Jane the Virgin

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Who would’ve thought a show called Jane the Virgin would become one of my favorite shows this year? The concept, a virgin young woman is artificially inseminated and becomes pregnant, is ridiculous. But stick with it and you’ll find a hilarious and surprisingly smart and complex show with plenty of twists and turns. With its telenovela style and Latin lover narrator, Jane the Virgin is a parody, but one that takes its high-concept and runs with it, leaving great storytelling and characters to boot. Gina Rodriguez is the breakout star of the fall season as Jane Villanueva, and don’t discount Jane the Virgin just for its silly title.

8. Parks and Recreation

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One of my favorite sitcoms of all time aired its penultimate season this year, and along the way we saw the departure of Ann Perkins and Chris Traeger, Ron Swanson’s struggles to be a good father, Tom’s entrepreneurial pursuits, and Leslie and Ben’s governmental struggles and recall. Only on Parks and Rec can you find great storytelling like this, thanks to its great cast of characters. We also saw one of the best season finales of the year, with a surprising twist that shocked everyone. Parks and Rec gets better every season, and I am highly anticipating its final season, and you bet I’ll be there with tissues in hand for the goodbye to one of NBC’s best shows.

7. How to Get Away with Murder

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Shonda Rhimes continues to dominate network television with her well-written, female-driven shows, and How to Get Away with Murder is the best part of TGIT. Annalise Keating (Viola Davis) is one of the best new characters of the fall, and her band of law students make for an eccentric gang of attorneys who don’t have the cleanest moral code. Murder pushes the boundaries of network television with its violence and steamy sex scenes, and the great cast borrows from all over the Shondaland canon. While believability has never been its strong suit, Murder keeps you on the edge of your seat, wondering what happens next in this high-stakes series and I am highly anticipating its return.

6. Hannibal

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I feel bad for ranking this so high, because Hannibal’s popularity has been overshadowed by other great hits. Creator Bryan Fuller has made a cult hit with Hannibal, one that might be under appreciated during its entire run. But Hannibal is one of the best network shows this year, thanks to its grim and dark tone, and excellent characterization. Everyone is still talking about the finale for good reason, because it shocked us like none other. Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) is a frightening character, and the show plays with our feelings for him and messes with our head every episode. Hannibal also boasts beautiful cinematography and excellent dream-like imagery, almost like something you’d find in a multi-million dollar production.

5. Orange is the New Black

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One show that definitely entered the zeitgeist this year was Orange is the New Black, Netflix’s biggest original series. Its second season gave us a frightening villain in Vee, who challenged our characters and pushed them to their limits. Season two wisely took the focus off of Piper and instead shined the light on the brilliant ensemble of likable inmates, including Crazy Eyes, Nicky, Lorna, and new fan-favorite Poussey. Even the guards got their chance to shine. The cliffhanger storytelling and excellent finale led for a great 13-episode season, and I and plenty of others are hungry for more.

4. Game of Thrones

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What is left to say about Game of Thrones? HBO’s biggest hit and fan-favorite entered its fourth season hot off the heels of a brilliant third, and boy did it surpass my expectations. As a book reader, it’s difficult to critique the series because it has handled so many moments well, but this season we saw a few changes as the series catches up to the current publication of the fifth book. But this changed little. We still got jaw-dropping moments, characters dropping like flies, another violent wedding, and a fight scene that I don’t think I can ever watch again. Peter Dinklage was robbed of his Emmy last August, one he definitely deserved for his trial episode. Other players like Cersei, Daenerys, and Sansa also had outstanding arcs this season. The most talked/tweeted about show has a long road ahead, as it has been renewed for at least two more seasons. As we head into uncharted territory, it’ll be exciting to watch where Thrones goes.

3. Mad Men

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While I’m still unsure of the decision to split the final season, Mad Men’s seventh season started off quiet and subtle, and we saw some beautiful and brilliant characterization leading for an excellent final half. Don Draper, television’s most mysterious leading man, went through some dark times this season. The split between New York and California gave some great moments for characters Pete and Megan, and SC & P saw some internal changes as well. This all led up to the sad death of Bert Cooper, one that will shock our characters for the second half of season seven. Mad Men’s biggest feat has been its slow building of our favorite characters’ personalities. I’m anxious but excited for the series to end, because AMC has given us one of the best dramas in a long time, one that will be remembered for years to come.

2. Homeland

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I can’t believe I’m putting Homeland this high on the list. A less-than-stellar third season should’ve spelled death for the series, but the death of Brody and removal of his family from the show has energized the series and kickstarted a new era for Homeland. The wise decision to leave the drama behind and get back to the core of what made Homeland great, its CIA action-thriller roots, has given us a tense and smart drama that touches on current topics and delivers excellent action sequences. In this season we got at the core of Carrie and Saul’s relationship. Despite taking a few episode to gain its footing, the Pakistan setting has given us great new characters and thrown old favorites like Quinn for a loop. With two episodes left in the season, I trust that Homeland will bring us home with a great finale, and I look forward to the fifth season with high hopes.

1. Transparent

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The best show of 2014 comes to us courtesy of Amazon and creator Jill Soloway (Six Feet Under). Transparent is a deep and affecting dramedy about one California family who is shaken to the core after their father Mort comes out as transgender. Becoming Maura has opened old wounds amidst the family, among siblings Ali, Josh, and Sarah, who all have problems of their own. But Transparent isn’t just a family drama, it allows us to examine ourselves and our inner demons. We see ourselves and our families in these characters. Lovable or not, the Pfieffermans are family, and they sick together. The theme of acceptance is ever-present in Transparent, and issues are handled with such delicacy and humor that makes the show endearing and affecting in its own unique way. Its shocking storytelling and well-written dialogue gives us believable characters, the likes of which I haven’t seen on television before. Couple the brilliant writing with awards-worthy performances from Jeffrey Tambor and Gaby Hoffman, and we have a hit on our hands.

 

Honorable Mentions:

The Affair

Broad City

The Comeback

Looking

Masters of Sex

House of Cards

The Americans

Inside Amy Schumer  

Special Mention

Masterchef Junior

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I rarely watch/talk about reality TV, but I love a good cooking show here and there, and I’ve found it in Masterchef Junior. Host Gordon Ramsay, known for his foul language and hellish temper, has toned it down, as kids ages 8-13 compete for the title. Unique cooking challenges push these kids to the limits, and the kids are so darn cute and ambitious that it makes them easy to root for and hard to watch them fail. When they do however, fellow competitors lift them up. Instead of commenting on what they did wrong, Ramsay suggests how to fix it and compliments on what they did right. It’s hard to watch these kids go home week after week, but knowing they have bright futures ahead gives me comfort. In a cynical world of reality TV garbage, Masterchef Junior is the standout, and we could all learn a thing or two from these kids.

 
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Posted by on December 10, 2014 in Other

 

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Ridiculously Early Oscars 2015 Predictions

It’s never too early to be thinking about next year’s awards season. Well, actually it might be, but that isn’t stopping me from compiling what I think could be potential front runners come December this year. They range from Christopher Nolan’s new sci-fi drama to an adaptation of one of today’s hottest books from David Fincher, and everything in between. Let’s take a look:

Gone Girl

David Fincher achieved similar success with his adaptation of Steig Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in 2011, so expect him to get some praise for his latest. Based on the novel by Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl stars Ben Affleck as a husband whose wife disappears on their fifth anniversary. Called “impossible to film,” Gone Girl should combine the star power of recent winner Ben Affleck with Fincher’s similar style, and we could be looking at something great.

Buy Gone Girl on Amazon today

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Unbroken

Angelina Jolie takes a seat behind the camera with her new film, Unbroken. The film depicts the life of Louis Zamperini, former Olympic athlete, who became a Japanese prisoner-of-war and endured hard times. With a script written by the Coen Brothers, and a timely release date given the recent Olympics, expect Unbroken to make some noise when it releases this December.

Into the Woods

From Chicago director Rob Marshall comes the film adaptation of the popular musical starring Meryl Streep. Need I say more? But with an all-star cast featuring Johnny Depp, Anna Kendrick, and Emily Blunt, expect to hear a lot from Into the Woods.

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Inherent Vice

Paul Thomas Anderson’s films have received mixed praise from the Academy, but his latest, Inherent Vice, seems poised to make a splash this December. Based on the detective novel by Thomas Pynchon, the film stars Joaquin Phoenix as Larry Sportello, as he investigates the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend in 1970s Los Angeles. The film combines crime with comedy, and could net itself a few Oscar nominations.

The Imitation Game

Harvey Weinstein has been hard-gunning for awards with his latest, The Imitation Game. The film is inspired by the life of Alan Turing, a cryptographer during World War II who was later prosecuted for being homosexual. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, the film could score him his first Oscar nomination, if Weinstein has anything to say about it next year.

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Interstellar

Hell will freeze over before the Academy recognizes the work that goes into crafting a beautiful sci-fi film. While Gravity swept up the awards this year, it ultimately failed to win Best Picture, leaving the slot open for Christopher Nolan’s latest. Interstellar features a team of scientists who explore wormholes, and stars recent winner Matthew McConaughey and Academy-favorite Jessica Chastain. Nolan’s films are loved by the Academy, and this could be the year when a science fiction film wins top prize.

Get on Up

Directed by The Help’s Tate Taylor, Get on Up stars Chadwick Boseman as James Brown in the late-summer biopic. With an cast featuring both Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis, Get on Up looks to be this year’s The Butler, except it might have a chance at scoring a nomination.

Foxcatcher

While the Bennett Miller film suffered a release date change last year, it may have been for the best, as Foxcatcher could score big in the acting categories next year. Based on the life of Olympic medalist Mark Schultz, the film stars Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo, and Channing Tatum, and the film could even be next year’s Dallas Buyers Club.

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Other possible contenders: Kill the Messenger, A Most Violent Year, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Mr. Turner, Exodus

 

 
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Posted by on March 11, 2014 in Other

 

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