Tag Archives: Gone Girl

The Top Five Films of 2014 (And the Not-So-Top Ones)

After the mad dash of the holidays, we stumble into January determined to take stock of the year that was and sweep aside the old in preparation for the new.

2015 brings with it an exciting new batch of movies, but before we welcome such heady stuff as “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and “Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens,” it’s time to look back on the best of 2014.

My Top 10 list falls a little short this year. I could only come up with five really exceptional films. But there are many other cinematic highlights to discuss, along with a bonus list — the 10 Most Overrated Films of 2014.

Happy New Year.

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The Top Five Films of 2014 (in no particular order)

1. “Birdman”: Like a wild, unpredictable improvisational jazz piece (an idea referenced in the film’s inventive musical score), Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s show-biz satire exhilarates and astonishes. Seemingly shot in one seamless, kinetic take, the movie is unlike anything we’ve seen before. An excellent cast lays bare a humiliating array of ego trips and insecurities, most notably Michael Keaton and Edward Norton in performances that are self-deprecating and spell-binding. Fame has never been so fickle, so funny or so heartbreaking.

2. “Boyhood”: Watching 2014’s most languid and lovely drama is like thumbing through a decade’s worth of scrapbooks of one lad’s ordinary, extraordinary life. Writer-director Richard Linklater filmed the movie over a period of 12 years, resulting in a fictional time capsule of youth that never feels fabricated. As the boy in Linklater’s ‘hood, Ellar Coltrane is at once average and remarkable, bolstered by the poignant presence of Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke as his flawed but well meaning parents. Whether you’re 15 or 50, this movie sparks reflections of formative moments in your own life.

3. “Guardians of the Galaxy”: The year’s most undeniably entertaining movie was shockingly absent from many critics’ Top 10 lists. Come on, guys! Don’t pretend you didn’t love this wacky space romp, which expertly culled its irresistibly fun ideas from such timeless classics as “Star Wars” and “Indiana Jones.” In introducing us to its strangest band of misfit superheroes yet, Marvel shamelessly pandered to ’80s nostalgia and got us all hooked on a feeling. Chris Pratt’s roguishly charming Star-Lord, Zoe Saldana’s butt-kicking Gamora, Dave Bautista’s hilariously literal Drax and the lovable duo of Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel) are part of cinema history now, and rightly so.

4. “The Grand Budapest Hotel”: I thought I was over Wes Anderson. The director’s rococo affectations were beginning to feel increasingly empty to me. But then came “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” detailing the quirkiest of adventures shared by concierge extraordinaire Monsieur Gustave (Fiennes) and his trusty lobby boy, Zero (Tony Revolori). Anderson’s fantastical fairy tale of international intrigue contains one surprising and delightful cameo after another, but it’s really a showcase for the improbable comedic talents of Fiennes, whose portrayal of the unflappable  Gustave is unexpectedly bittersweet. Anderson has always been a filmmaker to be reckoned with. This is undoubtedly his masterpiece.

5. “Only Lovers Left Alive”: There are movies you like, and then there are movies you fall for, truly, madly, deeply. In 2014, that film for me was writer-director Jim Jarmusch’s effortlessly cool, exquisitely romantic vampire drama. As sleek and sexy as midnight velvet and dripping with playful pop cultural, literary and musical references, “Lovers” depicts the reunion of insomniac soulmates who aren’t your average bloodsuckers. Tom Hiddleston plays angsty Adam as a brooding old-school rock ‘n’ roller from Detroit. Tilda Swinton’s Eve is his exotic, more adventurous paramour, who hangs out in Tangier with none other than Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt). This film really has to be seen to be believed. I want to sink my teeth into it again and again.

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Honorable Mentions

“Gone Girl”: Gillian Flynn’s poisonous page turner is demented, disturbing and oh-so-much wicked fun in director David Fincher’s darkly funny big-screen treatment. You’ll never look at Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris and the rest of the film’s fine cast quite the same way again.

“Nightcrawler”: Jake Gyllenhaal’s greasy, greedy, hypnotic turn as a ravenous coyote prowling L.A.’s seedy nightscapes in search of anything that bleeds is the highlight of writer-director Dan Gilroy’s pointed media satire.

“X-Men: Days of Future Past”: Building on the firm foundation laid by 2011’s “X-Men: First Class,” this sequel unites multiple generations of our favorite mutants — including Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, Jennifer Lawrence’s Raven and a double dose of Magneto and Professor X — in a twisty brain-teaser that effectively erases the franchise’s loathed third installment and paves the way for exciting installments to come.

“Edge of Tomorrow”: “Groundhog Day” meets “Alien” in a surprisingly clever post-apocalyptic sci-fi flick, which nobody saw because they were tired of watching Tom Cruise in post-apocalyptic sci-fi flicks. Cruise is billed as the star but Emily Blunt steals the movie out from under him as a tough-as-nails warrior, nickname the Full Metal Bitch.

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier”: Marvel’s ever popular comic book movie franchise finally grew up with a thriller that boasts slick action and a satisfyingly adult script.

“Snowpiercer”: The year’s most original, intriguing and just plain weird sci-fi thriller depicts a violent, stylish, totally bizarro class war aboard a train designed to traverse an ice-bound post-apocalyptic globe. You probably loved it and hated it simultaneously.

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Memorable Performances

The ever charming Shailene Woodley wormed her way a little deeper into our hearts in “The Fault in Our Stars” and “Divergent.”

Angelina Jolie was deliciously nasty as the misunderstood anti-heroine of Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty” reboot, “Maleficent.”

Tom Hardy did nothing but sit behind the wheel of a car and talk on the phone but was somehow spellbinding in “Locke.”

No one portrays eccentric geniuses quite like Benedict Cumberbatch, who dazzled as a socially awkward code breaker in “The Imitation Game.”

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The 10 Most Overrated Films of 2014 (in no particular order)

1. and 2. “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” and “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1” weren’t terrible but they were both seriously out of balance, proving the point that splitting book adaptations into too many parts may be financially savvy but cheats the audience out of a tightly crafted story.

3. “Magic in the Moonlight”: Woody Allen’s latest whimsical comedy features gorgeous French locales and yummy 1920s costumes but it’s an epic bore that teases us with the promise of supernatural intrigue, then delivers a lot of tedious talk instead.

4. “Begin Again”: Writer-director John Carney’s follow-up to the captivating “Once” is disappointing simply because there’s nothing genuine about it, from the forgettable music to the precious, pretentious performances of Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley.

5. “Chef”: Many moviegoers were charmed by this sleeper comedy, but I failed to fall under its spell, mainly because I can only watch Jon Favreau drive around in a food truck for so long.

6. “Godzilla”: After last year’s underrated but totally awesome “Pacific Rim,” this monster mash-up promised super-sized thrills. The film’s scaly star was largely absent, however, making this Kaiju smash-fest a giant disappointment.

7. “Under the Skin”: Critics inexplicably went ga-ga for director Jonathan Glazer’s interminably dull indie drama, which consists of a morose, otherworldly Scarlett Johansson trolling the streets of Glasgow for unsuspecting perverts.

8. “The Lego Movie”: I’m not going to deny this animated flick featuring everyone’s favorite building blocks is fun, playful and clever to a point. Seriously, though, how old are we, America’s collective moviegoing audience? 12?

9. “Interstellar”: Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi opus is stunning in many ways and I was one of the critics who highly recommended it. Two months later, though, I have to admit this technically impressive but flawed film was easier to forget than I expected.

10. “The Interview”: Sony Pictures and the nation’s major movie chains never should have caved to the cyberterrorist threats that kept this North Korea-bashing comedy out of theaters. I just wish Seth Rogen and James Franco’s goofy riff on totalitarianism actually had something to say. Then it might be worth all the fuss.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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‘Gone Girl’ a Wickedly Entertaining Thriller

‘Gone Girl’
Three and a half stars (out of four)
R (a scene of bloody violence, some strong sexual content/nudity, language)
149 minutes

If you’ve had the demented pleasure of reading Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl,” then you know that much of the anticipation surrounding the movie stemmed from curiosity.

How would director David Fincher handle the book’s clever dual structure, its unreliable first-person narratives? What about that uncompromising ending? And that whiplash-inducing twist halfway through. How would he pull that off on screen?

If you’ve read Flynn’s novel, you also know it’s nearly impossible to review the film without spoiling the tasty but poisonous machinations of its tangled plot.

Well, here goes nothing.

The surprising truth is that the movie adaptation of “Gone Girl” is wickedly entertaining and a success on almost every level.

Although authors often translate their works to the screen with mixed results, Entertainment Weekly scribe turned novelist Gillian Flynn bravely takes the knife to her intricate thriller, trimming the fat but preserving all the juiciest morsels. She’s done such an excellent job of condensing and streamlining that, even at two and a half hours long, the movie zings along at a near perfect pace.

As you might suspect, Fincher is just the man to tackle this poisonous murder-mystery, which oozes with the sort of outrageous domestic dramas you typically find in Lifetime television movies. By embracing the book’s camp potential and slyly underlining its pitch-black humor, Fincher transforms a story full of preposterous developments into a smart, sordid guilty pleasure.

Crime, obsession, sociopathy, kinky sex, deeply troubled misfits and people pretending to be what they’re not — these subjects are the forte of Fincher, who previously went slumming in such grim and gritty thrillers as “Seven,” “Fight Club,” “Zodiac,” “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” and even the “The Social Network.”

At first glance, “Gone Girl” appears to be perhaps a little too conventional for Fincher’s freakier predilections. In a very meta bit of casting, Ben Affleck stars as Nick Dunne, a smugly handsome magazine writer who is vilified by the press when he becomes a suspect in the disappearance of his beautiful, blonde wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike).

(Affleck has never been charged with murder, but he does know what it’s like to be embraced and then scorned by an unforgiving media.)

We meet Nick Dunne on the morning his wife vanishes from their suburban Missouri home, leaving behind a crime scene that suggests a violent struggle. Nick immediately calls the police and a pair of no-nonsense detectives (Kim Dickens and Patrick Fugit) arrive to investigate, quickly uncovering an envelope cheekily labeled “Clue One.”

According to Nick, said clue is part of an anniversary scavenger hunt Amy designed for her hubby, complete with rhyming riddles and destinations rife with personal significance. As the cops go treasure hunting in search of a lead, Nick awkwardly navigates the media circus surrounding Amy’s disappearance.

His increasingly tactless, public faux pas are intercut with excerpts from Amy’s diary, recalling the couple’s courtship in New York. In scenes so sugary sweet and picture-postcard perfect they could be from a slightly ominous romantic comedy, we learn Amy is something of a celebrity, the inspiration for a series of children’s books authored by her insensitive parents (David Clennon, Lisa Banes).

We see Nick and Amy meet-cute as young writers, agree to marry after a witty proposal and bask in short-lived bliss, until the recession, lay-offs, a family illness and an abrupt move shake the foundations of their hitherto solid union.

Even when nothing sinister is happening, Fincher keeps the audience unsettled, off-balance, tipping us off that everything is not as it seems. He’s aided by a jittery, minimalist musical score by “Social Network” collaborators Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.

There’s something brilliantly deceptive about the way Fincher lures us in. For much of the film, I kept wondering if “Gone Girl” was maybe too tame for his talents. It wasn’t until the film’s final act, which features a spectacular, stomach-churning outburst of sex and violence, that I finally realized how mistaken I was.

Readers will note that, as with virtually every page-to-screen transfer, some of the telling motivational detail of Flynn’s rich and complicated characterizations is lost in the film.

However, a fine cast goes a long way to remedying these shortcomings.

Affleck is ideally positioned as a golden boy whose plastic grin and glib charm suggest he’s hiding dark secrets.

Speaking of charm, Neil Patrick Harris puts his trademark charisma to supremely icky uses in a part best left to the imagination.

I actually think the lovably snarky Carrie Coon, of TV series “The Leftovers,” makes more of the character of Nick’s supportive twin sister, Margo, than is found in Flynn’s book.

Tyler Perry may not seem the obvious choice to play a hotshot defense attorney, but he’s great in the role. And Dickens is possibly the best matter-of-fact lady detective since Frances McDormand in “Fargo.”

There’s not much I can say about Pike’s performance without heading into dangerous spoiler territory, but it is pivotal to the film’s success, weirdly hypnotic and unexpectedly funny.

As for the much-ballyhooed changes Fincher and Flynn supposedly made to the book’s ending, it’s a mystery to me what happened there. As far as I can tell, there are no major alterations, certainly nothing worth getting excited about.

As a satire of America’s fascination with murder, especially the slaying of pretty, young wives, “Gone Girl” is pointed and hilarious. Its depiction of a fickle public and an easily manipulated media may be over-the-top but it’s also undeniably relevant.

Just as Flynn’s book was more than a trashy page-turner, riffing shrewdly on gender politics, the fictions we construct around our romantic relationships and the fractured fairy tale marriage often turns out to be, so “Gone Girl” the movie has deeper — if not earth-shattering — things on its mind than simply serving up a sizzling who-done-it.

 

 

 

 

Looking Forward to Films of Fall

Fall may be the best season of all.

And not just because it begins with the return of the Pumpkin Spice Latte.

Along with sweaters, scarves, Halloween, turning leaves and a welcome chill in the air, fall is a time of renewal for Hollywood as a late-summer slump at the movies gives way to a fresh supply of films we’re actually looking forward to.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been AWOL from the movie theater. I couldn’t bring myself to watch Idris Elba — who deserves better — terrorize Taraji P. Henson — who also deserves better — in “No Good Deed.” “A Walk Among the Tombstones” looked as dreary and depressing as its title. “This Is Where I Leave You” has a wonderful cast, but then I read the reviews. I meant to see “The Maze Runner,” but was less than impressed with the book and haven’t gotten around to it.

Starting this weekend, however, there will be reasons galore for moviegoers to get off the couch and get their butts into the cineplex once again. Film buffs, rejoice — the fun won’t stop until after Christmas.

Here are the fall (and winter) movies I’m most looking forward to.

“The Boxtrolls,” Sept. 26: Stop-motion animation studio Laika brought us the exquisitely dark “Coraline” and hilariously macabre zombie comedy “ParaNorman.” The painstakingly rendered “Boxtrolls” — which features more than 200 detailed puppets — looks to be just as enchanting.

“Gone Girl,” Oct. 3: Gillian Flynn’s poisonous he-said, she-said thriller was impossible to put down. Watching director David Fincher pull off the book’s epic twists should be interesting. So should watching Ben Affleck inhabit the role of douche-baggy murder suspect Nick Dunne.

“Kill the Messenger,” Oct. 10: The underrated Jeremy Renner takes a break from playing the loneliest Avenger to tackle the meatier role of real-life journalist Gary Webb, who investigated the CIA’s alleged involvement in drug smuggling in the mid-1990s. Sure, I’ll miss the spandex and the crossbow, but it will be nice to hear Renner say more than three lines in this drama.

“Whiplash,” Oct. 10: Young up-and-comer Miles Teller (“Project X,” “The Spectacular Now,” “Divergent”) stars as a drummer under the sway of a maniacal music instructor (J.K. Simmons) in a drama that caused a sensation at the Sundance and Toronto film festivals. It sounds just strange enough to be awesome.

“Birdman,” Oct. 17: This dark satire appears to be a significant departure for director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (“21 Grams,” “Babel”), who isn’t exactly known for his comedies. Michael Keaton steps into the role of a washed-up actor once celebrated for playing a superhero. Could he be riffing on his stint as a certain caped crusader? If this movie has anything intelligent to say about our comic book obsessed culture, it could be fascinating.

“Fury,” Oct. 17: There are so many movies about World War II, coming up with a new angle on the conflict isn’t an easy task. “End of Watch” director David Ayer seems to have done it though, telling the story of a Sherman tank crew on a mission behind enemy lines. Brad Pitt plays a philosophical sergeant — am I the only one who’s tired of the actor’s incessant speech-making in recent films? — but I’m more excited about the underrated Michael Pena as the Fury’s driver.

“St. Vincent,” Oct. 24: Anytime Bill Murray decides to come out of his eccentric, hermit-like shell and make another movie, it’s cause for celebration. It’s a bonus that the comedy, about a cantankerous Brooklyn veteran who becomes a boy’s unlikely babysitter, looks so darn hilarious. It also stars Melissa McCarthy and Chris O’Dowd, which can’t be bad.

“Horns,” Oct. 31: The boy who played Harry Potter is all grown up and has been busy carving out an eclectic career on the stage and screen. Daniel Radcliffe’s latest choice, a bizarre thriller by horror director Alexandre Aja, may be his strangest and most intriguing endeavor yet. The former wizard plays a man on a quest to find his girlfriend’s killer. He’s aided by supernatural horns that spontaneously sprout from his head.

maxresdefaultMatthew McConaughey in “Interstellar” (photo YouTube)

 “Interstellar,” Nov. 7: After the “Dark Knight” trilogy and “Inception,” I would travel many miles and shell out a lot of cash to see anything director Christopher Nolan dreams up. His latest is an enigmatic sci-fi odyssey we know little about, thanks to a typically obscure Nolanesque advertising campaign. We do know “Interstellar” stars Matthew McConaughey, who has suddenly become one of Hollywood’s most intriguing actors. This is a must-see if there ever was one.

“Rosewater,” Nov. 7: Jon Stewart makes his directorial debut with a drama, starring Gabriel Garcia Bernal, about Iranian journalist Maziar Bahari, who was imprisoned and tortured following his country’s 2009 presidential election. This is the movie that managed to temporarily lure Stewart away from his beloved “Daily Show,” so it better be good.

“Foxcatcher,” Nov. 14: Steve Carell in a non-comedic role that requires him to wear a creepy prosthetic nose? Sounds like a recipe for disaster … or wild success, considering the raves coming out of the Toronto Film Festival. Carell stars as millionaire John du Pont, who became embroiled in a murder while sponsoring an Olympic wrestling duo in 1996.

“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1,” Nov. 21: I’m not the biggest fan of the final chapter in author Suzanne Collins’ dystopian series. That last book was a letdown and it’s too slight to be divided into two parts, as studio Lionsgate has deemed necessary in an obvious grab for more box-office cash. Still, the trailers for “Mockingjay — Part 1” suggest the film could actually be thrilling as Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss becomes the unwitting leader of a revolution.

“The Imitation Game,” Nov. 21: Benedict Cumberbatch is the only reason needed to anticipate this period drama about genius politician Alan Turing, who cracked a notorious Nazi code during World War II and was later persecuted for his sexual orientation. When it comes to playing brilliant minds, “Sherlock” star Cumberbatch is the best. This “Game” could be even more thrilling than “Mockingjay.”

“Wild,” Dec. 5: Based on Cheryl Strayed’s 2012 memoir about her harrowing hike along the Pacific Crest Trail after a crisis turned her personal life into a shambles, “Wild” seems poised to strike a chord with moviegoers. I hope so, if only to see Reese Witherspoon reclaim her spot at the top of Hollywood’s A-list. She’s gunning for another Oscar. Godspeed, Reese!

“Exodus: Gods and Kings,” Dec. 12: Biblical epics are all the rage again. After the cheesy misfire that was Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah,” I know I shouldn’t be looking forward to director Ridley Scott’s Moses biopic, starring Christian Bale. But I just can’t help myself. The film looks so fabulous and corny, from Joel Edgerton as an eyeliner-wearing Rhamses to “Breaking Bad” bad-ass Aaron Paul as Joshua. And who doesn’t want to witness the Red Sea part in spectacular CGI?

“Inherent Vice,” Dec. 12: Director Paul Thomas Anderson reunites with “The Master” star Joaquin Phoenix for a psychedelic 1970s-set noir film about a private detective investigating a string of juicy conspiracies. “The Master” was sometimes difficult to sit through. Call me a glutton for punishment, but I found it just hypnotic enough that I’ll be back for more of Anderson and Phoenix’s bizarre collaboration.

“The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies,” Dec. 17: The first installment of director Peter Jackson’s “Hobbit” trilogy was a slog, overlong and sluggishly paced. Last year’s “Desolation of Smaug” was a marked improvement, zippier and more engaging. Now I can actually look forward to the finale, which will test all of visual effects house Weta’s computer wizardry as they bring to life the show-stopping skirmish of the film’s title.

“Big Eyes,” Dec. 25: Tim Burton re-creates the dysfunctional marriage of painters Walter and Margaret Keane, who in the 1960s produced a series of memorable paintings of children with creepy peepers. The couple is played by Christoph Waltz and Amy Adams, a match made in cinema heaven, considering these two are amazing in everything they do.

“The Interview,” Dec. 25: There is no homoerotic comedy union more hilarious than that of Seth Rogen and James Franco, from “Pineapple Express,” to “This is the End,” to the duo’s brazen parody of the Kanye and Kim video “Bound 2.” In their latest wacky endeavor, the pair play tabloid TV journalists who travel to North Korea to interview Kim Jong-un. The dictator reportedly denounced the movie, which somehow makes it even more hilarious.

“Into the Woods,” Dec. 25: Fairy tales are in again, as evidenced by the insane popularity of “Frozen,” “Maleficent” and “Once Upon a Time.” Stephen Sondheim’s bedtime story mash-up could be a dark and cynical anecdote to the sugary sweetness of Disneyfied fables. The only catch is that it’s a Disney movie with director Rob Marshall catering to a family audience. At least it boasts a stellar cast, including Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp, Anna Kendrick, Emily Blunt and Chris Pine.

Into-the-Woods-Movie-Meryl-Streep-as-the-WitchMeryl Streep in “Into the Woods” (photo teaser-trailer.com)