The Best Films of 2017

One of the hardest parts of watching and loving movies is the inevitable task of whittling them down into some sort of “best-of” list.

In an ideal world, films wouldn’t be judged by numbers or percentages, but by what they stir up, inspire, or accomplish. By the way they make us laugh, make us cry, make us think, keep us on the edge of our seats, or open our imaginations.  Films are more than numbers on scales and placements on lists. Unfortunately that’s just the way we are forced to go about explaining why or how we connected with a film or not. Films are not always meant to be mathematically analyzed; they are meant to be felt.

2017 was a great year at the movies. There could be plenty more said about why each of these moves below were so wonderful but there’s only so much room on the interwebs. The best films are, at their core, about what it means to be human – with all the good, the bad, and the ugly. The best ones do it with delightful stories to wrap our heads around, characters to care about, and epic sights to feast our eyes upon.

These are the ones that did it best this year.


MY FAVORITE FILMS OF 2017:

BTW, there were a lot of good movies this year. Even though all of them didn’t make my cut of Favorite Films, I still want to list the rest of the  movies I liked as Runners-up: because they were good and they’re still worth a watch!

THE RUNNERS-UP:

38 – SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING

37 – SPLIT

36 – WONDER WOMAN

35 – KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE

34 – LOGAN

33 – THOR: RAGNAROK

32 – COLOSSAL

31 – STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI

30 – DETROIT

29 – BATTLE OF THE SEXES

28 – THE POST

27 – MOLLY’S GAME

26 – BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

25 – BRAD’S STATUS

24 – ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD

23 – GET OUT

22 – I, TONYA

21 – THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI


20 — Last Flag Flying

When a grieving father asks his old Marine buddies to accompany him to his son’s funeral, the three set out on a road trip to Arlington Cemetery. Their mission: to give his son the burial he deserves. Along the way, the three (Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston, Lawrence Fishburne, all giving A+ performances) reminisce and end up giving each other what they needed most: a sense of community and brotherhood.


19 — Only the Brave

An emotional true story about Arizona firefighters who risk their lives daily to save communities, families, and cities from the horrors of wildfires — Only the Brave is an inspirational, hopeful, and powerful drama about real-life heroes.


18 — Wind River

Jeremy Renner and Elisabeth Olsen make a killer duo as they attempt to solve the mystery of a local murder on a remote Native American reservation. Some great character development and compelling mysteries make Wind River one of the best dramas of the year.


17 — Logan Lucky

An offbeat and quirky action film with a Daniel Craig performance unlike any you’ve seen before. If I was to describe it as a “Hillbilly Ocean’s Eleven“, would that interest you? Yes? You’re in luck.


16 — Coco

Pixar is back! After a string of underwhelming sequels, Pixar proves that they still have the power to pull off original, emotional stories about adolescence and fantastic unseen worlds. Just don’t make me watch Olaf’s Frozen Adventure before it starts again.


15 — The Big Sick

Comedian Kumail Nanjiani’s autobiographical romantic comedy about falling in love with Emily (despite his Muslim family’s wishes that he marry a Pakistani woman) as she is diagnosed with a mysterious illness is funny, heartfelt, and fresh.


14 — THE SHAPE OF WATER

“Magical” is a good word to describe this modern fairytale. Beautifully directed by Guillermo del Toro, this 1960’s-set re-imagining of The Beauty and the Beast is visually gorgeous and bolstered by an incredible cast. Maybe more so than any other movie this year, The Shape of Water “transports” you to a different world. And isn’t that what movies are all about?


13 — DARKEST HOUR

The best performance of the year belongs to the unrecognizable Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour. Winston Churchill is a character who has been immortalized on film countless times – but now we have the definitive portrayal of the man who who led, against immense opposition, his nation with the weight of the world on his shoulders. Thrilling and dramatic, Darkest Hour is a historical drama with style.


12 — THE GREATEST SHOWMAN

The Greatest Showman is not a perfect movie — it’s clunky in places, and doesn’t really work in others. But when it works, it really works. Hugh Jackman increasingly impresses as the energetic P.T. Barnum, giving every scene his all, belting out tunes alongside a game cast. It’s hard not to admire how everyone in this movie showed up with their A-game, and how a pure love of movie musicals infuses every frame. This wildly entertaining musical reminds you of what the spectacle of “going to the movies” is all about. And if The Greatest Showman doesn’t fill you with utter joy at least once, I’m not sure you have a heart.


11 — THE GLASS CASTLE

Brie Larson is the best. And once again, she’s great in The Glass Castle, starring as a young woman who grows up under her wildly joyful yet dysfunctional father’s misguided approach to fatherhood. As an adult, she goes on to carve out a successful life for herself, but ends up learning the power of redemption and reconciliation when it comes to her relationship with her estranged father.


10 — Ingrid Goes West

Social media controls our modern lives. Many movies have tried to show this phenomenon on film, but maybe none have done it so well — and so comically — as Ingrid Goes West. The tale of an instagram stalker who travels to LA in an attempt to befriend a fashion idol she follows online is super smart, super dark, and super funny.


9 — WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES

The thrilling conclusion to one of the best trilogies in the last decade or so, War for the Planet of the Apes caps off Caesar’s story in spectacular fashion. Andy Serkis is phenomenal as always, and the visuals are incredible – this is how you do CGI. A poignant tale about leadership and the importance of family, War for the Planet of the Apes is everything Hollywood blockbusters should be.


8 — Lady Bird

Sure, I may be biased since I’m from Sacramento and I love the little city I call home. But Greta Gerwig’s beautiful ode to adolescence, to growing up in Sacramento, and to coming around to loving the people and places that made us who we are, is such a winner.


7 — STRONGER

So much more than a conventional “overcoming the odds” drama/romance, Stronger is the incredibly moving tale of Jeff Bauman’s recovery after losing his legs in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. Thrust into the limelight while trying to recover, he reluctantly is forced to take on the mantle of “hero” for his city, even though he may not feel like one. What happens when a new romantic relationship is thrown a wrench in the form of national tragedy, and when life thrusts upon us a role we feel neither prepared for or deserving of?


6 — WONDER

Wonder what the most delightful, feel-good movie of the year is? Wonder no more. This wonderful little movie has some beautiful performances, knows exactly how to tug at the heartstrings, and may or may not have made me cry numerous times.


5 — GIFTED

This endearing indie drama starring Chris Evans as a single father struggling to raise his gifted daughter is the most charming movie of the year. When people say “they don’t make movies like they used to,” this is the kind of movie they’re talking about.


4 — Dunkirk

Christopher Nolan might have impacted the last few decades of film more than any other current filmmaker – no matter what some haters may say. It’s easy to overlook how his style, storytelling technique and cinematic influence has created countless trends in mainstream Hollywood filmmaking we take for granted. Dunkirk may not be the best Nolan film, but it shows the Director firing on all cylinders – a thrilling, exciting war movie more concerned with sound, feeling and scope than dialogue or individual characters. This is the story of countless soldiers – on the land, sea, and in the air – who lived through the horrors of Dunkirk. It’s a fascinating experience, and it might be the best war film since Saving Private Ryan.


3 — Baby Driver

A thrilling musical adventure through the streets of Atlanta, Baby Driver is the newest from Director Edgar Wright, who has given us some of the most unique, cinematic modern comedies. Baby Driver is a step away from straight-up comedy, blending music and action sequences unlike any film in recent memory. See it on the biggest screen possible – this is one of those movies that reminds you why going to the movies is so much fun.


2 —  The Disaster Artist

Okay, I get that many of you haven’t seen The Room. I definitely recommend giving that gloriously bad 2003 drama starring the enigmatic Tommy Wiseau a watch. But The Disaster Artist, James Franco’s retelling of the behind-the-scenes foibles on the set of The Room, is strong enough to stand on its own as well (though I still contend that you’ll enjoy it so much more having seen The Room). What easily could have been a simple comedy mocking the bizarre antics of Tommy Wiseau instead becomes a moving (but still very funny) tale about friendship, ambition and pursuing the things we are passionate about… If you can, get some good friends together to watch The Room on DVD and then go watch The Disaster Artist together. That will not be an evening wasted.


1 —  Brigsby Bear

My favorite movie of the year is also the one I’m confident most of you haven’t seen. Not only is Kyle Mooney criminally underused on Saturday Night Live, but now only like 87 people went and saw his brilliantly creative, quirky, funny and emotional comedy/drama Brigsby Bear in theaters. It’s by far the weirdest movie I’ve seen in a long time – but weird in so many great ways. I don’t really even want to say anything else about it because it would ruin the story. Don’t even watch the trailer or anything, seriously. Oh and Mark Hamill is a main character in it too, if you haven’t already been convinced.


Honorable Mention —  We Make Movies

Okay, I had to put this on here, right? I would never go so far as to imply that a movie I wrote and directed is one of the best of the year – ahem – but I’m pretty proud of it and I think it’s funny so maybe you’ll find it funny too. Amazon picked it up and you can watch it there for free.

And yes – it’s not lost on me how ironic it is that 2017 saw the release of a comedy movie I made about characters making a bad movie (that ends at the premiere of said bad-movie), and then my two favorite films of the year ended up being comedies about characters making bad movies (that end at the premiere of said bad-movies). I’m not sure if there’s anything to that or not…


Still need to see:
Phantom Thread, Hostiles, Mudbound, The Meyerowitz Stories

BECAUSE EVERYONE WANTS AN AWARD:

Who did it the best this year?

BEST ACTOR(s):
James Franco, The Disaster Artist
Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour

BEST ACTRESS: Saiorse Ronan, Lady Bird

BEST DIRECTOR(s):
Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk
Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water

BEST SCREENPLAY: Brigsby Bear

BEST MUSICAL SCORES:
Dunkirk
The Greatest Showman

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: Dunkirk

MOST OVERRATED MOVIES OF THE YEAR (HOT TAKES!):
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
The Florida Project
It

DESTINED TO WIN THE MOST AWARDS: The Shape of Water

So those are my big fat opinions about 2017 at the movies! You don’t have to love my list; you don’t have to agree. So let me know what your favorite movies were this year! But first, if you excuse me, I think I’ll grab my popcorn bucket and head back to the theater. Time to start all over again!

© Matt Tory, 2018. 

All movie posters shown are used for non-commercial analysis and commentary purposes related to the films mentioned herein.

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Best Films of 2016

One of the hardest parts of watching and loving movies is the inevitable task of whittling them down into some sort of “best-of” list.

In an ideal world, films wouldn’t be judged by numbers or percentages, but by what they stir up, inspire, or accomplish. By the way they make us laugh, make us cry, make us think, keep us on the edge of our seats, or open our imaginations. By how well they execute a Sigourney Weaver cameo, or whether or not Michael Bay is involved.

Films are more than numbers on scales and placements on lists. Unfortunately that’s just the way we are forced to go about explaining why or how we connected with a film or not. Films are not always meant to be mathematically analyzed; they are meant to be felt.

lalaland-final

2016 gave us so many great films. There could be plenty more said about why each of these moves below were so great but there’s only so much room on the interwebs. The best films are, at their core, about what it means to be human – with all the good, the bad, and the ugly. The best ones do it with wonderful stories to wrap our heads around, characters to care about, and epic sights to feast our eyes upon.

These are the ones that did it best this year.


THE BEST FILMS OF 2016:

THE RUNNERS-UP:

35) Midnight Special 
34)
Nerve
33)
Hello, My Name is Doris
32)
Silence
31) The Lobster
30) Masterminds
29)
The Birth of a Nation
28) A Monster Calls
27) Loving
26) Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
25) Pete’s Dragon
24) Deepwater Horizon
23) Zootopia
22) Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
21) The Edge of Seventeen

20 — ARRIVAL

movie

A Sci-Fi movie with heart and smarts. Amy Adams is stunning (as always) in this story about a linguist who attempts to make contact when a mysterious spacecraft arrives on earth. A perfect mystery to shove some popcorn in your face to.
My Rating: 7/10  Extra-Terrestrials


19 — The jungle Book

movie1

Disney sure does know how to do these whole reboot things right. I am usually the first to complain about the amount of sequels, reboots and remakes being made in Hollywood today – but if they have to be done, no one does them better than Disney. The Jungle Book is the perfect tribute to a classic animated film that also dazzles and entertains on its own. A great cast bring our favorite characters back to life, and there’s probably never been such impressive CGI work ever put to film (and Bill Murray plays a bear in it, so, come on).
My Rating: 4/5 CGI Tigers


18 — hunt for the wilderpeople

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“Wilderpeople” is not a real word. It’s a play off of “wildebeest,” which are referenced many times in the movie. It’s confusing, but don’t worry about it. Just see the movie. It’s funny, heartfelt, and full of New Zealand slang words. Really, it’s funny. Watch it.
My Rating: 7 Wilderpoints/10


17 — jackie

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The day JFK was shot changed our nation. His presidency had only just begun, and his wife Jackie knew that since he hadn’t died in the name of a particular cause, he’d most likely be forgotten in the annals of history. Jackie tells the compelling true story of how a grief-stricken Jackie Kennedy took it into her own hands in the days following her husband’s death to make sure his legacy lived on.
My Rating: 35/44 First Ladies


16 — gleason

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Are you ready to cry? Oh, you say your a “man” and you don’t cry at the movies? Firstly, I don’t believe you – everyone cried during Toy Story 3. Secondly, don’t repress your emotions, dude. You’re a human being, and crying every now and then is a natural function of a healthy body. Thirdly, even if you still say you don’t cry during movies, bring your handkerchief. Gleason chronicles the heartbreaking true story of NFL star Steve Gleason, who is diagnosed with a life-debilitating disease as he’s about to become a father. The best documentary of the year.
My Rating: 8/10 Tissues


15 — don’t think twice

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The perfect commentary on the struggle between pursuing art and using art to pursue fame, Don’t Think Twice will resonate with anyone who has felt stuck while pursuing a dream, or has friends. So basically everyone pretty much. It’s original, clever, witty, bittersweet and laugh-out-loud funny.
My Rating: Don’t Think Once-and-a-Half/Twice


14 — moana

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Why is it that the biggest company in the entertainment business is the only studio daring to tell big-budget original stories these days? Disney is keeping original stories in movie theaters, and for that alone they are to be respected. On top of that, though, Moana is just sheer delight. It’s got some of the most beautiful sequences ever animated, a new kick-butt heroine, and the best soundtrack Disney’s put out in years (yes, better than that overrated flick you may have seen called Frozen).
My Rating: 5/6 Songs that Get Stuck in Your Head


13 — the light between oceans

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Perhaps the most criminally overlooked film of the year, The Light Between Oceans is heartbreaking, beautiful, and a laugh-out-loud riot! (sorry, just seeing if you’re paying attention. There’s not much to laugh at in this movie). Michael Fassbender. Beautiful sunrises. British accents. Moral dilemmas. What more could you want?
My Rating: 6/The 7 Seas


12 — hell or high water

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A modern-day Western, Hell or High Water packs a wallop. It’s gritty, it’s dramatic, and it’s action-packed as two brothers decide to rob banks to save their Texas ranch. Jeff Bridges is hot on their trail, and it all culminates in a… wait, you didn’t think I’d tell you how it ends, right? Go see it for yourself. It’s probably at Redbox – which is a pretty good deal, as long as you return it the next day. Watch out for those late fees. That’s how they get you. Just make sure it’s back by 9PM the day after you rent it. You’re welcome.
My Rating: 8.5 Y’alls


11 — sully

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Are there any characters Tom Hanks can’t play? The man is a national treasure, and his performance as Captain “Sully” is basically the entirety of this film. It’s a subtle film, but powerful in its simplicity. Sully examines how traumatic it can be to live through a horrifying situation – even when, by some miracle, everything turns out fine and you’re considered a “hero.”
My Rating: 8.5 Flocks of Birds


10 — 10 cloverfield lane

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A thrilling mystery set underground, 10 Cloverfield Lane is like a trippy, compelling Twilight Zone episode come to life. When a young woman wakes up in John Goodman’s underground bunker, he tells her he’s saved her from a world above where everyone is dead and the air is contaminated. But can he be trusted?
My Rating: 8/10 Cloverfield Lane


9 — SWISS ARMY MAN

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I couldn’t even describe this one if I wanted to. Swiss Army Man is a film that must be experienced to understand, and one that will stay with you. You’ll probably have to allow some time to process the film’s complex, bizarre story as well. If you’re into movies featuring dead bodies that occasionally speak, human jet skis and musical montages set to the Jurassic Park theme song, this film is for you.
My Rating: 89% chance of survival


8 — Finding dory

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For most studios, sequels are cheap cash grabs. And let’s not kid ourselves – Pixar makes movies to make money – but Finding Dory is a heartfelt, hilarious tale that stands tall among Pixar’s already stellar canon. Where Finding Nemo gave us a story of a father searching for his son, Finding Dory gives us the story of a daughter searching for her parents – and, in the process, finding herself. Cheesy, but accurate. Finding Dory is the best animated film of the year.
My Rating: Septopus/Octopus


7 — hacksaw ridge

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Mel Gibson inspires different feelings in many people – but he knows how to make a good movie, okay. Hacksaw Ridge tells the inspiring, pulse-pounding true story of a World War II soldier who chose not to carry a weapon into battle for religious reasons, and went on to save countless lives during the Battle of Okinawa at Hacksaw Ridge. It’s an intense war picture with a life-affirming story about following your convictions.
My Rating: 2/3 Mel Gibson comebacks


6 — Lion

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I’m pretty sure you didn’t see this movie. Which is a shame. Lion is an emotional drama about a young man separated from his life and family in India at five years old. Years later, through the power of Google Maps, he attempts to find his way back home to the family he lost. It’s better than whatever other movie you were planning to watch tonight.
My Rating: 40.134562/45.393711107 GPS Coordinates


5 — eddie the eagle

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If “fun” could describe any movie in 2016, it’d be Eddie the Eagle – about the underdog ski jumper who charmed the world at the 1988 Winter Olympics. Throwing back to the best of 90’s Disney sports comedies like Cool Runnings and The Mighty Ducks, Eddie the Eagle surpasses them all in pure joy. You will have a smile on your face the whole way through (and probably the whole day after, too).
My Rating: Silver Medal


4 — Sing street

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A delightful musical comedy, Sing Street is set in 1980’s Ireland as a group of schoolmates form a band. It’s a simple concept – but it’s executed in a masterful blend of humor, glee and pathos. It’s a wonderfully original film. When people ask why Hollywood keeps pumping out crap, remember that it’s because this amazing film made about 1/6 of what Boo! A Madea Halloween did at the box office. 1/6th, guys… Boo! A Madea Halloween…
My Rating: at least 6x better than Boo! A Madea Halloween


3 — manchester by the sea

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Casey Affleck finally comes out of the shadow of his big brother and gives what might be the best single performance of 2016 in Manchester by the Sea. A haunting film about family, loss, grief, parenting and responsibility,  this is one of the most heartbreaking experiences I’ve ever had at the movies (in a good way).
My Rating: 1.5/2 Afflecks


2 —  captain fantastic

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Ben (Viggo Mortenson) might be the most unorthodox parent you’ve ever seen. He raises his six children in the forests of the Pacific Northwest, giving them a personalized education. But when tragedy strikes, the family is forced to leave their sanctuary and face the real world – challenging all of Ben’s ideas and beliefs about what it means to be a parent. This is the kind of thought-provoking, unexpected film that reminds me why I love movies in the first place.
My Rating: 8/9 Awkward Funeral Services


1 —  la la land

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Was there ever any doubt what would be #1?

La La Land is without a doubt the best, most original, delightful, joyful, purely sensational film of the year. It’s an old-fashioned musical set in the modern day, and a beautiful tribute to the city of Los Angeles. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are our generation’s Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, and their chemistry is off the charts. It’s not a perfect film – though, what is, right? It’s objective, duh – but La La Land is a moving, majestic masterpiece. It’s a touching reflection on relationships and artistic pursuits – and the failures, successes, and purposes of both. It deserves all the awards it will undoubtedly pile up, and above all it’s so much fun. I would also just like to add that Emma Stone is adorable.
My Rating: 99/100 Oscar Nominations


Still need to see: Paterson, 20th Century Women, The Founder, Patriots Day, Live by Night, Hidden Figures

BECAUSE EVERYONE WANTS AN AWARD:

Who did it the best this year?

BEST ACTOR: Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea

BEST ACTRESS: Emma Stone, La La Land

BEST DIRECTOR: Damien Chazelle, La La Land

BEST SCREENPLAY: Captain Fantastic, Matt Ross

BEST MUSICAL SCORES:
La La Land
Moana
Lion

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: Linus Sandgren, La La Land

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENTS OF THE YEAR:
Fantastic Beasts
Passengers

Hail, Caesar!
Ghostbusters
War Dogs

DESTINED TO WIN THE MOST AWARDS: La La Land

So those are my big fat opinions about 2016 at the movies! You don’t have to love my list; you don’t have to agree. So let me know what your favorite movies were this year! But first, if you excuse me, I think I’ll grab my popcorn bucket and head back to the theater. Time to start all over again!

© Matt Tory, 2017. 

All movie posters shown are used for non-commercial analysis and commentary purposes related to the films mentioned herein.

The Best Films of 2015

One of the hardest parts of watching and loving movies is the inevitable task of whittling them down into some sort of “best-of” list.

In an ideal world, films wouldn’t be judged by numbers or percentages, but by what they stir up, inspire, or accomplish. By the way they make us laugh, make us cry, make us think, keep us on the edge of our seats, or open our imaginations. By how well they include a Stan Lee cameo, or whether or not Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is in it (an automatic markdown).

Films are more than numbers on scales and placements on lists. Unfortunately that’s just the way we are forced to go about explaining why or how we connected with a film or not. Films are not always meant to be mathematically analyzed; they are meant to be felt.

2015 in Film:

Some notable omissions you might find glaring here include Spectre, Black Mass, Anomalisa, Spy, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man, and Mad Max: Fury Road.
Sorry, but they didn’t make the cut.
And then a few that very well could have if I had gotten a chance to see them include Straight Outta Compton, The Peanuts Movie, Legend, Youth, Cop Car, Z for Zachariah, Macbeth, and Slow West.

There could be plenty more said about why each of these moves below were so great but there’s only so much room on the interwebs. The best films are, at their core, about what it means to be human – with all the good, the bad, and the ugly. The best ones do it with wonderful stories to wrap our heads around, characters to care about, and epic sights to feast our eyes upon. These are the ones that did it best this year.


THE BEST FILMS OF 2015:

THE RUNNERS-UP:
30) The Big Short
29) Meet the Patels
28) Trainwreck
27) Creed
26) Age of Adaline
25) Brooklyn
24) Ex Machina
23) Paddington
22) Sicario
21) The Gift

20 — JURASSIC WORLD

Dinosaurs. Motorcycles. Ripped Chris Pratt. Ron Howard’s daughter running through the jungle in high heels. A sequel-reboot-remake-something of a classic Stephen Spielberg movie. What more could you want?

Jurassic World is fun, fast-paced, and downright entertaining. A perfect summer blockbuster movie to shove some popcorn in your face to.

My Rating: 7/10  CGI Raptors


19 — JOY

Jennifer Lawrence, Robert DeNiro and Bradley Cooper do what they’ve never done before — team up for a David O. Russell movie.

Jennifer Lawrence is Jennifer Lawrence, so duh, she’s great. She makes a movie about a woman who invents a mop far more interesting than it has any right to be, transforming it into a emotional story about persevering in the face of increasing odds. And yeah Jennifer Lawrence is attractive, I guess.

My Rating: 4/5 Self-Wringing Mop Heads


18 — THE GOOD DINOSAUR

This was a great year for Pixar — not only did they return to making original non-sequel movies, they gave us two of them. I’m not really sure why it’s called the “Good” Dinosaur though, there are plenty of other kind and good-hearted dinos here to be honest. Eh, it’s not their best but The Good Dinosaur is still a clever and delightful journey through an alternate universe where dinosaurs never went extinct (i.e. it’s better than ‘Brave’).

My Rating: 7 Good; 3 Bad/ 10 Dinosaurs


17 — THE NIGHT BEFORE

If you like Seth Rogen and his buddies’ laundry list of previous comedies — Pineapple Express, This is the End, The Interview — you’ll probably find yourself laughing at their take on Christmas. If not, then probably not. The Night Before is a ridiculous romp through a Christmas Eve full of ugly Christmas sweaters, fights with fake Santas, and secret Great Gatsby parties (read: not for kids). It’s over-the-top and stupidly funny.

My Rating: 2/3 James Franco cameos


16 — WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS

A ‘documentary’ about a group of vampires who share a house together.

As they deal with the challenges that come with being creatures of the night in the modern world, the story goes from bizarre to beyond bizarre.

Just watch it.

My Rating: 3/4 incisors


15 — ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL

This year’s best “indie darling.” Greg and Earl have built a friendship on filming short parody movies together (but never let anyone else watch them). When their classmate Rachel is diagnosed with cancer, the three form an unlikely friendship… Yeah, it sounds like a ton of other movies. But it’s great. And a charming coming-of-age story. And as emotionally-heart-wrenching as it is funny.

My Rating: 8/10 Awkward Teens


14 — THE REVENANT

Leonardo DiCaprio sure does want that Oscar. The Revenant is basically a two-and-a-half hour showcase of Leo dragging himself across 1800’s wilderness, eating raw bison meat, braving blizzards, and sleeping inside dead animals. It’s overlong and it’s short on substance, but it sure is beautifully shot. It’s not DiCaprio’s best role — he should have won the Oscar way back for The Aviator — but he’s got the award on lock this year. And Tom Hardy is pretty great too, at least when you can understand what he’s saying.

My Rating: 9/12 Oscar Nominations


13 — THE HATEFUL EIGHT

The Hateful Eight is a brutal, vulgar and violent Western from Quentin Tarantino. Either you really want to see it because of that description, or you’re not interested at all.

It is not Tarantino’s best film, but his trademark comedic dialogue and outrageous storytelling is on full force here. And Samuel L. Jackson gives the best performance of  his career.

My Rating: The Hateful 6/8


12 — CINDERELLA

Look, I’m not even that big of a fan of the original Cinderella. But after a string of unsuccessful, boring, and ill-conceived attempts at converting their animated classics, Disney has finally mastered the live-action remake with this Cinderella. 

It perfectly balances honoring the spirit of the original with bringing a new and fresh take to one of the most famous fairy tales. It’s fun and sweet, and really that’s all you could want from a Disney movie. And honestly, it’s that much better because it finally puts to ease worries that Disney is going to destroy their animated canon of films with remakes. It can be done, and done well.

My Rating: 1.5/2 Evil Step-Sisters


11 — THE MARTIAN

Beside the fact that there were people in the theater legitimately asking if this was based on a true story, I found The Martian to be a wild and thrilling ride through space. Matt Damon brings a great touch of humanity to this sci-fi tale, and the movie’s surprisingly funny (not Golden-Globe-Award-for-Best-Comedy-funny, but whatever).

Like countless survival stories before it, The Martian is a powerful and inspiring tale of the human will to… blah blah blah. It’s a great movie. And the best part might be Sean Bean’s character’s limited knowledge of Lord of the Rings.

My Rating: 4/5 Planets from the Sun


10 — EVEREST

A thrilling retelling of the 1996 disaster on the world’s tallest mountain, Everest is more than just a simple survival drama — it’s an emotional look at how the risks we take effect those we love.

What drives people to attempt such a dangerous endeavor? Pride? Adventure? Everyone seems to have a different answer, and often, they don’t come home because of it.

My Rating: 5/7 Sherpas


9 — LITTLE BOY

A criminally underrated movie, Little Boy is a sweet, charming, delightful, funny and emotional story about a boy who takes the Scriptures about “faith moving mountains” literally.

Little Boy is the best family film of the year. Some film critics may not prefer such simplistic and sentimental storytelling, but Little Boy is simple and sentimental storytelling at its best.

My Rating: 8/10 Mustard Seeds


8 — BRIDGE OF SPIES

Stephen Spielberg is the king of historical biopics, and his latest film with Tom Hanks is a dramatic Cold War tale of international spies, backdoor deals, military intrigue and moral ambiguity.

It’s a slow-burner (i.e. some people will think it’s boring), but it’s a powerful and inspiring story about a simple man who took the burdens of the world upon himself to try and do something right.

My Rating: 1.5/2 Coen Brothers


7 — THE WALK

This should not have been as good of a movie as it is. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s French accent could use some fine-tuning, but The Walk is an endlessly fun true story about the tight-rope walker who strung a line and walked between the Twin Towers.

It’s a story too bizarre to be fiction, and the climax where Phillippe walks between the towers is breathlessly beautiful and worth the price of admission alone.

My Rating: 85% Chance of Survival


6 — LOVE & MERCY

I’m not sure we can be friends if you don’t like blasting the Beach Boys with the windows rolled down every now and then.

Brian Wilson was one of the most brilliant and most tortured songwriters in modern history, and the story behind his rise and fall out of fame is an excellent blend of dramatic and delightful. And there’s tons of Beach Boys songs, so that’s fun, fun, fun.

My Rating: 9/10 California Girls


5 — SPOTLIGHT

Spotlight is a story we’re all familiar with. But to see it onscreen is another thing entirely. Spotlight is not the most cinematic or the most fast-paced film. But it’s a film that simply aims to shine a light on a horrible atrocity. And it does that with great success.

Above all, Spotlight made me angry. How could an entire institution built on serving the less fortunate turn a blind eye on such widespread attempts to take advantage of the innocent? Spotlight is a tearjerker, and not in a good way.

My Rating: 8.5 Ruffalos


4 — STEVE JOBS

Haven’t we had enough of Steve Jobs movies by now? Thankfully, the answer was no. The Director of Slumdog Millionaire and writer of The Social Network team up with Michael Fassbender — forget Leo, Fassbender is our generation’s gem as far as I’m concerned — for a wildly inventive, thrilling, mile-a-minute drama about the deeply flawed man behind one of the most recognizable brands on the planet.

My Rating: iPhone 4s/iPhone 5


3 — INSIDE OUT

Sadness, Anger, Disgust and Fear may be on display here as well, but Joy is all I could feel during Pixar’s newest masterpiece.
Pete Docter’s follow-up to Up is emotionally complex (see what I did there), and nothing short of magical.

Try not to cry when Bing Bong slips forever into the Memory Dump. I dare you.

My Rating: 98% on Rotten Tomatoes


2 —  STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS

Oh, get over yourself. You’re not “cool” because you’re “over” Star Wars. Or don’t “get” the hype. Or “think Kylo Ren is an okay villain but nothing compared to Darth Vader, even though that’s the entire point of his character because he’s just a foolhardy young jedi living in the shadow of the Sith lord, man.”

Star Wars: Episode VII is a deliciously fun, smart, nostalgic, and gosh-darn cool movie. I’m not like a “Star Wars freak” who goes to conventions or wears Slave Leia costumes or buys comic books or anything, but if there was ever a franchise I felt a certain duty of protection over, it would be Star Wars. And what JJ Abrams brought us with The Force Awakens is everything I had hoped and more. Nitpick all you want, but this is an awesome movie. Plain and simple. And Daisy Ridley is my future wife, so lay off guys.

My Rating: 9/10 Scruffy-Looking Nerf Herders


1 —  ROOM

Room wrecked me. This is a brutal, beautiful movie and the best film of the year.

Brie Larson and nine-year-old (!) Jacob Tremblay give two of the year’s best performances, and there’s not really any jokes I can infuse into this. Because Room is harrowing and sad and happy and satisfying and haunting and joyful all wrapped into one. Please go see this movie. When people ask why Hollywood keeps pumping out crap, remember that it’s because this amazing film made about 1/10 of what Ride Along 2 did at the box office. 1/10th, guys. Ride Along 2… Ride Along 2.

My Rating: 10x Better than Ride Along 2


BECAUSE EVERYONE WANTS AN AWARD:

Who did it the best this year?

BEST ACTOR: Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs

BEST ACTRESS: Brie Larson, Room

BEST DIRECTOR: J.J. Abrams, Star Wars: The Force Awakens

BEST SCREENPLAYS:
Emma Donoghue, Room
Aaron Sorkin, Steve Jobs

BEST MUSICAL SCORES:
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Steve Jobs
Inside Out

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: Emmanuel Lubezki, The Revenant 

MOST OVERRATED MOVIE OF THE YEAR: Mad Max: Fury Road

DESTINED TO WIN THE MOST AWARDS: The Revenant

MOST ICONIC NEW CHARACTER: BB-8, Star Wars

So that’s what I thought about 2015 at the movies! You don’t have to love my list; you don’t have to agree. So let me know what your favorite movies were this year! But first, if you excuse me, I think I’ll grab my popcorn bucket and head back to the theater. Time to start all over again!

 

© Matt Tory, 2016. 

All movie posters shown are used for non-commercial analysis and commentary purposes related to the films mentioned herein.

The Best Films of 2014

One of the hardest parts of watching and loving films is the inevitable task of whittling them all down into a best-of list.

In an ideal world, films wouldn’t be judged by numbers or percentages, but by what they stir up, inspire, or accomplish. By the way they make us laugh, make us cry, make us think, keep us on the edge of our seats, or open our imaginations.
Films are more than numbers on scales and placements on lists. Unfortunately that’s just the way we are forced to go about explaining why or how we connected with a film or not. Films are not always meant to be mathematically analyzed; they are meant to be felt.

2014 in Film:

Some notable omissions from my list that you might find glaring include Unbroken, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1, How to Train Your Dragon 2, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Fury, Edge of Tomorrow, Godzilla, The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Sorry, but those are not here for a reason.
Then some, like Big Eyes, Begin Again, Wild, The Skeleton Twins, Dumb and Dumber To and Nightcrawler barely missed the cut. Unfortunate casualties.

And some movies that very well could have landed a spot on this list but didn’t just because I never got a chance to see them include  American Sniper, A Most Violent Year, Mr. Turner, Happy Christmas, Top Five, The Homesman, Enemy, The Boxtrolls, Under the Skin, Lucy, Only Lovers Left Alive, Rosewater, Inherent Vice, John Wick, Tracks, The Guest, Dear White People, The Double, Frank, and Locke.

I could say a lot more about why each of these moves below were so great (and why many were left off), but there’s only so much room on the interwebs. The best films are, at their core, about what it means to be human – with all the good, the bad, and the ugly. The best ones do it with wonderful stories to wrap our heads around, characters to care about, and epic sights to feast our eyes upon.

These are the ones that did it the best this year.

You don’t have to like my list; you don’t have to agree with it. Films touch us all in different ways. So comment, either here or on Facebook, and let me know what you thought about this year’s movies! What did I get right? What did I leave off?
Let’s relive this year’s best!

THE BEST FILMS OF 2014:

THE RUNNERS-UP:
30) The Imitation Game
29) X-Men: Days of Future Past
28) Big Hero 6
27) Exodus: Gods and Kings
26) Guardians of the Galaxy
25) Laggies
24) Neighbors
23) The Theory of Everything
22) Chef
21) St. Vincent

20 — Foxcatcher

(Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo)
Directed by Bennet Miller

Despite what you may think, this is not a hilarious buddy-comedy with Steve Carell and Channing Tatum hunting foxes (though I’d pay to see that).
Foxcatcher follows the dramatic true story of Olympic gold medal-winner Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum), who was invited to train for the upcoming Olympics at the estate of an eccentric millionaire by the name of John du Pont (Steve Carell).

Steve Carell is almost unrecognizable here in the chilling role of the wealthy and erratic wannabe-wrestling-coach. Though the film is slow, it is engaging throughout – it plays more like a stage play than a film, full of dramatic speeches, long unmoving scenes, and weighty dialogue. Though what Foxcatcher will be remembered for most is its talented comedic actors disappearing into their roles, weaving together a tale of jealousy, delusion, addiction, and psychotic self-destruction.
Read my full review here. 

19 —  Into the Woods

(Anna Kendrick, Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp, Chris Pine,
James Corden, Emily Blunt)

Directed by Rob Marshall

A clever re-imagining of classic fairy tale lore, Into the Woods gives us a surprisingly heartfelt musical about a baker and his wife who go to extreme lengths to break a curse of barrenness upon them, in hopes of having a child.

Meryl Streep can do no wrong as usual, and it’s a welcome introduction to American audiences for affable Brit James Corden. As it plays with putting new spins on our favorite fairy tales, Into the Woods is lighthearted and charming fun (with somewhat forgettable music, but still enjoyable).

18 — Men, Women and Children

(Adam Sandler, Jennifer Garner, Ansel Elgort, Dean Norris) 
Directed by Jason Reitman

Following a number of high school teenagers (as well as their parents) as they navigate the waters of the internet, social media, interacting with others, forming views of themselves and creating relationships, Men Women and Children wants us to wrestle with the fact that the internet has changed us.

Let me just say, straight upa large portion of this movie is about sex. And about how people use technology to go about getting it. It’s about affairs, immature relationships, pornography, and failed marriages. And though it deals with important topics, it will be too much for most audiences.

Even though technology has changed us, Men, Women and Children reminds us that it’s just as possible to make meaningless connections in real life, reflecting a mirror back on ourselves — how will we treat our relationships? How will we interact with technology? Will we pursue genuine connections and relationships, or will we continue to use the advances of our society to take advantage of others for our own gratification?
Read my full review here. 

17 — 22 Jump Street

(Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Ice Cube, Nick Offerman) 
Directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller

Conveniently relocating across the street, Jenko and Schmidt are undercover again – and this time they’re in college. Cue the bean bags, bunk beds, and shower caddies.

Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum’s brilliant chemistry blossoms in this sharp, clever, energetic comedy sequel that’s more than eager to poke fun at itself. 22 Jump Street is a hilarious, if crude, buddy comedy with plenty of laughs and lots of heart.
(And make sure to stay for the end credits!)
Read my full review here.

16 — The Good Lie

(Reese Witherspoon, Some People You’ve Never Heard of)
Directed by  Phillippe Falardeau

Reese Witherspoon may be the biggest star in The Good Lie, but this movie about the “Lost Boys” orphaned by Sudan’s vicious civil war really belongs to three actors you’ve never heard of.

Actors Arnold Oceng, Ger Duany, and Emmanuel Jal all lost their families in the midst of Civil War, watched their friends die from disease and animal attacks, and faced starvation as they traversed the African desert in search of refuge. Now they’ve been given the chance onscreen to bring life to the struggles thousands faced.

The Good Lie is an emotional, humorous, and hopeful film about a real human crisis that is still ongoing. And contrary to most Hollywood clichés, the film doesn’t approach this story about the Third World from the eyes of a Westerner, but rather from the perspective of those in the situation themselves, which is refreshing and important. It is a moving story about our common humanity — the triviality of so much we consider important, of redemption, forgiveness, loyalty, and family.
Read my full review here. 

15 — Wish I Was Here

(Zach Braff, Josh Gad, Mandy ‘Prepare to Die’ Patinkin)
Directed by Zach Braff

When they’re kicked out of Jewish private school, thirtysomething Aidan Bloom comes to an existential crossroads as he’s forced to become his kids’ home-school teacher.

In his first film since the poster child for indie films of the 2000s, Garden State, Zach Braff doles out a reflective and heartfelt drama about dealing with adulthood and responsibility.

The film resonated with me because it felt deeply honest. It is an entertaining, uplifting, and joyful attempt to simply convey the confusion, mystery, and struggles of life in times of transition and mourning. With Wish I Was Here, Braff has crafted a sincere and ambitious tale about being lost in life, misguided, not knowing what to do next, balancing responsibility with following our passions, and making the most of the short time we’re given.
Read my full review here. 

14 — Muppets Most Wanted

(Kermit, Miss Piggy, Humans)
Directed by James Bobin

Whereas 2011’s reboot The Muppets was a delightful mix of nostalgia, tenderness and heart, Muppets Most Wanted gets the gang back to their wacky roots with a full-out screwball comedy with big stars and clever gags. As a longtime Muppet fan, I laughed out loud on multiple occasions, and Most Wanted featured a surprising amount of intricate gags and pop culture jokes for adult audiences.

While it doesn’t reach the majestic heights of its predecessor, Most Wanted returns the Muppets back to their silly roots– full of hilarious jokes, funny songs, and great celebrity cameos. It’s everything one could want in a Muppets movie.
Read my full review here.

13 —  Snowpiercer

(Chris Evans, Ed Harris, John Hurt)
Directed by Joon-ho Bong

movieCaptain America racing through a train of cannibals — there, that summary will get your friends to watch this one with you. In the near future, the planet’s survivors find themselves in a life-sustaining train traveling across the globe called the “Snowpiercer.”

Snowpiercer is a mind-trip. It’s a bold, ambitous, and smart sci-fi film full of compelling twists and turns, and its phenomenal cast help bring the visually-stunning story to life. As the hero who rebels against the train’s ‘class system,’ Chris Evans in particular shows off an impressive new side unlike anything we’ve seen from Captain America prior.
Read my full review here.

12 —  Noah

(Russell Crowe, Emma Watson, Rock-Giant-Angel Things)
Directed by Darren Aronofsky

As a piece of art, NOAH is a breathlessly-told drama with sweeping epic visuals, superb performances from all of the Russell Crowe-led cast, and awe-inspiring visual effects (other than some early scenes with the “fallen angels”).

In relation to its faithfulness to Scripture, it leaves some to be desired, but it is refreshing to see mainstream Hollywood tackling Biblical stories with such beauty and high production value.  This NOAH is a powerful story of belief, guilt, judgment, mercy, and ruinous obsession.

For my complete thoughts on NOAH, read my full reflection on the film here.

11 — Selma

(David Oyelowo, Tom Wilkinson, Racists)
Directed by Ava DuVernay

Fifty years ago, the events that took place in Selma, Alabama helped energize the already-building Civil Rights movement in the United States. Selma shines a light on the actions of Martin Luther King Jr. (a career-turning performance from David Oyelowo) in organizing the Alabama-based protests and marches.

The film enrages and enlightens as it shows how history is changed with a number of small moments. And the Martin Luther King, Jr. we see in Selma isn’t a sugar-coated version of the famous leader, but instead a flawed man unsure of his own abilities – which is a welcome sight.

It should be noted, though, that this movie is titled “Selma” – not “Martin Luther King, Jr.” This is a film about a movement; not just a particular man. And the story of that movement is gripping, powerful, and infuriating — reminding us that though we have come a long way, there is much still to be done.

10 — The Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

(Andy Serkis, Gary Oldman, Jason Clarke)
Directed by Matt Reeves

Caesar and his band of intelligent apes return in what is proof that Hollywood Blockbusters can be both action-packed entertainment as well as intelligently heartfelt.

I know he played Gollum in Lord of the Rings, but you’d think Andy Serkis was a Wizard. Because the way he brings the computer-generated Caesar to life and breathes so much emotional complexity into the character is unreal. Full of beautiful cinematography, a sweeping soundtrack from Michael Giacchino, awe-inspiring digital animation and rich storytelling, Dawn is a thrilling and heartbreaking look at a leader continually forced to choose the lesser of two evils.

The moment when Caesar embraces his friend Malcolm — one ape, one human, both acknowledging there’s nothing either can do to stop a coming war between their species — is easily one of the most beautifully moving scenes in recent memory.
Read my full review here.

9 — The Interview

(James Franco, Seth Rogen, Kim Jong Un)
Directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg

Much was made of the controversy surrounding The Interview, expectations were ballooned, and audiences flocked in nationalistic pride without necessarily knowing what they were getting into.

Which is too bad, because The Interview was never meant to be the edgy, intellectual satire everyone seemed to want it to be. It just tried to be a big, dumb, ambitious comedy that stuck it to a genocidal dictator — and it does so hilariously.

The Interview is laugh-out-loud funny in the way only Rogen and Franco can do. And even though its full of butt jokes, it’s clever and expertly-crafted comedy is miles ahead of what other studios have been shoving into theaters lately. It’s obvious that these guys just wanted to make the funniest film they could, and went for it. Randall Park is particularly memorable as the man-child Kim Jong Un who’s just trying to get out of his father’s shadow.

The Interview is definitely not for everyone — it is filled with crude humor, and it definitely goes over the line of good taste, but the comedic situations, pop culture references and hilarious developments are off the charts here.
And I’ll never listen to Katy Perry’s “Firework” the same way again.

8 —  Whiplash

(J.K. Simmons, Miles Teller, Drum Solos)
Directed by Damien Chazelle

A simple, yet haunting story about an ambitious young jazz drummer (Miles Teller) obsessed with becoming one of the greats, and his terrifying instructor (J.K. Simmons) who ruthlessly pushes him to the brink – Whiplash is a riveting, intense exploration of artistry and obsession.

J.K. Simmons, once known primarily for his memorable cameos as J. Jonah Jameson in the original Spider-Man films, is unstoppable here. And Miles Teller is good too, I guess.

Whiplash is focused on one thing and one thing alone – the relationship between musician and instructor. Little else gets in the way. It is a slow-burning thriller about obsession, artistic perfection, and the lengths artists are willing to sacrifice for their craft.

7 — The Grand Budapest Hotel

(Ralph Fiennes, the rest of Hollywood)
Directed by Wes Anderson

This is Wes Anderson at his most Wes Andersonian. The Grand Budapest Hotel, following the whimsical and dangerous adventures of hotel concierge Gustave H and his lobby boy Zero, is his most ambitious film to date.

Ralph Fiennes is impeccable in the lead role, and just gazing at the poster, one becomes dizzy merely reading the long list of beloved actors and actresses in this thing. The film is delightful, twisted, insane, emotional, dramatic, and hilarious. And it’s full of great character work (a massive feat with an ensemble this monstrous), and creative ingenuity (such as each time period taking place in different aspect ratios).

Wes Anderson has delivered yet another trademark exploration of a quirky character on a journey of self-discovery, and though the comedy gets pretty dark, the fast-paced antics will keep a smile on most every face. It gets a bit lost within its own tangled web of tangential storylines, but the impeccable palette of visual feasts and ornate detail make The Grand Budapest Hotel a thoroughly enjoyable romp with plenty of reflections on loss and friendship.
Read my full review here. 

6 —  Birdman

(Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Edward Norton,
and an Unblinking Camera)

Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu

Washed-up actor Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) is most famous for playing iconic superhero “Birdman” in a trilogy of films two decades ago.
Tired of being defined by his role in a billion-dollar franchise so long ago, Riggan sets out to direct, produce, and act in a massive stage play – all while enduring a number of pitfalls leading up to opening night, and suffering from delusions (?) that he may actually possess super powers.

What follows from the first moment of Birdman is a massive creative undertaking, with the film edited in such a way that it appears to be one single continuous take. The camera flows through hallways, rooms, stages, and streets, never blinking. It is a sight to behold.

Michael Keaton gives the performance of his life here, and perhaps the most poignant thing Birdman brings us is a discussion of the purpose and pain of creativity – and why we pursue creative endeavors at all. Birdman is a bit of a head-scratcher, full of surreal and highly-imaginative elements that don’t always work. But this absurd, funny, and tragic black comedy is unlike anything you’re likely to see anytime soon. If Birdman isn’t ambitious, creative, and bold, then no film is.
Read my full review here. 

5 — The Fault in Our Stars

(Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Laura Dern, Willem Dafoe)
Directed by Josh Boothe

I absolutely loved The Fault in Our Stars, and I know that all of the sobbing 13-year-old girls in the theater with me would agree.

But really. The long-awaited adaptation of John Green’s widely beloved novel is an incredibly moving, witty, heartwarming, and heart-wrenching exploration of life, love, and loss. The Fault in Our Stars runs the emotional gauntlet, and works on almost every level.

Fault so easily could have devolved into just another weepy teen chick flick, but it is incredibly fresh because it feels so mature — it is wiser than its years (much like Hazel and Gus). It’s impossible not to love and root for these two young cancer patients as they struggle with falling in love while also navigating death’s doorstep.

The characters here are authentic and we care deeply for Hazel and Gus by the time they have to actually face the crap we knew was coming all along. Any sappiness The Fault in Our Stars exhibits is well-earned, and those who melt into blubbering balls of sniffles in the theater need not feel like fools.

If The Fault in Our Stars doesn’t make you at least contemplate your own life and inspire you to cling to and treasure the people you care for most even more, then you might need to do some soul-searching. This movie makes you laugh, makes you reflect, and charms with its unconventional love story full of natural humor, warmth, and a tender take on a very bleak subject. Hazel’s journey serves as an optimistic reminder to make the most of your life, even when you’re dying… And then again, aren’t we all?
Read my full review here. 

4 — Interstellar

(Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, Casey Affleck, Matt Damon)
Directed by Christopher Nolan

Don’t believe the “haters,” as the kids say. This movie is amazing.
It’s complex and it’s mind-numbing, but Interstellar is an incredible emotional journey through space and time. It is a riveting, ambitious, tense, thrilling and heart-wrenching adventure — and yet, for how big and expansive its scope, it’s really just a simple story about a father and his daughter, told with its heart on its sleeve.

The film’s logic is stretched a number of times, and a few confusing storytelling decisions are made, but it’s encouraging to still see bold, audacious storytellers like Christopher Nolan be willing to stretch themselves creatively and go for broke, trying new things on a big scale. Art only has the potential to be great when it is taking risks. And even though risks don’t always pan out, I’d much rather watch failed ambitious, creative risks than some caped superhero trying to rescue a space orb from a generic baddie for the 38th time.

It cannot be denied how incredible of a trip Interstellar is. The pace is gripping, the performances are stellar, the musical score is pulse-pounding, and the action sequences are riveting. It reawakens a spirit of exploration and attempts to wrestle with a number of weighty ideas. Interstellar is exactly the type of fun, bold entertainment I’ll passionately cheer on in an age of unwanted sequels, prequels, reboots, and remakes.
Read my full review here. 

3– Gone Girl

(Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Tyler Perry not dressed as a woman)
Directed by David Fincher

movie

Gone Girl is insane. Twisted. Messed up. It’s a brilliantly-made film, but it is not for the faint of heart. It thrills, disgusts, and subtly terrifies.

Director David Fincher loves to draw us into bleak and visually-stunning stories about the lives of messed up people.
Gone Girl is no exception. It is a dark look at a marriage in shambles — a well-polished thriller about two spouses who have used their marriage, and each other, for the absolute worst reasons. It’s haunting, and it’s incredibly tense.

And Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike are at their absolute best in Gone Girl, both giving performances that are subtly layered and ever-changing.

In Gone Girl, morality is a grayscale, and the audience is left to make their own judgments in determining between good and evil. Both Nick and Amy’s selfishness led them to opposite extremes, and crumbled their marriage. And in some respects, there is no clear-cut resolution to this haunting tale.
The world of Gone Girl is surprisingly complex, and its twisted thrills come at a lightning-fast speed. It’s not perfect, but it is an exceptionally-made film (for those able to handle it) that must be discussed and wrestled with.

Gone Girl will stay with you.
Read my full review here. 

2 — The LEGO Movie

(Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Morgan Freeman, Charlie Day, Nick Offerman, Liam Neeson, Will Ferrell)
Directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller

“A movie… about LEGOs… Get a grip. This will be awful.”

I was beyond doubtful when I first saw the trailer for The LEGO Movie, convinced it was little more than a glorified toy commercial. But I was wrong.

The LEGO Movie is a hilariously wild ride that delivers a crazy hour-and-a-half of all your childhood playtime imaginations come to life.
The laughs come faster by the minute, the colorful animation is amazing, and it never feels like a sales pitch or a commercial — but if you never wanted to play with Lego’s before, you will afterwards.

Despite all the laughs and the hilarious characters, the heart of the film is what makes it special. It is truly a film that all ages can enjoy and celebrate together—a delightful story that recaptures the magic of childhood imagination, and reminds us of the importance of letting kids be kids. And that’s pretty impressive for a movie based off a little yellow toy.
Read my full review here.

1 — Boyhood

(Ellar Coltrane, Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette,
older Ellar Coltrane, older Ethan Hawke, older Patricia Arquette)

Directed by Richard Linklater

There are no two ways around it: Boyhood is the film of 2014. 

Boyhood is unlike anything you’ve ever seen, or anything you’ll probably ever see again. The film itself is a little miracle: filmed over 12 years with the same cast, Boyhood is an intimate and reflective look at growing up. It is truly a sight to behold as Ellar Coltrane (and his parents) age onscreen, going through their lives, Mason slowly transforming from boy to man. Boyhood could have easily become a one-note gimmick, but it turns into so much more.

It’s impossible to watch Boyhood and not reflect on your own life – that is what makes it so moving and relatable. There is no identifiable “story” — and that’s sort of the point. Instead, the film is made up of a number of small vignettes, watching Mason grow up and go throughout life with his family and friends.

Life is the accumulation of small moments. And perhaps no movie has shown that more poignantly than Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. It is a thoughtful reflection on time itself — how it passes, and will continue to pass, whether we like it or not — and a nostalgic ode to both growing up and being a parent.

Boyhood is a little longer than it needed to be, yes, but the film is just too special to spend time complaining about its length. Boyhood is the ultimate mainstream experimental film, and will surely be remembered as Richard Linklater’s personal masterpiece (They might as well just mail him his Oscar for Best Director now). Boyhood is proof that filmmakers are still taking risks and trying new things. That’s reassuring in an age where movies like Transformers: Age of Extinction are breaking box office records.

Even if you don’t think it’s necessarily the best, or the most exciting, movie you’ve seen, I cannot recommend this film enough.

Just the sheer fact that Boyhood was made is amazing. The fact that it’s also a beautifully-told little story puts it over the top. And it’s only grown on me since seeing it. Boyhood is totally worth experiencing — not only because it masterfully captures the simplicity of life itself, but also because it will spur even the most cynical of moviegoers to look back on their own lives — where did all the time go?
Read my full review here. 

BECAUSE EVERYONE WANTS AN AWARD:

Who gave the best acting performances this year?

BEST ACTOR:
1) Michael Keaton, Birdman
2) Steve Carell, Foxcatcher
3) Ralph Fiennes, The Grand Budapest Hotel
4) Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

BEST ACTRESS:
1) Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl:

2) Shailene Woodley, The Fault in Our Stars
3) Angelina Jolie, Maleficent
4) Keira Knightley, Laggies

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:
1) J.K. Simmons, Whiplash
2) Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
3) Andy Serkis, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
4) Edward Norton, Birdman

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:
1) Patricia Arquette, Boyhood

2) Laura Dern, The Fault in Our Stars
3) Emma Stone, Birdman
4) Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game

Who did the best work behind the camera this year?

BEST DIRECTOR:
1) Richard Linklater, Boyhood
2) Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, The LEGO Movie
3) Alejandro González Iñárritu, Birdman
4) David Fincher, Gone Girl
5) Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:
1) The LEGO Movie
2) Whiplash
3) Birdman
4) Boyhood
5) The Interview

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:
1) Gone Girl
2) Snowpiercer
3) The Fault in Our Stars
4) Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
5) Noah

BEST MUSICAL SCORE:
Interstellar, Hans Zimmer

BEST SOUNDTRACK:
The Guardians of the Galaxy

BEST EDITING:
Boyhood

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY:
Birdman

Other Oddities and Curiosities of the year in movies:

MOST OVERRATED MOVIES OF THE YEAR:
Unbroken
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Fury
Edge of Tomorrow
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1
The Imitation Game
How to Train Your Dragon 2

MOST UNDERAPPRECIATED MOVIES OF THE YEAR:
The Good Lie
Men, Women, and Children
Laggies
The Interview
Wish I Was Here

DESTINED TO WIN MOST AWARDS:
Boyhood

MOST LIKELY TO STILL BE A “CLASSIC” IN 20 YEARS:
Interstellar
Guardians of the Galaxy

MOST ICONIC NEW FILM CHARACTER:
Baymax, Big Hero 6

So that’s what I thought about 2014 at the movies!
Let me know what you thought, and what your favorite movies were this year! But first, if you excuse me, I think I’ll grab my popcorn and head to the theater. Time to start all over again!

© Matt Tory, 2015. 

All movie posters shown are used for non-commercial analysis and commentary purposes related to the films mentioned herein.

A Review of ‘INTERSTELLAR;’ or, ‘Why it’s Alright to Fall in Love with an Imperfect Film’

*SPOILERS AHEAD*

Our time on Earth is coming to an end.

The planet’s resources have gone scarce, and what’s left of humanity are forced to struggle to survive — with the knowledge that this world is fast approaching a time when it will no longer be able to sustain life.
A team led by former NASA pilot Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) embarks  on one of the most important missions in human history – an exploration into the unknown, beyond our galaxy in search of a planet where humanity can start over.

It’s complex and it’s mind-numbing. But Interstellar is an incredible emotional journey through space and time.

Much has been made about the so-called “plot holes” and “scientific inaccuracies” throughout the film… I don’t really see the problems.
Sure, Interstellar is not a perfect film.
But if you’re too busy focusing on the physics of black holes rather than the emotional bond between this father and his daughter, then you missed the entire point of the movie.

Interstellar is a riveting, ambitious, tense, thrilling and heart-wrenching adventure that tackles a number of storytelling elements never really explored on film before.

It’s encouraging that Hollywood hasn’t degenerated so much that we can still witness bold, audacious storytellers like Christopher Nolan willing to stretch themselves creatively and go for broke, trying new things on a big scale. Art only has the potential to be great when it is taking risks.
And even though risks don’t always pan out, I’d much rather watch failed ambitious, creative risks than some caped superhero trying to rescue a space orb from a stock baddie for the 38th time.

And even though a number of Interstellar‘s risks don’t pan out, the majority of them do.

I’ve noticed a trend among so-called “film aficionados” and “film buffs” to scoff and sneer in Interstellar’s direction…
Really?
Get off your high horses.
Stop feeding into the cynicism that plagues our generation. I dare you to tell a story more powerful, more inventive, and more moving than Interstellar.

Yes, it’s obvious that we are not a people who live within five dimensions. And love most surely doesn’t make it possible for us to physically transcend time and space.  Yet, within the world of Interstellar, these things are true.

What’s the big deal?
I’m also fairly sure “the force” doesn’t really exist, and that some of us aren’t born with midi-chlorians in our blood streams. Yet, within the world of Star Wars, we accept that reality.
What’s the difference?
Interstellar throws characters into its fictionalized world and forces them to deal with very human problems, like fatherhood, duty, and abandonment. Much like we still relate to the characters of Star Wars, through all the lightsaber battles and space races, because they are dealing with universal struggles of temptation, fate, and belonging.

Who would’a thought?… Fiction in a science-“fiction” movie!
Criminal!

The Fault in its Stars

The obvious comparison to Interstellar is last year’s successful and widely-adored Gravity.
Well, Interstellar isn’t as great as Gravity.
(And Warren Buffet isn’t as rich as Bill Gates, either.)

Interstellar has its problems. The film’s logic is stretched a number of times, and a few confusing storytelling decisions are made.

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The inter-cuts between Cooper in space and his family back on earth can be jarring and slow down the momentum, and the entire sequence on the ice planet with Dr. Mann is overlong and borderline unnecessary — even though it provides good drama and a jolt of tension.

Even more confusing is the fact that Michael Caine’s character doesn’t appear to age at all over three decades, as well as the question of why “they” (i.e. “us”) put the black hole so far away from earth in the first place?

And even though I still believe the film was an incredible ride, that finale still seemed out of place and slightly unsatisfying. The whole emotional crux of the film has been Cooper’s attempt to get back to his daughter Murph on earth… and the film decides to end on a shortened reunion where she’s a century old and basically rushes him out of the room…?

Of course, I’m not the storyteller of Interstellar. But how much more emotional and powerful would it have been — and just as easy — to structure the story in such a way that Cooper’s journey had only lasted 20-30 earth-years instead of 100, allowing him to reconnect with his daughter once she had reached the same age as him?
Imagine how beautiful and dramatic that reunion would have been — Cooper’s been gone for what’s only felt like a few days, but now his little girl’s grown up and experienced just as much life as he has. And they both would still have the rest of their lives ahead of them.

“Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night”

For whatever problems it may have, it cannot be denied how incredible of a trip Interstellar is. The pace is gripping, the performances are stellar, the musical score is pulse-pounding, and the action sequences are riveting. It reawakens a spirit of exploration and attempts to wrestle with a number of weighty ideas.

And yet, for how big and expansive its scope, it’s really just a simple story about a father and his daughter, told with its heart on its sleeve.

Are we that spoiled that we now complain about such cinematic gifts as Interstellar because they dare to try something new, take risks, and perhaps fail to stick the landing in a few minor respects?
It may not be perfect, but Nolan’s newest film is exactly the type of fun, bold entertainment I’ll passionately cheer on in an age of unwanted sequels, prequels, reboots, and remakes. Interstellar is a thought-provoking, visually dazzling, grandiose, challenging, and creative film from one of the world’s most ambitious storytellers.

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REVIEW7
Interstellar is rated PG-13 for action-violence and brief language. 

© Matt Tory, 2014. 

“We Have to Go Back!”: ‘LOST’ After 10 Years

An Open Love Letter to LOST
(and Why it Was the Most Important Show of Our Generation)


A decade ago this week, LOST changed how the world watches TV.

September 22, 2004 may seem like an insignificant day in history, but it brought with it a monumental shift in how the world watches and interacts with their favorite television shows.
On September 22, 2004 the world was first introduced to Jack, Kate, Locke, Sawyer, Hurley, a dangerous “Monster,” a cursed set of numbers, tropical polar bears, and that enigmatic island.

10 years ago this week, LOST aired its first episode.
Feeling old yet? 

And LOST entered with a bang, completely changing the game. It was unlike anything that’d ever been on TV, and unlike anything that’s come after it. It was TV’s greatest puzzle and one of it’s greatest character studies rolled into one.

In an age of Netflix, short-run TV series, and binge-watching parties, it’s easy to forget just how thrilling and insane it was to watch and follow LOST on a weekly basis.

It was bold, ambitious, and broke all the rules. It was masterfully told, cinematic in scope, and it changed the television landscape with just its pilot episode alone. LOST bursting onto the scene — even with just its first episode — reinvigorated the industry and proved to the world what TV could do.

lost

Through the Looking Glass

What LOST Meant to Me

LOST was just a TV show.
I get it. 
But art has the power to move us, inspire us, challenge us, and transform us. And if ever TV could be considered “art,” it was LOST.
Put simply… LOST was the biggest and most important artistic influence in my life. I know it may sound silly to some, but it’s the truth.
To some, LOST is just a TV show. To many, a great TV show even. But still just a TV show. 

You hear a number of screenwriters and directors today cite the first time they saw Star Wars as the moment they knew they wanted to be filmmakers.
They walked out of the theater as young kids, bouncing and excited at having experienced something beyond even their imaginations — “I want to do that” — knowing they wanted to tell stories, and make movies, and share them with the world.
You see, LOST was my Star Wars. 

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I was thirteen when LOST first invaded our television sets.
It came into my life at that perfect time when one’s transitioning from the awkward little kid who lives solely for LEGOs and ice cream, to a young person with their own thoughts and desires — and LOST showed me the desires I had always had in me. To tell stories. And it was because LOST so masterfully told its own stories that something awoke in me and said… “This… this is what I’m going to do with my life.”

I’m convinced that, if for no one else in the world, LOST was put on TV for me.  And I understand that others will never really appreciate it in the same way or see it through the same lens as me, and I’ve reconciled that.
But that doesn’t mean that its importance and influence should go unnoticed. I don’t want LOST to be forgotten.

I don’t want people to forget how it was the most important and influential television show of our generation.
I don’t want people to forget how it reinvigorated the entertainment industry.
I don’t want us to forget how it thrilled us in ways we’d never been thrilled, and made us think about things we’d never thought about before.

It’s hard to try and encapsulate everything that made LOST so special, and all that it meant to me, in words.
I’ve thought about taking some time to write down my reflections on why LOST was so magical and how it was so masterful at what it did for years, but I’ve near really seen a good time to.
But the greatest story to ever unfold on the small screen is now a decade old. This is probably that time.

Aside from the admiration towards the creative team behind the show, awe at the incredible storytelling, and wonder at the heartfelt emotion it elicited from me on a weekly basis, the emotion I have most in regards to LOST is gratitude. It changed my life.

Pioneering a New Age of TV

How LOST ushered in the new “Golden Age of Television”

10 years removed, it’s easy to forget how dangerous and different putting LOST on the air really was. In the years since, its success has spawned countless other serialized shows with big casts and overarching mysteries, and television has become even more of a respected medium. The past decade or so has even been referred to by many as the new “Golden Age of Television.”

But on September 22, 2004, LOST was the rebel.

Putting a show on the air that took as many risks as LOST did, and required such a massive production as LOST did, just wasn’t something networks did:

  • It was to be shot “on location” on the beaches and jungles of Hawaii.
  • It had a massive ensemble cast and dozens of recurring characters.
  • It needed actual flight wreckage to be shipped to the set.
  • It was so heavily serialized and full of mythology-building that viewers who missed episodes would immediately be out of the loop.

No one was doing this sort of thing. At all.
So much so, that the Head of ABC who gave the green light to LOST and its massive $14 million budget pilot episode – the most expensive in television historywas fired before the show even aired.

ABC was convinced that they had just forked over the biggest budget in TV pilot history for a show that would find a small cult audience and be quickly forgotten after it was cancelled half-way through its first season. 

Sure, serialized TV existed when LOST debuted. 24  was probably the most popular at the time, and Jack Bauer’s probably a little bit responsible for helping the network have the little confidence in LOST that it did.

But what was on the air were “serialized” in more of an episode-to-episode basis. If you missed an episode, you could easily be caught up from the “Previously on…” section (What did exist of highly-serialized shows, like The Sopranos or The Wire, were critically acclaimed but left to the exclusive channels like HBO with significantly lower ratings — and much fewer episodes to produce. Network television, especially 10 years ago, was a whole different ball game).

But no other heavily-serialized show was such a critical and commercial success (and right out of the gate) like LOST was.
Serialized storytelling was seen as a cancer in the TV world – “successful” shows were supposed to be ones that any casual viewer could tune into and enjoy.

LOST was not that show.

A TV Show that Didn’t Feel Like a TV Show

LOST changed the expectations of what TV could be

No series took more risks in the past few decades of TV than LOST.  It was always daring itself to up the ante, to be bigger and better than before. And it didn’t apologize for it.

JJ Abrams directed the two-hour pilot with a cinematic vigor unparalleled in the television world. It was a television show that looked and felt like a movie.
The writing was brilliantly layered.
The show was shot on film and was full of beautiful backdrops instead of backgrounds on a set.
It had a global scope, with characters and stories that took us all over the world.
It had an orchestra-recorded soundtrack composed by the incredible Michael Giacchino (who might just be the greatest film composer behind John Williams. The amount of beautiful music he created for LOST over 121 episodes is breathtaking. But more on that later).

It immediately sucked all 20 million viewers who tuned in for its first episode into a compelling and confounding adventure with a cast of characters who held more mysteries than the cryptic island itself.

And it may be hard to believe now, but the ingenious execution of flashbacks in the first few seasons of LOST was refreshingly creative, and it was unlike how any other show had employed the technique before. The flashbacks perfectly shaded in the on-island stories, and gave backstory to how a particular character was behaving in that episode.

And when LOST pulled off what may still be the biggest dramatic twist in television history with the switch to Flash-forward in the Season 3 Finale, it turned everything we knew about the show upside down. Just when the audience was getting comfortable and knew how each episode worked (or as “comfortable” as one could get with a show like LOST), a whole new world of possibilities flew open and everything was turned on its head — the end of the show was obviously not going to be about getting off the island. They already got off… and things were worse. And here was Jack, a drunk pathetic shell of the man he once was… saying “We have to go back!” The show was always reinventing itself, stretching its already-massive scope.

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LOST unapologetically went for broke on a weekly basis.  The writers didn’t pander to the uninitiated, or try to dumb things down for a wider audience (how quickly we’ve fallen to where shows like The Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men are America’s most popular shows again).

It didn’t make an effort to coddle its audience – in fact, it intentionally tried to disorient them.

LOST trusted its viewers to do some of the work themselves and not have everything spoon-fed to them (which is why complaints that LOST left all its questions unanswered are particularly irksome — do you complain when the puzzle pieces in a box don’t come already put together? They gave you all the pieces you needed, but part of the fun is in the figuring out how it all fits together yourself).

 LOST was hard workwhich was why it was so great.

lost55It’s also almost impossible to write a “description” of what a typical episode of LOST looked like. There were no “typical” episodes of LOST

It segmented its beautifully-complex story into episodes with their own themes, and it dared to explore every genre of storytelling under the sun — a hardcore sci-fi time-travel episode could be followed by a sweeping romance story the next week, or a buddy comedy episode, or an action-adventure, or a heist, or a thriller, or a period piece in the 18th century.

You never knew what you were gonna get. 

It didn’t just entertain its audience either. It made them smarter — I can tell you a good deal about the philosophical leanings of Rousseau, Locke, and Hume; all about plot lines from numerous classical novels; a bit about quantum mechanics; and even the scientific conundrums behind time travel.
Because of LOST.

And as one of the most undeniably influential and popular shows to ever grace the small screen, it inspired debates about destiny and free will, asked big questions and wrestled with some of life’s most profound mysteries, and invited fans into a world full of wonder, imagination, and redemption.

These were not things Television was “supposed” to tackle.
But LOST did.


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LOST  Changed How the World Watches TV

“There was this unforeseen confluence of events where we were making a show that was perfect for discussion and debate, just at the moment where the internet was evolving into a place where people were forming communities where they could have those discussions and debates.”
Carlton Cuse (Co-Creator of LOST)

When ABC started airing a little series about a group of castaways on a deserted island a decade ago, no one could have known that LOST would usher in the new era of television-watching.

What I mean, of course, is that LOST changed the way we interact with the shows we watch. Forever.

LOST was so unlike anything that had come before it, that it was the perfect show for the changing medium to piggyback onto and ride into the new age of Television.
If LOST had come even a few years earlier, I’m not so sure it would have survived. Not because it didn’t deserve to.
But because the medium wouldn’t have been ready for it yet. 

In September 2004, Twitter was still two years from existence, Myspace was just growing, and Facebook was hardly a blip on anyone’s radar.
Message boards online were gaining popularity, and the internet — used by most consumers solely for research and email — was slowly becoming a more global “community” where people could discuss things instead of having to wait until they were around the water cooler at work the next day.

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LOST was really the first show to utilize, and benefit from, the age of the Internet.

For the first time, a series truly surpassed mere “Television show.” 

LOST was an experience.
And for this reason — aside from being, in my opinion, the greatest story ever told on the small screen — it is the most important and the most influential television show of our generation.

The timing was fortuitous, and everything seemed to line up perfectly to make LOST the phenomenon it became:

  • As the fervor for the show increased and the complexity of the storytelling increased, it became important for viewers to have outlets to discuss and explore their thoughts and findings about the show with others. This just as social media and online message boards were rising in popularity. 
  • LOST, a show that thrived off of its beautiful cinematography and picturesque locations, debuted right as HDTV’s were coming into common use for the modern consumer. 
  • Podcasts were just coming around and gaining steam as the show’s following quickly grew — a perfect format for fans, viewers, and “authorities” to converge together to discuss their thoughts and theories. More than any other subject, LOST-related Podcasts were far and away the most listened-to and and most-subscribed-to as iTunes began to introduce the format on its store.
  • The rising popularity of DVD Box sets and internet video really gave people the first opportunity to easily rewatch episodes — and LOST was a show that demanded repeat viewings. LOST was one of the first shows ever offered on iTunes, and one of the first shows to ever be offered for online streaming on the show’s website. For the first time, people were watching TV on the internetunheard of!

LOST was no longer just a “TV Show” —
It was an Experience

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LOST signaled the shift of TV-watching from a passive experience to an interactive one that began immediately after the episode ended — social media conversations, blog posts, recaps, podcasts, discussing theories with friends for hours on end, and searching feverishly online for clues. 

Half of what the experience of LOST was, was the 6 days between episodes. 

Which is one of the reasons its dispiriting to think about the new generation experiencing LOST for the first time without that.

lost61Sure, LOST will be amazing no matter how you watch it.
But watching LOST live with the rest of the world during this era of swift technological innovation and expanding TV expectations was just a totally different experience than binge-watching it over a few weeks on Netflix.

Neither way of experiencing the show may be argued as “better,” but there’s no denying that this notion of the world watching together each week definitely contributed a massive amount to what LOST became and affected how we originally viewed it.

My experience watching LOST was inherently tied to the experience I had between episodes every weeklistening to the podcasts, theorizing with friends at school, rewatching episodes for clues, referencing Lostpedia, and perusing the numerous LOST-related websites popping up all over the internet full of easter eggs, analysis, and pretty-far-out-there theories.

Part of the fun of LOST, as difficult as it was, was the waiting between episodes. Everyone in the world was experiencing it together at the same time, and that global perspective is just something you don’t get when you watch it on Netflix. 

And LOST was really the first — and last — show to benefit from this sort of worldwide internet fandom.
Even with shows that have had huge followings in recent years — Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, to name a few — the audiences just aren’t experiencing the story together in the same way.

We’ve shifted to a society where you can hardly talk about your favorite shows now without someone stopping the conversation because they “haven’t seen the last episode yet,” or are “still catching up,” or “are waiting til the season’s over to watch them.”

LOST was the game changer: The only real worldwide-phenomenon-experience of Television’s Internet age. Which is really important to remember.

“LOST cemented itself in the TV pantheon as the show with the most involving, entertaining, community-like experience. LOST was the show that made you want to feel a part of something, and a lot of that was because of how incredible its timing was.”
Adam Epstein

The internet and social media gave LOST its platform to become a global communal experience, but by the time LOST was out the door, technology was already changing so quickly that watching a TV show “live” was starting to become an antiquated idea.
The era of “appointment television” in the age of social media really began and ended with LOST.


Above All, LOST  was Fun

But perhaps the best part of LOST was how much fun it had — and how much fun it was to watch.

Too many dramas today are constantly dark, dreary, and too preoccupied with seeming “important” that they forget to have some fun as well.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But LOST helped remind us that it doesn’t have to always be that way.

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Even amidst the greatest tragedies, the characters of LOST made time to hold ping pong tournaments on the beach, make a golf course near their camp, tell “scary stories” around the fire, “rewrite” Star Wars, give each other nicknames, or joyride an old VW bus they found in the jungle.

LOST had a plethora of comedic moments, and wasn’t afraid to make fun of itself or jokingly acknowledge just how insanely crazy its story could get.

Even with all its grit and darkness, LOST was an incredibly positive show, full of hope and second chances. It celebrated the joys of life, remembered that a necessity for things like laughter, love, and acceptance are universal, and allowed its characters to wrestle with evil — but also presented them opportunities to choose the greater good.

So much of our popular entertainment revels in cynicism, focusing solely on people at their worst — exploring characters’ dark sides and seeing how bad people can really get.

Yes, LOST studied characters at their worst.
But it also studied them at their best.

We were well acquainted with Sawyer, the corrupt con man. But we also knew Sawyer the devoted lover, gentleman, and friend.

We knew Jack the pathetic drunkard; but we also knew the Jack who put the survivors of Oceanic 815 on his shoulders and led them fearlessly.

We knew Kate the murderer — but also the Kate the selfless mother.

We knew Charlie the addict whose mistakes continually hurt those around him — but also the Charlie who sacrificed himself so his friends could get off the island.

We knew Locke as the cynic blinded by life’s tragedies –– but also as the man of faith who longed to be a part of something bigger than himself.

LOST was incredibly fun to watch. The mysteries were tantalizing. The characters were compelling and ever-growing.  The symbolism was fascinating, and the exceedingly-intricate plot was puzzling in all the best ways.
When a clue in one episode lined up with something that happened 47 episodes before to explain what was really behind that mystery 18 episodes prior… there was nothing like it.


Damon Lindelof & Carlton Cuse

The two creators and head writers of the show became superstars in their own right because of the way they went out of their way to interact with fans, ran the hilarious Official LOST Podcast on a weekly basis, and dedicated themselves to making sure LOST retained its artistic integrity by not stretching out its story just because it was making money.

Jimmy Kimmel Live (Photo: ABC)

Before LOST, did the casual viewer even care who was writing episodes of shows they watched, or even know them by name?

Together, the duo worked out a deal with ABC to formulate an end date for the series three years out — never before had such a successful and popular program formulated its own end date so that it could work on crafting its story towards a satisfying conclusion. Usually a popular show just kept going until it petered out and died off.
The two could have easily translated the success of LOST into deals for other shows, movies, and more directly after the show took off. But instead, they dedicated their entire creative lives to making LOST as great as it could be, siring it all the way from it’s infancy up til it was given the opportunity to die with dignity.

Live Together, Die Alone

The characters of LOST were what made it so special

In the wake of its success, TV has been LOSTed to death, networks trying to pump out as many high-concept ensemble dramas as they can in hopes that one of them finds the same sort of following.
But none of the dozens of LOST rip-offs have stuck. Even “Heroes,” the only one that seemed to find an audience, quickly devolved into a steaming pile of crap.

All of these “copies” failed to grasp what made LOST so special — it wasn’t the dense layers of mythology or the explosions and shootouts in the middle of the jungle, really; those were just the icing on the cake.
No, what made LOST work so well was its characters.

EVANGELINE LILLY, EMILIE DE RAVIN, DOMINIC MONAGHAN

In the best stories, action emerges from character — not the other way around. Character always comes first, concept second. 

When LOST began, the mystery of the unseen was compelling… But, the most exciting mysteries were right in front us — WHO WERE THESE PEOPLE?

The study of WHO these people were and WHY they did what they did energized every plot line, every action, every shocking moment. Which is why, even in the midst of the most insane storytelling twists and turns, we cared deeply about what was going on — because we cared deeply about Jack. Kate. Charlie. Sawyer. Hurley. Sayid. Locke. Claire. Desmond. Ben. Jin. Sun. Juliet. And everyone else who filled this crazy little island.

I’m continually fascinated with the fact that LOST was full of so many characters, yet we got to know each and every one of them so deeply — deeper even than many characters who have whole shows to themselves. The writers were bold enough to craft an extremely character-driven series under the guise of a high-concept sci-fi drama on network television.

No other show was able to take such a wide, and varied, cast of characters and develop them in such natural and meaningful ways, or examine their lives to the depth that this show did.

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Through flashbacks and every other sort of narrative tool imaginable, we got an incredible sense of everything that did, does, and will make each of these characters who they are. It was “the richest cast of broken souls we’ve ever seen on TV” and we knew them intimately. We understood what made them take the actions they took, and each of their troubled pasts’ shaded their search for redemption on the island beautifully.

Even with the “monster” terrorizing the jungles around them, the mysterious “hatch” refusing them entrance with its strong steel doors, the “numbers” continually popping up, and the “others” stalking them from behind the trees, was anything more compelling than Charlie’s struggle to give up his drugs as Locke tried to help him overcome his addiction?:

Or Jack’s constant search for his father’s approval that led to this conversation a whole season in the making?

Or discovering that Locke was in a wheelchair (!) before the crash!?

Or Desmond’s years-long search to reconnect with the love of his life, Penny?

Or Ben, once the man seemingly in control of everything on the island, watching as everything he’s built slowly crumbles around him?

And there were a hundred other character arcs LOST brought us on, inviting us into these castaways’ imperfect, messy lives as they struggled for redemption, yearned to be a part of something bigger and better than themselves, and wrestled their own demons.

Charlie’s death at the end of Season 3 would have no impact if you didn’t know him better than you knew your best friend. Ben’s daughter’s execution would hardly matter if you didn’t know that his love for Alex was the only good thing about him. And Sawyer murdering the man responsible for his parents’ death would just be another scene in another show easily forgotten if you hadn’t spent several years learning his tormented history.
Phil Pirrello

All of LOST’s main character’s changed dramatically over the course of six seasons, in ways that felt both organic and thematically rich. It was fascinating to watch these vibrantly drawn characters come to turning points in their lives and slowly change over time.

Remember, for example, where LOST‘s “Man of Science,” Jack, and “Man of Faith,” Locke, are as things are coming to a head in the end of the first season:

Four seasons later, these two have essentially switched places — Jack, after spiraling into a crippling depression and suffering a series of events that leads him to fight to return to island however he can, is convinced that “the island isn’t done with us.”
Locke — whose death acts as the central tragedy to LOST‘s overarching narrative — is a jaded, washed up, and bitter man, convinced his faith in the island was all for not, and who ultimately comes to the decision to take his own life.

And think about Benjamin Linus — that nasty, vile, genocidal maniac who was responsible for so much bloodshed, and so much heartbreak our castaways suffered.
Yet by the last seasons of the show, after his world has started to crumble around him, Ben embarks on a soul-searching journey that brings him to a place where the audience is ultimately starting to root for him.  As he speaks from the depths of his heart, vulnerable for the first time, we — strangely — begin to feel complete empathy for him. By some senses of the word, he’s basically a hero by the time the story wraps up.

Our investment in the characters is what made it all matter.

The patience LOST had to let its characters develop was unparalleled. So many shows seem to want the audience to know exactly who all their characters are within the first 10 minutes of the first episode. But think about how revolutionary LOST was — we get a glimpse of all the survivors in the first episode, but pretty much everyone besides Jack, Kate, and Charlie has to wait their turn.

lost70 We didn’t even learn Locke was wheelchair-bound (the one defining characteristic that gives him so much depth and invigorates every action he takes) until the fourth hour in. We don’t even know Hurley thinks he’s cursed until 18 hours in. LOST reveled in, and took time to bask in, the not-knowing.

The mysteries surrounding these people were so enrapturing and enthralling — which was, of course, the magic of the first season (and the fourth season as well, when we got to meet them in the future all over again). The mysteries of the island may have been exciting, but it was getting to know the survivors of Oceanic 815 that had the world so captivated.

 The Music

Michael Giacchino is the Emmy, Grammy, and Oscar-winning composer behind the soundtracks of Up, Star Trek, Mission Impossible, The Incredibles, Super 8, Planet of the Apes, Ratatouille, and lots more.

Oh, and he scored every single episode of LOST

It’s impossible to talk about the emotional tone of LOST, or the dramatic storytelling without mentioning its sweeping, poignant, chilling, and always moving musical themes by Giacchino. Not only did he create memorable, haunting, and beautiful pieces of music, he did it for every single hour-long episode on a weekly basis. 

Conducting a live orchestra for a television show was extremely rare, and his wide spectrum of pieces played perfectly over all the crazy adventures and powerful moments our characters experienced. You can argue about what may be the greatest show to ever be on television, but there’s no argument on this front:  LOST had the greatest musical soundtrack in the history of television.


The Acting

And how can we not acknowledge the incredible tour de force in acting LOST presented us in every episode? The gathering of acting talent on the show was incredible — especially when you remember that they were all generally unknown actors, save Matthew Fox.

lost22Each week these people acted their butts off, giving brilliant life to their brilliantly-written characters. Anytime Terry O’Quinn (Locke) or Michael Emerson (Ben) were onscreen was something special, and whenever they spent scenes interacting together, it was pure magic.

LOST was a show that won award after award in the acting department — for a variety of different performers — and had six different people nominated for Emmy’s for their work on the show.

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And even though O’Quinn and Emerson are the obvious standouts, it’s impossible to ignore Matthew Fox‘s nuanced portrayal of the broken hero Jack over six years, and the number of layers he gave the ever-changing character. Or Evangeline Lilly‘s comfortability in the role of the girl-next-door/outlaw Kate in her first-ever speaking role (!), or Josh Holloway‘s snarky rebel Sawyer, Nestor Carbonell‘s stoic and confident Richard Alpert, Henry Ian Cusick‘s love-struck time-traveler Desmond, or Daniel Dan Kim‘s performance as Jin, who beautifully transitioned from abusive lover to dedicated husband. Or a number of other incredible performances spanning the 121 hours in which LOST‘s story unfolded.

 Evangeline Lilly

And let’s not forget about Kate. She was a total babe.

I would have so asked her out if she wasn’t a murderer/baby-kidnapper or whatever.
Eh… nobody’s perfect.



A Beautiful “End”

“The LOST Finale was… the story that we wanted to tell, and we told it. No excuses. No apologies. I look back on it as fondly as I look back on the process of writing the whole show.”
— Damon Lindelof 

(**SPOILER WARNING for this section**)

Alas, I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least acknowledge the show’s controversial finale at some point. It’s almost required to address the finale when talking about LOST now.

And even though backlash to the show’s finale seems to trump all discussion of everything else about it, LOST’s ending is not as despised as the zeitgeist would have you believe.
The finale to a show like LOST could never satisfy a casual viewer who just tuned in to see the ending, or people who never paid enough attention to the story to know what was really important the whole time anyways. And it was never meant to.

LOST crafted one of, if not the, best stories the show ever told in its final episode.
Remember, this was an Emmy-nominated script, and the majority of people who actually invested the work into following LOSTmyself included – were ultimately satisfied with how the show closed.

“The End” had pretty much everything you could ever want in a final episode, and more — returning characters, tears, action, romance, laughs, twists, and a closing sequence that tied the show together perfectly.

All of LOST’s numerous characters seemed to get their own special goodbye, Matthew Fox gave what might be his best performance of all in the show’s closing hour, and the entire cast put their all into telling a story that made even grown men cry about 11 different times.

Yet the vocal minority – who are typically people who never put in the commitment LOST demanded – rather boisterously insist that LOST failed to stick the landing.

The cynics and the sporadic onlookers don’t get to be
the ones 
who write the history of what LOST was. 

I could spend a few more pages writing about everything the LOST finale meant, how it brilliantly brought together everything the show had been building toward, and how it was the perfect way for the show to give its final bow. But that’s whole different article.
LOST wasn’t without its faults, but the times it didn’t work were rare.

People wanted answers — and they got them. But you had to look for a number of them hidden within the vast tapestry of the show yourselves. That was the beauty of LOST.


I won’t get into a lot of the “answers” the show gave, but for crying out loud:
THEY WERE NOT DEAD THE WHOLE TIME.
Everything that happened on the island was real, it was all important, and it all really took place. I feel like if you actually watched the show, it was hard to miss this. Yet, this ludicrous takeaway is still thrown around by many people to this day.
That was the whole point of the ending: It was because of the time these people had spent together, shaping each other and making the most important decisions of their lives with one another, that they “remembered” each other, overcame their past demons, and made a way to move on together. The time they spent together was what mattered most.
You can like that ending or not. But it goes a lot deeper than “They were dead the whole time” or “it was purgatory” or “they went to heaven.” It was so much more than that.


“The End” may not have been the ending you would have chosen, but there can be no doubt about the emotional power it held and the reasoning behind the writers of LOST ending it the way they did.

I loved how so much was said in so little words — Hurley’s “you were a really good number two,” and Ben’s “and you were a great number one” — summing up an entire lifetime’s worth of experiences we never got to see.
Locke’s poignant forgiveness of Ben communicated through a glance across the table.
Kate’s “I missed you Jack,” speaking volumes about the entire lifetime (and death) she spent waiting for him. Everyone finally found each other again, and it made everything OK.

LOST gave us a deeply emotional and incredibly cathartic conclusion to story of these characters’ lives, leaving us with a beautiful piece of television as it left the small screen forever… And you’re still complaining that it didn’t give you all the physics behind the island’s electromagnetism?


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The Legacy of LOST 

“We told the story that we wanted to tell, and I stand by it. I’m proud of it. It’s enormously rewarding that it’s meant so much to a lot of people. As a storyteller, you can’t ask for anything more than that.”
Carlton Cuse

Every television show you watch and love today was, in one way or another, affected by or brought about because of LOST. It revolutionized the television industry, and told the most imaginative, complicated, innovative, and satisfying story to ever unfold on the small screen.

And I miss it like crazy.

On September 22, 2004, LOST proved that genre storytelling wasn’t just for the geeks in the niche corners of the viewership. There was an audience out there for complex, creative stories that demanded commitment as long as it was well-told and ripe with incredible characters.

Even 10 years later, it’s still hard to watch the Pilot episode and not be floored by how exceptional it is. Just as a piece of entertainment, and as a piece of art. It’s more exciting, more thrilling, and a lot more alive and full of imagination and possibilities than anything on Network TV today.

Other shows will come and go, but there will never be another LOST. There’s no chance of the experience it gave the world even being remotely repeated.

For me, LOST wasn’t just a TV Show – it was a deeply affecting and emotional adventure.

It’s hard to believe that this show has been a part of my life for almost a decade, and to think about how much of a role it has played in my life.
(Sometimes I still can’t even believe that I once snuck onto the set in Hawaii, and basically walked around talking to the crew and spending time with some of the actors over a lunch break!)

I know I’m talking about LOST like it was a  close friend. But it kind of was.

I miss the characters. The mysteries. The conversations it sparked among friends. Staying up late to watch repeats with my parents. The crackpot theories. The ravenous search for clues between episodes. Hurley saying “Dude.” The mindtrips. Sawyer’s nicknames. The hatch. Imaginary peanut butter. Fish biscuits. The smoke monster. Darlton. Jokes about Jack’s beard. Giacchino’s beautiful score. “You All Everybody.” The connections. The numbers. Penny’s boat. Time-traveling bunnies. Scott and Steve – or wait, is it Steve and Scott? The fans. The community around the show. Everything.

The funny thing is, outsiders might be prone to say “Well, I already heard how LOST ends. Now there’s no reason to watch it.”

But that couldn’t be further from the truth with LOST. It was the ultimate adventure that reveled in the journey as much as the destination.

Don’t try and fit it into your box of what you think it “should have been.” Enjoy what it was.

It was a show about redemption. Second chances. Learning to love. Living in community. Needing others. Growing. Changing. The great mysteries of life.

LOST was a show about ordinary people thrown into extraordinary circumstances – a story about “lost” people, in all senses of the word, and how many of them came to be found.
It was their journeys. Their stories.

I don’t really know how else to end a discussion of LOST, other than with “thanks.”

Thanks for the late nights spent on the edge of my seat, the laughs, the twists, the turns. For entertaining me, inspiring me, educating me, and challenging me. For characters I could see myself in, root for, and watch grow in ways I’ve never seen before.

So, thanks LOST.
Part of who I am today is owed to the many adventures I went on with Jack, Kate, Locke, Sawyer, Charlie, Ben, Desmond, Hurley, and all the rest of the wondrous crowd of characters that filled this insane little world you created.

© Matt Tory, 2014. 

No infringement intended. All photos shown are property of ABC, Lost, and their appropriate copyright holders. They were originally released by ABC and their owners for the purposes of promoting ‘Lost,’ and are only used within this commentary for purposes of necessary context, and not in their full resolution. The photos are used in this non-commercial post within the rights of Fair Use for analysis, research and commentary.

The Best Films of 2013

What a great year it was at the movies!

Our local movie houses were brimming this year with stories of true-life heroes, singing snowmen, astronauts fighting for their lives, shy daydreamers going on globe-hopping adventures, and men falling in love with their computers. We saw the big-screen returns of the likes of Ron Burgundy, Mike and Sully, Kirk and Spock, Bilbo, Katniss, and even the Man of Steel.

2013 in Film:

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