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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You Had One Job, Republican Party. One Job.

I’m not mad, Republican Party. I’m just disappointed. 

It should have been a piece of cake.

Everything was looking up for you, Grand Ol’ Party. Large numbers of Americans were fed up with the current Democratic administration; the pendulum was swinging back your way; the field of potential Republican nominees was vast and ripe for the picking. All you had to do was put up a competent, somewhat-likable candidate people could rally around, and the White House was yours.

Then you nominated Donald Trump.

The Democrats had put a big fat Christmas gift in your lap in the form of a challenger who’s almost universally considered dishonest, is under federal investigation, and is statistically the most disliked Presidential candidate in modern history (… well, second-most-disliked now. Apologies).

So what did you do? You hoisted upon the masses someone who’s also under federal investigation, is known for exaggerating the truth, and whose unfavorable ratings make Hillary’s look positively wonderful in comparison. You nominated perhaps the only candidate who could lose a general election to Hillary Clinton – and a man who half of the Republican Party isn’t even sure they would want to win in November if he could.

It’s not like you didn’t have a bountiful cornucopia of qualified, successful, popular leaders you could have chosen to carry the torch and take the Republican Party into the future. All you had to do was put their names on a wheel, spin it, and pick one — Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, John Kasich, Nikki Haley, Rick Perry, Jeb Bush, Bobby Jindall, Rand Paul, Susanna Martinez, Tim Pawlenty, Paul Ryan, Condoleeza Rice, John Hunstman, Brian Sandoval, Mike Pence, Rob Portman, Kelly Ayotte, blah blah blah — the list goes on.

A GOP cornucopia

A GOP cornucopia, which took me longer to Photoshop than it should have

Ideologies and opinions on various politicians will always differ, but at least the party could have ultimately united around one of the many leaders who had actually accomplished something, was beloved by a majority of their constituents, and was at least a decent human being.

2016 was your chance to finally prove to the nation, and to the swarm of young new voters, that your party wasn’t the clueless laughingstock that “Hollywood” and “the media” made you out to be. To show how the Republican party was built upon the desire to embrace all Americans, and offer each of them – yes, despite wealth, class or creed – the chance to be successful and make their lives better. 2016 was your chance to show that the “American Dream” could still be alive and well in the party of Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan and Abraham Lincoln.

Then you nominated Donald Trump.


But this isn’t about electability anymore, Republican Party.
It isn’t even about politics anymore.
This is about much more.
It’s about your future. About character and decency and all-around not-being-an-awful-person-ness.

Political opinions are a dime a dozen. But what you’ve allowed to transpire within your party this year is about much more than political persuasions and different viewpoints on policy. You’ve let a conman hijack the Republican Party and bend it to his will – and sane, rational Republican leaders are now beginning to kneel down to the would-be Caesar and kiss his ring.

It’s now obvious that millions of Americans agree with Donald Trump’s ideas, and with the statements he makes – and maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe he actually is pointing out some legitimate things that need to be changed within the Republican Party, and within politics in general.
But why does that make him qualified to be the leader of the free world? Just because I’m able to point out the fact that my sink is broken doesn’t mean I should be trusted to mess around with the pipes. I call a plumber who actually knows what they’re doing.

Honestly, it’s fine that so many voters in your party agree with him. It’s a free country, and they can think and say what they want. I’m not interested in debating policy. We’ve been doing that for 240 years, and we’re still divided on just about everything.

The problem is that Trumpism has become a cult of personality – nothing to do with “conservatism” or Republican ideals. He doesn’t have any discernible “policies” other than vague notions and empty promises. His appeal is not in “solutions to problems,” but in catchy phrases meant to rile people up, tap into their fear, and help them feel vindicated. To make them think he’s going to “win” and that him “winning” will really be them “winning.”

For 8 years, Republicans have mocked Obama voters for falling for a few cute slogans – “Hope” and “Change” – while not seeing the man for who he “really” was. These same people are the ones falling even deeper for Donald Trump and “Make America Great Again.” All they know is that he’s going to make America “great” again (whatever that means), and that’s enough.

Look, I’m not going to lay out all the reasons Donald Trump is a horrible human being, it’s been done already (like here or here).
Enough people have already outlined all the ways he’s a bigoted, sexist, racist, egotistical, massively insecure, cynical liar who insults world leaders, mocks the disabled, condones illegal violence, attacks veterans for being POWs, kisses up to dictators, bases women’s worth on how attractive they are, refuses to support our only ally in the Middle East, brings in endorsements from the KKK, talks about how he’d like to be romantic with his daughter if she wasn’t related, and bankrupts business venture after business venture. No need to rehash it.

trump 4

With each new day it becomes clearer how he is unfit, unqualified, and unprepared to be Commander-in-Chief.

The role of the President of the United States of America is too influential, too symbolic, and too important to hand over to a rabble-rousing opportunist with no backbone and no principles other than the burning desire to prop himself higher and higher and stroke his own ego in any way he can.

This YouTube-comments-section-in-human-form has built his entire “success” upon cheating others out of business deals, being handed everything on a silver platter, surrounding himself with weak-kneed yes men, bribing politicians, and taking advantage of ordinary citizens to get what he wants. Now he wants to be rewarded for those efforts with the highest office in the land. To give the Presidency to Donald Trump would be to glorify everything we say we despise as Americans.


“UNIFY?”

So, Republican Party, you’ve made your choice.
Now you want us to “unify” and unite around your nominee? Around a man who gained popularity by implying he’d burn the Republican Party to the ground if he didn’t win the nomination?

Mmm, no thanks.

“Unify, for the sake of the party,” you say.

The “sake of the party” obviously wasn’t on your mind when you nominated Donald Trump.

Here’s that GOP cornucopia again, because I really put some work into it and want to make sure you get a good look at it. Kasich is a butternut squash! Very humorous!

Not to mention the irreparable damage a Donald Trump ticket does when all the down-ballot Republican senators, congressmen, governors and representatives up for election lose because normally-Republican-leaning voters don’t even bother showing up on Election Day. Donald Trump spells out disaster for your party.

Donald Trump is now the symbol of your party. Let that sink in. 

The most un-Republican un-conservative candidate in your party’s history is now the standard-bearer for the Republican Party. Trump eagerly threw lies, threats and hateful smears towards anyone who didn’t properly worship at his altar, and now he wants to call himself “a unifier?”

Are we really that gullible?

What reason do you have to believe he’ll put forward conservative policies, or even appoint conservative justices? As history has proven, his word is worth as much as a degree from Trump University. Donald Trump cares only about amassing wealth, and right now votes are his currency. His penchant for telling people what they want to hear has gotten him this far – what makes you think he won’t sell you out to the next highest bidder?

Yes, Trump earned this spot through a democratic system of voting. He has support. But Republican leaders only now jumping on the Trump bandwagon in fear of the Republican Party (and their jobs) leaving them behind should be seen for what they are – spineless. True leaders stand by their convictions, explain why, and are willing to suffer the consequences. The outrage many Republican leaders felt towards Donald Trump’s rhetoric was palpable last year. Now, most are silent. Apparently too many GOP leaders are drunk at the punch bowl of conformity; and too few are willing to embarrass themselves by admitting they’re sober and offering to grab the car keys.

GOP, before you go and get mad at me, remember that we’ve had some pretty good times. I was rooting for you. I was excited to register as a Republican. I’ve been with you ever since, because I genuinely believe that most Republican policies and ideas work best for America. I’m your typical target audience: I’m not a fan of Obama, and I think Bush and Reagan did pretty good jobs. But Donald Trump’s “Republican Party” does not represent the majority of Americans. It does not represent me.

Trump is unlikely to win. But if he does, he endangers the Republican Party’s ability to survive. A President Trump forever changes the GOP’s identity. If Trump takes the White House, the Republican Party will always be remembered as the party that put him there. You may never be trusted again.

“For the sake of the party?” For the sake of the party, you should hope that Donald Trump doesn’t win in November.

trump11

If nothing else, Trump’s swift coronation by the “Religious Right” has shown how the so-called Evangelical vote in America has begun to forget its moral center. Christian leaders less concerned with principles, values, and truth than in retaining a political party’s power for power’s sake are not worth following.

If saying that ruffles your feathers, then so be it. Consider your feathers ruffled. Christians should be on the front lines, standing up to demagogues like Mr. Trump and reminding them that actions speak louder than words.
Instead, many of the same groups who had shouted and screamed about Clinton and Obama’s lack of “character” were wholeheartedly backing Trump months before he even locked your party’s nomination. He learned some church lingo, tickled their ears, and they enabled him to piggyback his way to a Republican victory.

When was the last time so many leaders in the Church supported someone who claims to never ask for God’s forgiveness (because he’s “never done anything worth asking forgiveness for”), owns strip clubs, supports partial-birth abortion (up until a few minutes ago at least), refuses to support Israel, says “you have to treat women like sh*t,” and brags about the numerous sexual experiences he’s had with “happily married women” while cheating on his wives?

But he says he has a “great relationship with God,” and that his favorite book of the Bible is “Two Corinthians,” so I guess that makes it all okay.


“THE LESSER OF TWO EVILS”

The rest of the choices are now gone. Reality has sunk in. What we all assumed would be an amusing sideshow quickly ending in a firestorm of “You’re Fired!” tweets, has dovetailed into the most unlikely of Presidential candidates in a general election. Donald Trump is now your only option to avoid Hillary Clinton being President. Apparently.

“Even if you don’t like him, you need to vote for the lesser of two evils,” you say.

Why?

You do know that Americans are not required to vote for only Republicans and Democrats, right? There is absolutely no chance a third-party candidate will win the Presidency – but perhaps that’s only the case because everyone shrugs it off as an impossibility.  We could unify around a third party, or create a new party altogether. But we all think it won’t happen – so it won’t. The American voters, for however much they may despise their two options, will elect one of them into office because they think they are their only choices.

“The More-er of Two Evils”

So you want me to vote for Donald Trump, because “at least he’s not as bad as her.”
Even if that’s the case, how can you ask me to give the only power I have in the way this country is governed – my vote – to a man who represents everything America’s founders fought a Revolution to escape?
Despite any conceivable positives, there is simply no scenario in which I will give history the satisfaction of looking back and asking me “why did you vote for Donald Trump?”

“It wasn’t what we really wanted, but it seemed like the only choice.” “We just went along with what everyone did.” It’s a stretch to compare not voting for Donald Trump to standing up to British tyranny in the 18th century, fighting against slavery in the 19th century South, or to voicing opposition to African-Americans being treated like second-class citizens in the 20th. Those were aspects of life that “everyone just went along with” in their day too, though. But a few people decided to stand up and be brave. This is America, and in America we fight for those taken advantage of. We stand up to the despots, the tyrants, and the bullies.

Sometimes in battle you have to fall back, regroup, and try to get stronger for the next fight. Republican Party, perhaps this is your best course of action now instead of pushing forward into battle and suffering even more casualties. Donald Trump does not care about you or me. His sole motivation in seeking the White House is Donald Trump. His entire life is one characterized by self-absorption, self-promotion, and self-aggrandizement.

A President Trump would be a yuuuge disaster. A political environment where ridiculous statements, conspiracy theories, pathological lies and hateful threats are rewarded with your party’s nomination (and potentially the Presidency) will only inspire imitators. Donald Trump is hardly the end of this nightmare you’ve allowed to fester.

People want change. And rightly so. But this man, who has spent millions bribing politicians over the course of his life, wants you to believe that he’ll be the one to stop political cronyism? Your trust has been misplaced. Maybe it is time to take a cue from Donald Trump and rethink “politics as usual.” I’m all for getting an outsider in there who’s passionate about making the country a better place, and has concrete plans to do so. But as frustrated as we are with our government, it will never be the right time to consider such a vile, insecure, and reckless choice as this for President of the United States.

No matter how many arguments to deny him America’s votes arise, many consciences will remain clear about voting for Donald Trump. Your vote is your own. You must do what your gut tells you is right.  But at least be willing to examine the man himself, and not just the (R) next to his name.

There are just too many of us who are unable, and unwilling, to support the man you’ve decided to trot out as your nominee, GOP. And for that, you will suffer the consequences. Either you will lose control of the federal government for four (or more) years, or your party will be symbolized by the most divisive American candidate in modern history. Time will only tell which outcome does more damage.

Voting for Hillary is just as repulsive to many of us, and a third-party candidate’s chances may be a pipe dream. But what if this election became about more than just who could win? Going to the voting booth is perhaps one the simplest, least-brave actions we can take as American citizens. But what if we chose to be brave with our vote?
What if we chose to shut this man down once and for all, and not allow him to bully his way into the Oval Office?
What if we reminded the Republican Party that maybe, just possibly, there are bigger things at stake than which political group sits in the White House the next four years?

I don’t presume to know the best decision for us to make at this moment in our nation’s history. There are no easy answers here. But I’ve been to his rally. I’ve seen Donald Trump speak in person. He is not being edited by the “media” to appear as something he is not.

As the election grows closer, it will only be easier for Republicans to fall into the trap. We’re seeing it already. GOP leaders are coming out of the woodwork to “apologize” on his behalf, talk about how he’s really not that bad, and how he’s “sticking it to the establishment.  Booyah, screw you, Washington!”
No, he is an egotistical liar and your party is actively painting his multitude of sins as merely the “eccentric” behavior of a successful leader to retain power. The fact that we’re still even entertaining him as a viable candidate would be laughable if it weren’t so alarming.

Look, Republican Party, I don’t hate Donald Trump. I wish him the best. If he is our next President, I would hope he does a good job. But even on the off-chance he’s elected and even-more-off-chance he’s considered a good President, I’ll still be glad I didn’t vote for him.
His path to success in business, reality TV, and politics has been marked by personal gain above all else, and has stood in direct opposition to the ideals America was founded on. Donald Trump’s is not a story we should look up to, champion, or admire.

I may not have the same level of optimism I once placed in you, Republican Party, but I am still optimistic about America. We’re better than this. In America, we’ve always prided ourselves in sticking up for the little guy, and standing up to the bullies – Standing up to people like Donald Trump.

So that’s why I can’t make our date this November, GOP. I just feel like we need to see different people, and you need some time to find yourself.
Please don’t hate me. I hope we can still be friends.

 

© Matt Tory, 2016. 


Featured image via: https://www.flickr.com/photos/gageskidmore/5440392565

Other images courtesy of: flickr.com/gageskidmore

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.

Unbroken: REVIEW

The true story of Louis Zamperini is one of the most incredible and inspirational stories of modern history. It deserves so much better than it has received in Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken.

Zamperini was an Olympic runner who became a WWII war hero, got shot down over the ocean and survived in a raft for 47 days, was taken hostage by the Japanese once making way to land and tortured as a prisoner until the end of the war, came home to find himself a bitter drunk but turned a corner when befriending Billy Graham and joining him in crusades as an inspirational speaker, and eventually decided to show forgiveness by traveling to Japan to find the men that tortured him and forgive them in person.

Quite a life.

Yet, Unbroken seems content to merely show a series of events in Zamperini’s life with no real overarching theme or character development. Never discussed is the faith that made Zamperini so “unbreakable.” Not even the climactic moments when he forgives the Japanese, which seemed to be what tied all of his experiences together and was the evidences of his being “unbroken” in the book, are shown.

The film feels more like a string of unfortunate events that happened to one man rather than an actual story with plot and character. The character of Louis is never really fleshed out; never once do we truly get inside his head.

Though Unbroken has good intentions, this large-scale World War II film feels formulaic and clichéd rather than one of the most incredible true-life stories that could be told. It shrinks the life of Zamperini, instead making sure to hit all the right notes to be considered for prestigious awards. What many readers of the book will agree are the best parts of Zamperini’s story are simply left out, as Unbroken attempts to pull at the heartstrings with a number of “motivational catchphrases” rather than actual characters wrestling with real struggles.

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Unbroken is rated PG-13 for war violence and brutality, and brief language.

© Matt Tory, 2014. 

Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb: REVIEW

What began as a fresh and creative idea in 2006 has been stretched thin over a couple of forced sequels in the Night at the Museum franchise. There’s a bunch of dumb fun to be had, and the kids will enjoy it, but the newest Museum is hardly inspired, and had the potential to be a lot more heartfelt and hilarious than it is.

Watching this third Night at the Museum will bring a few good chuckles, but also a sense of disappointment – it’s always a bit frustrating to watch a number of A-level comic actors get together to do C-level comedy.

But despite its recycled gags, Night at the Museum’s final outing is still noteworthy for serving as a fitting tribute to comic legend Robin Williams in his final performance.

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Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb is rated PG for rude humor and mild action. 

© Matt Tory, 2014. 

Annie: REVIEW

Having lots of money and gadgets and stuff is what we should all look for to be happy!
Right?… Right? Oh well, that’s what Annie seems to think at least.

1982’s Annie is considered a musical classic, so it was only a matter of time before it got the Hollywood reboot treatment. But this Annie is a predictable mess of lazily re-created songs and hokey moments that only grows more insufferable as it goes on. If you want to see talented actors like Jamie Foxx and Quvenzhane Wallis shoehorned into awkwardly forced sing-along moments, then Annie has everything you might want.

Despite its well-intentioned charm, Annie plays out as a sluggish, lazy, clichéd and oddly materialistic re-imagining of the popular musical classic. Its heart is in the right place, but not even all of Wallis’ joyful personality can save this Annie.

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Annie is rated PG for rude humor.

© Matt Tory, 2014. 

Exodus: Gods and Kings: REVIEW

Ridley Scott’s (Gladiator, Alien, Prometheus) epic retelling of the Moses story is an ambitious spectacle.

In terms of an entertaining, emotional, faithful adaptation of the Exodus story, The Prince of Egypt has already given our generation a much better telling of this tale. But the spectacle of Exodus is a delight to behold, and Christian Bale compelling in his performance of the man who ushered the nation of Israel into the Promised Land.

As for its faithfulness to the Biblical story, Exodus: Gods and Kings has a few inaccuracies – God himself is represented by a whiny British child, the theological reasoning behind each particular plague are absent, and the overall context of the exodus story is missing.

Though it’s refreshing to see such talented artists tackling biblical story lines with massive ambition, perhaps the biggest problem with Exodus: Gods and Kings is the same major problem with most biblical adaptations: a lack of context.

Sure, the story of an ancient people fighting for their freedom from their oppressors is a compelling one – but the whole context of what the Exodus story is really about (Israel’s ongoing relationship with God and God’s promises to them throughout the generations) is missing. And with it, the resonance of what the Exodus story truly means and represents in the grand scheme of the biblical story line and within the history of the nation of Israel.

Exodus drags through its uneven pacing and adds in a number of confusing elements, but it’s just so spectacularly ambitious that it’s a pleasure to watch unfold – even if this story has been told plenty of times before, and better.

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Exodus: Gods and Kings is rated PG-13 for battle violence.

© Matt Tory, 2014. 

Foxcatcher: REVIEW

A slow-burning crime drama, Foxcatcher follows the 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, known internationally for his hilarious turns in The Office, Anchorman, and Despicable Me, is almost unrecognizable here as the wealthy and erratic wannabe-wrestling-coach. It is a chilling role which will surely allow Carell to be considered for even more heavy parts in the future.

The film is slow, yet compelling throughout – it plays more like a stage play than a film, full of dramatic speeches, long unmoving scenes, and weighty dialogue. It is fully engaging, despite a whiff of pretentious storytelling.

It’s a wonder to see such talented actors disappear into their roles, weaving together a tale of jealousy, delusion, addiction, and psychotic self-destruction. But though it may be a well-told drama, Foxcatcher will probably be remembered more for Channing Tatum and Steve Carell’s willingness to take on dramatic performances than for it actually being a solid film.

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Foxcatcher is rated R for drug use and brief violence. 

Buy your tickets now!

© Matt Tory, 2014. 

Hector and the Search for Happiness: REVIEW

Hector (Simon Pegg) is a psychiatrist who no longer knows how to help his patients find happiness. He himself finds “happiness” as elusive and mysterious as ever.

What follows is a high-spirited and spontaneous adventure across the globe as Hector searches for what truly makes others “happy.” Simon Pegg is great as always and the film has its share of inspiring moments, but Hector is too sentimental for its own good.

Hector and the Search for Happiness has a lot of heart, but whatever heartfelt parts the film has are bogged down by predictable scenes and unearned schmaltz.

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Hector and the Search for Happiness is rated R for language and brief sexuality.

© Matt Tory, 2014. 

The Penguins of Madagascar: REVIEW

A spin-off from the popular Madagscar films, The Penguins of Madagascar is a frenzied fury of gags, puns, and high-energy hi-jinks. The lovable penguins from one of Dreamworks’ best series of films get the spotlight this time, as they are forced into saving all penguin-kind from an evil octopus… Yes, it’s ridiculously silly. But what did you expect?

The surreal humor doesn’t always come across – though I must say that one recurring gag had me laughing out loud numerous times throughout. Penguins isn’t as funny as the original Madagascar films, and it features some surprisingly rudimentary animation, but  its silly frantic story is a decent diversion and will certainly entertain young kids.

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The Penguins of Madagascar is rated PG for mild action and some rude humor.

© Matt Tory, 2014. 

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1: REVIEW

How quickly The Hunger Games series has transitioned from the fresh, original drama that captivated audiences in 2012 to yet another bloated, aimless studio blockbuster franchise stretching itself out for pure monetary gain, as seen with Mockingjay, Part 1.

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) has just destroyed the hold the Capitol exerts over the Districts with the “hunger games.” After she is saved by the rebels of District 13, she works alongside them to try her best to fight to save Peeta, as well as rally the nation to rise up and fight against the Capitol.

There is absolutely no reason this final installment of The Hunger Games needed to be split into two movies. I don’t even know where the story will go in the next film, but I do know that Part 1 had almost no memorable moments and could easily have been compacted into a ten minute setup for whatever happens next. Even more so than the first two installments, President Snow feels too cartoonish of a villain to take seriously, and the film as a whole has no self-contained story other than serving as a placeholder for whatever is coming with the climactic finale.

Mockingjay, Part 1 is not only unnecessary, but it’s boring and full of a series of events that have no longterm consequences. As always, Jennifer Lawrence shines in her career-defining role as Katniss Everdeen, perfectly capturing the struggle this leader-to-be faces as she wrestles with her place in the rising rebellion.  But the movie surrounding her is completely disposable.

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REVIEW7 The Hunger Games: Mockingjay: Part 1 is rated PG-13 for disturbing images and intense sequences of action violence.

© Matt Tory, 2014. 

Big Hero 6: REVIEW

Disney’s been on a winning streak as of late, with verified hits like Frozen, Tangled, and Wreck-it Ralph. With Big Hero 6, they deliver an action-packed comedy about tech-geek teen Hiro and his lovable companion – his robot, Baymax – on the streets of San Fransokyo. The movie is fun, endearing, humorous, and full of heart.

As one who’s simply exhausted with cinematic super hero stories, Disney’s choice to adapt a Marvel comic book was the last thing I would have liked to see the studio pursue.  But Big Hero 6 redeems itself with a clever and delightful little story about friendship and loyalty. Baymax is impossible not to love, and I’m sure my kids will someday be playing with their large cuddly white Baymax action figures in their room.

It’s nothing really that original, and it’s pretty predictable, but Big Hero 6 is a decent animated film worthy of sitting within the Disney Animated canon.

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Big Hero 6 is rated PG for mild action and peril.

© Matt Tory, 2014. 

Dumb and Dumber To: REVIEW

Dumb and Dumber To is the epitome of brainless humor – so dumb it’s funny; full of far-out gags and stupid situations (and a brilliant blink-and-you-miss-it cameo from Bill Murray). Though it may be inane and ludicrous throughout, there’s a number of moments where you just can’t help but laugh.

It could never top the original, but for Dumb and Dumber’s fans, it’s great to see these two (Jim Carrey & Jeff Daniels) back together again – and especially great to see Carrey being his old silly self that we haven’t gotten to see in years.

It’s not Shakespeare.

It’s just dumb characters doing dumb things and making dumb jokes.
That’s kind of the whole point.

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Dumb and Dumber To is rated PG-13 for crude humor and language.

© Matt Tory, 2014. 

Whiplash: REVIEW

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.

I’ve never gotten on the whole Miles-Teller-train,  but Whiplash gives the young actor a role perfectly crafted for him; and J.K. Simmons, once known primarily for his memorable cameos as J. Jonah Jameson in the original Spider-Man films, is unstoppable here.

Whiplash is focused on one thing and one thing alone – the relationship between a musician and his 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.

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Whiplash is rated R for strong language.

© Matt Tory, 2014. 

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

© Matt Tory, 2014. 

Laggies: REVIEW

While her friends are all off getting married, having kids, and getting promotions, Megan (Keira Knightley) is struggling just to get by on her job as a sidewalk sign-waver.

She’s unmotivated, unsuccessful, and unsure of what she even wants in life. After deciding to get away with her thoughts for a week, Megan ends up sharing a roof with her new high-school age friend Annika (Chloe Grace Moretz) and her dad (Sam Rockwell).

Laggies is a winsome and lively coming-of-age/romantic comedy full of funny moments and interesting characters. And whenever Sam Rockwell’s in it, I’m there (by the way, go watch The Way, Way Back right now because he’s hilarious in it and I know you haven’t seen it yet).

It must be noted, however, how the film’s ending felt ridiculously out of place. Laggies’ finale just made me, personally, completely dislike Knightley’s character and wonder why I even cared about her all the way up until then. The character’s whole journey was about learning to grow up – yet in the end she is celebrated for succumbing to her childish whims.

Nevertheless, Laggies rises above its quirky indie vibe, becoming a fresh and lighthearted comedy about the struggles of growing up.

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Laggies is rated R for language.

© Matt Tory, 2014. 

Nightcrawler: REVIEW

Car crashes and crime scenes are what he lives for.

When Lou (Jake Gyllenhaal) discovers a group of camera crews who film news-worthy mayhem during Los Angeles’ late nights, he jumps into the crazy world of “nightcrawling” – a profession where the bloodier or grislier the footage, the higher the payout by news outlets.

His job soon becomes an obsession for anything bigger and better. Nightcrawler chronicles’ Lou’s – an already creepy character played with no emotion by Gyllenhaal – journeys down an even darker path, putting the “shot” above the risk of danger – and even others’ lives.

Nightcrawler is an eerie film, and supremely weird – but not always a good “weird.” It brings up a lot of compelling themes and powers through an excellently-crafted final act, but it’s never quite sure what kind of movie it wants to be. What’s left is a messy mismatch of themes and styles, never willing to fully commit to anything it sets out to do.

Nightcrawler is a sleek, intriguing, thriller that wants desperately to make us think about how we get our news. But it ends up a bizarre, jumbled mess of a movie led by a character who’s, quite frankly, uninteresting because he never changes. He never grows more creepy or less creepy. He’s just there – creepy. And while Jake Gyllenhaal gets to have a lot of fun with the role, that doesn’t really make for compelling storytelling.

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Nightcrawler is rated R for language and violent images. 

© Matt Tory, 2014. 

Men, Women, and Children: REVIEW

The internet has changed us.

Men, Women, and Children wants us to wrestle with that. And it’s an important conversation worth having – if anyone in our society cares, that is.

From Jason Reitman (Juno, Up in the Air), Men, Women and Children follows a number of high school teenagers, as well as their parents, as they navigate the internet and social media when it comes to the way they interact with others, view themselves, and create relationships.

Though there’s a plethora of characters that tend to get lost within the tapestry of the film, the talented cast elevate what could have been a predictable, sluggish drama into an engaging and timely tale. Adam Sandler, in particular, gives his best, most simplistic performance in years, making me wonder why he doesn’t take a crack at drama more often.

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. It’s definitely only for mature audiences, but it’s still an important discussion to have. MW&C reflects a mirror back on our society – what have we become?

At times, viewers will feel disgusted. And I think that’s the point. Whether it be a grown man using his son’s computer for “intimate” websites, or a mother taking risqué photos of her high school-age daughter for financial gain.  Though, the film fails in that it goes too far over the edge of “showing” rather than “discussing.” It could have easily exposed us to the problems of using media for sexual gratification without teetering on the edge of being what it’s warning us about.

But perhaps the most surprising thing about Men, Women, and Children is that its real message seems not to be one about technology at all… By the end, we remember that it’s just as possible to make meaningless connections in real life. Humanity is the same it’s always been – these evils existed before the internet and social media. But perhaps new avenues have made these impulses easier to act on.

So how will we treat our relationships? How will we interact with technology? Will we commit to real, genuine relationships based not simply on our own selfish desires, but on the connecting with another and looking after their best interests? Will we pursue authentic connection and relationship, or will we continue to use the advances of our society to take advantage of others for our own gratification?

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Men, Women, and Children is rated R for sexual content and language. Please be warned that the main focus of this film is on sexuality — and in that, deals with a number of sexual scenarios, including teenagers. While the “sexual” scenes are never intended to titillate, I would caution viewers to be prepared for what they are going to experience. The film is full of characters seeking out ways to be “sexually fulfilled,” whether it be through pornography, affairs, ‘escorts,’ or meaningless sex. Men, Women, and Children is only for mature audiences ready to wrestle with a heavy topic, though my recommendation of the film is limited due to the times when the content shown goes a bit too far. 

© Matt Tory, 2014. 

Birdman: REVIEW

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.

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The film itself is a fresh and original commentary on the modern “blockbuster” (read: superhero movies), and this superhero-parody ends up being the best superhero movie to hit theaters in years.
Perhaps the most poignant (and important) thing Birdman brings us is a discussion of the purpose and pain of creativity – and why we pursue creative endeavors at all.

Michael Keaton and Edward Norton both give stellar performances, and even funnyman Zach Galifianakis gets to show off his grown-up acting skills here.

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.

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Birdman is rated R for language and sexual content, and brief violence.

© Matt Tory, 2014. 

St. Vincent: REVIEW

Forced to work long hours, Oliver’s mother (Melissa McCarthy) has no choice but to leave him in the care of their new neighbor, Vincent (Bill Murray) – a grouchy old man with a fondness for gambling, alcohol, and cynicism. But the two soon form an odd friendship that helps them both begin to look at the world in a new way.

St. Vincent is pretty derivative of other indie dramedies that have come before it. But it’s great to see Bill Murray bringing the laughs again, and playing a more serious, complex character than he has in quite a while. The relationship Vincent forms with Oliver is genuinely interesting and funny.

St. Vincent may veer too much towards the sentimental, but Bill Murray is back in fine form in this heartfelt, funny film that reminds us not to rush too quickly to judge others based on their resumes – or their criminal records.

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St. Vincent is rated PG-13 for language and mature themes, such as alcohol use and sexual situations.

© Matt Tory, 2014. 

Fury: REVIEW

David Ayer’s Fury is a brutal, vicious look at a tank crew (including Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, and Logan Lerman) behind enemy lines in Nazi Germany. As masterful as it is at recreating the hellishness of war, Fury adds nothing whatsoever to the canon of WWII films.

Fury is a pretentious wartime drama whose reach far exceeds its grasp. Each character is flat, dull, and one-note. Brad Pitt in particular seems to have phoned-in in this performance – his expression doesn’t appear to change even once in the whole film. And as much as Fury wants to be a “character study,” the characters aren’t really worth caring about.

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The film plods along, full of redundant battle scenes and a mostly uninteresting series of events. And when Fury finally kicks it into high gear, in the far superior final sequence of the film, it’s already too late. The last act of the film is riveting, intense, and masterfully directed – but it’s impossible to not wonder by the time it’s over how much more incredible the sequence could have been had it been occupied by characters we actually cared about.

The writing is bogged down by stilted dialogue, the special effects strangely feel better-fitted to a scifi movie, and whoever edited the film seemed to have gone a little crazy with Instagram filters.

Fury is well-made, features a great cast, and is wonderful at showing – whether intentional or not – how war slowly strips soldiers of their humanity, one dead body at a time. But it’s too slow, too redundant, too dull, and too insignificant to matter.

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Fury is rated R for wartime violence and language. This is a brutal film full of grisly images and realistic wartime sequences, and is appropriate only for mature audiences. 

© Matt Tory, 2014. 

The Good Lie: REVIEW

Three of the “Lost Boys” orphaned by Sudan’s vicious Civil War are among the thousands of young victims forced to travel thousands of miles on foot towards safety. And when a humanitarian effort allows a large number of them to relocate to America 15 years later, they are given the chance to start a new life.

Reese Witherspoon may be the most famous star in The Good Lie, but the movie really belongs to three actors you’ve never heard of.

Actors Arnold Oceng, Ger Duany, and Emmanuel Jal all were real-life “lost boys” who lost their homes and 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; Emmanuel Jal was even forced into slavery as a child soldier for a number of years. Now they’ve been given the chance onscreen to bring life to the struggles thousands faced.

The Good Lie is a moving, emotional, humorous, and hopeful film about a real human crisis that is still ongoing in our world. 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.

And as good as she is, the worst thing about this Reese Witherspoon movie may be Reese Witherspoon. Her character is responsible for getting the boys jobs and settling into American life, but this is not her story.

This is a story about humanity.  It’s a feel-good Hollywood tearjerker, but The Good Lie honestly earns those tears, as well as its laughs.

If the real tragedy and struggles of these innocent Sudanese children does not move viewers, and their small victories make them cheer, nothing will. It’s a poignant story about our common humanity – the triviality of so much we consider important, of redemption, forgiveness, loyalty, and family.

The Good Lie powerfully tells the story of Sudan’s “Lost Boys” with three actors who experienced it firsthand. Both entertaining and important, it’s definitely a film worth your attention. But if they needed to add Reese Witherspoon into the mix to plaster a famous pretty girl all over the posters and get people to actually go see the movie, then who am I to argue? I guess that’s a good lie.

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The Good Lie is rated PG-13 for language and brief violence.

© Matt Tory, 2014. 

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day : REVIEW

When luckless 11-year old Alexander experiences one of the most terrible, horrible days of his young life, he finds little sympathy from his family who all seem to have everything going their way. But he soon learns that he’s not alone in his bad luck when his parents (Jennifer Garner and Steve Carell) and siblings find themselves living a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day of their own.

To enjoy the silly antics of Alexander, one must turn off that part of their brain that questions the absurdity and simply sit back to appreciate the wacky shenanigans and surprising amount of innocent fun.

The story is obviously simple, but the cast is fully committed to selling the snowballing troubles this family find themselves in  — giving us a movie that viewers of all ages can enjoy.
It may be corny and simplistic, but Alexander’s significantly better than the average family-comedy fare pushed out by the studios today. A number of gags just don’t work, but a few of them are laugh-out-loud funny as well.

And on a side note – it might almost be worth seeing just to say you saw a Disney movie that says “penis” a number of times and has a scene with male strippers in it (believe me, it’s still family-friendly, but it was just surprisingly jarring for a Disney movie… in a good way).

Alexander is a throwback to the movies that aimed to be nothing more than simply an enjoyable time for families and viewers of all ages to spend together at the movies. It’s charming, fun, cute, and pleasant,  and not much more. But it doesn’t need to be.

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Alexander is rated PG for rude humor. Should be fine for older kids. 

© Matt Tory, 2014. 

Kill the Messenger: REVIEW

Journalist Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner) stumbles onto classified documents that implicate the CIA in illegal drug trafficking, and against all warnings vows to uncover the conspiracy and bring those responsible to justice in this suspenseful political thriller about the power of journalism.

Jeremy Renner kills it in his best performance since The Hurt Locker, but this “true story” is plagued by historical inaccuracies, and embellishes numerous facts to service its own plot. It succeeds at being a dramatic character piece, and deftly takes on a number of big subjects, but the story is occasionally slow and it just isn’t as intriguing as it could be.

Despite its factual inaccuracies, Kill the Messenger is admirable, though, for its dedication to showing us a hero committed to sharing the truth, no matter the cost. Ironic?

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Kill the Messenger is rated R for language and drug content.

© Matt Tory, 2014. 

The Skeleton Twins: REVIEW

An unexpected reunion forces estranged twins Maggie (Kristen Wiig) and Milo (Bill Hader) to come together in the midst of dark times in both of their lives. Both are confused about why their lives turned out so wrong, and their reconnection begins to show them what’s really important.

For a movie full of so much dark and depressing topics, it’s a wonder this movie is successful at being “funny” at all. But it is. And it’s great to see the SNL power team of Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader together again, taking on much more dramatic roles than we’re used to seeing these two loveable goofballs portray.

The Skeleton Twins is a bit slow, and a bit one-note, but it’s an effective story about broken, hurt people just trying to make their ways in the world, living on their own – but learning that sometimes, regardless of how much confusion and frustration it can bring, we need others to join us along the way. The Skeleton Twins is a funny, touching dramedy about troubled siblings that could have been completely depressing, but is infused with a good amount humor and heart.

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The Skeleton Twins is rated R for language and some sexual themes.

© Matt Tory, 2014. 

Gone Girl: REVIEW

Director David Fincher is a master of suspense, tension, and twisted storytelling. The man behind Fight Club, Se7en, The Social Network, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and Zodiac loves to draw us into dark, bleak, and visually-stunning stories about the lives of messed up people.
He makes the mundane into art – and Gone Girl is no exception.

On the morning of their fifth anniversary, Nick’s (Ben Affleck) beautiful wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) goes missing – and the crime scene in their home looks eerily staged. Law enforcement and an ever-growing media attention quickly cause the whole world to begin to ask the same question: Did Nick Dunne kill his wife?

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.

Gone Girl is a look at a marriage in shambles. Some may confuse the film for a profound piece of art that speaks volumes about modern marriage, but it’s ultimately just a slick, well-polished thriller about two married people who have used their marriage — and each other —  for the absolute worst reasons. It’s haunting, and it’s incredibly tense. But it’s pulpy well-crafted entertainment.

Its dark comedy brings an odd quality of humor to the chilling story, and Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike are at their absolute best in Gone Girl, both giving performances that are subtly layered and ever-changing.

And as for David Fincher, he’s simply a master of tension.  Gone Girl is not his best film, but it is still an impressive achievement in tone, character, and world-building.

Many do not respond well to Fincher’s sense of cynical storytelling, and that’s perfectly understandable. In a Fincher film, the world is a dark, sick, and hopeless place. I don’t necessarily relate to this aspect of Fincher’s films, but he is such an artist that it’s hard not to fall for the mysterious little worlds he creates.

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.
Did they ever really “love” each other in the first place?
Is the film’s conclusion actually a worse punishment for Nick than what he originally feared?
Did anyone really “win?” Or did these two miserable people get what they deserved in the end?

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.

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Gone Girl is rated R for language, sexual content, and violence. This film can be highly disturbing, and is not appropriate for any children, or anyone unable to handle this level of disturbing storytelling. It is brilliantly-made, but stay away if you are easily unsettled, frightened, or upset.

© Matt Tory, 2014. 

The Drop: REVIEW

Tom Hardy stars as a bartender who finds himself entangled in a robbery investigation that digs deeper into his history than he’d like, in this bleak, tense noir. James Gandolfini’s final film is an entertaining, smart drama about the underground crime world of Brooklyn bars, and the script is smart.

It’s a slow-burning story of greed, control, and moral ambiguity, and is compelling throughout. But by the end, The Drop brings nothing particularly original to the crime thriller genre, despite another outstanding performance from Tom Hardy.

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The Drop is rated R for language and brief violence.

© Matt Tory, 2014. 

This Is Where I Leave You: REVIEW

When their father dies, the Altman family is forced to spend a week together in the same house to honor their late father’s dying wish for them to hold a Jewish Shiva as they mourn his passing.

An incredible cast has been corralled for This is Where I Leave You, which – despite it being moderately entertaining – can’t help but feel like a sort of letdown.  Jason Bateman and Adam Driver are the film’s highlights, but Tina Fey and others’ comedic talents are completely wasted.

But the story has so many moving pieces and storylines that it’s juggling that it’s a miracle it works at all. It does, but barely. TIWILY has plenty of joyful small moments even if they don’t add up to an impressive whole.

Aside from a completely out-of-left-field plot twist towards the end that adds nothing to the story and seems forcibly added in to appeal to a certain demographic, This Is Where I Leave You is pretty entertaining throughout, and its dark comedy adequately tackles this story about how life will never be “perfect,” and how that’s okay.

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This Is Where I Leave You is rated R for language, sexual content, and drug use.

© Matt Tory, 2014. 

Calvary: REVIEW

Father James must continue to comfort his daughter and his own parishioners in the midst of a troubling threat on his own life.

Intense and dark at times, and slow and compassionate at others, Calvary is a soulful, humorous, and slow-burning drama that proves a great showcase for Brendan Gleeson. Calvary trudges along, but it’s a compelling study of broken people, of faith, and of what exactly we’re willing to die for.

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Calvary is rated R for language and brief violence. 

© Matt Tory, 2014. 

When the Game Stands Tall: REVIEW

The De La Salle High School Spartans had the longest winning streak in sports history — 151 games.

Then they lost.

When the legacy of an entire city/school/generation is resting on your shoulders, it’s more than just a football game. When The Game Stands Tall is the true story of how this group of high school students — and their fearless coach — learned to cope with the loss and grow through the trials to become a better football team and better men.

It’s easy to understand the pressures and difficulties the characters must have gone through, but their story deserved a better telling than When the Game Stands Tall. Jim Caviezel — in all his easy-going confidence — is compelling as Coach Ladoucer, but the story is just predictable and boring. 

WTGST should have tried to be its own thing instead of simply copy every other sports movie that came before it — and did it much better. All the tropes are there — the over-confident star who learns to play as part of a team, the inspirational speeches in the locker room, the nerdy kid who finally gets to play in the big game, the overbearing dad who expects too much from his child athlete — but for no real reason.

It may be an entertaining diversion for some, but When the Game Stands Tall remains a hackneyed lesser version of every other inspirational sports movie that came before it.

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When the Game Stands Tall is rated PG for thematic material and brief sports violence. It should be fine for most families!

© Matt Tory, 2014.