The Goonies sequel back on? Fuck it.

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goonies posterI have been waiting for this to situation to clear itself up before posting about it, but it appears the smoke has cleared and Richard Donner is moving forward with a sequel to The Goonies with Steven Spielberg, the original producer who also has the story credit from the original film, in hand. According to Corey Feldman via Twitter (sigh), this project is starting to get some legs. For better or worse. This could easily be another, “they are whoring out my childhood” post of which I’ve had a few in the past. I’m not going to go that route, however. Yes, I think this sequel is beyond ill-advised and enough to make me scream. Any fan of the original I would hope feels the same way. Let’s face it, the time for the sequel is past. Do we really want to see an old ass Mikey? I don’t. Corey Feldman is way too burnt out to recapture the beauty of Mouth. I, however, am always up for more Martha Plimpton in any way we can get her.

Goonies 25th Reunion

Goonies cast at the 25th Reunion

The magic of the original film was that it was kids taking charge of their own destiny outside of the adult world to make shit happen. If the sequel were to have happened, it should have happened back in 1987 or 1988 when they could still capitalize on that same feeling. To me, with the Goonies all as adults in the coming sequel (let’s hope it falls apart), it rings pretty hollow. I don’t know the storyline, but I am skeptical at best. Perhaps the thing that is most clear in all of this is how creatively bankrupt Steven Spielberg has become. When was the last original film he did? War Horse, which was a bomb (war pun intended).  Hell, Schindler’s List was the last decent movie he made, although the first 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan were really great. He’s given us one shitty Indiana Jones sequel with another likely shitty one on the way, a Lifetime movie about Abraham Lincoln salvaged only by the dynamite performance of Daniel Day-Lewis, and a handful of mediocrity (A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Catch Me If You Can, The Terminal, Amistad, Jurassic Park: The Lost World). So why wouldn’t he latch onto something that has a rabid audience? And Richard Donner? Four Lethal Weapon films and a series of bombs including 16 Blocks, Assassins and Timeline. Even if Chris Columbus, who has had his ups (Gremlins, Only the Lonely) and downs (mostly as a director – RentPercy Jackson and the Lightning Thief) comes back to write the script, I just don’t know how the recipe that worked so well is recreated. To me, this is a film that never needed a sequel at all. I know Goonies Never Say Die, but damn it, I wish the powers that be would tell this project to die and go away. I wrote this about the merits of the film and why it still resonates almost 30 thirty years later.

If it does come off, and Sean Astin says he’ll bet his children on the fact that it will, then I will see it. I will pay only a matinee price, though. And I reserve the right to skewer it further upon seeing it. In the off chance it is actually good, I will admit that. I still maintain that no sequel is necessary and the integrity of the original is what DonnerSpielberg, Columbus and any of the original cast that return are all betting with. Seems like a bad bet to me.

Rant over.

I’m a Stax Girl Myself – Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive

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only lovers - posterFans of Jim Jarmusch are likely very excited for his Only Lovers Left Alive which is to hit theaters on April 11. I personally have been waiting for nearly two years since it was announced and 7 months for it to arrive since its premiere at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival. I must admit, I was curious how Jarmusch, normally very minimal and sparse in his dialogue and production design but lush as far as visuals go, would handle the vampire genre. I’ve always had a soft spot for vampire films…or should I say good ones. Twilight and every little subgroup of teenage vampire angst and sparkle can suck it (pun intended). 30 Days of Night, now that’s a vampire movie. I wish there were a movie where Danny Huston‘s character from 30 Days tore through every shitty vampire movie eviscerating each of the whiny, navel gazing pussy vampires that seem so chic now.

Adam and Eve.

Adam and Eve.

Only Lovers Left Alive tells the story of a vampire couple, aptly named Adam (embodied fantastically by shooting star Tom Hiddleston who can’t seem to miss these days) and Eve (played exquisitely by perhaps the easiest casting choice ever, Oscar-winner Tilda Swinton). Their centuries-old love is so strong they remain bonded together despite Adam living in Detroit and Eve in Tangier, one in the new world, the other firmly entrenched in the old. Adam has huddled himself away from the world in a ramshackle home in some shabby Detroit neighborhood and focuses on creating music. He doesn’t employ the latest technology. He eschews the strides made by humans over the last 40+ years and instead employs the instruments of yesteryear, when rock and roll was far more pure, untainted by the commercial and corporate sharks that now patrol the musical waters looking for the next commodity from which to exploit and milk every last cent they can. This notion seems to mirror Adam’s distaste (damn, the flood gates are open in punville) for the humans of today. Knowing that the humans walking the earth now have become infected and diseased courtesy of their own ambivalence towards their world, Adam as well as Eve has withdrawn from feeding on them. Both have access to special suppliers of pure, untainted blood – Adam through Dr. Watson (played by Jeffrey Wright) at one of the local hospitals and Eve through the old world poet and playwright Christopher Marlowe (a top notch performance by John Hurt). But Adam is uneasy and through the help of the only human outside of Dr. Watson he can trust, his musical instrument supplier Ian (Anton Yelchin), he also obtains a wooden bullet in case the aches of this world inhabited by so much greed and rot becomes too much for him.

Adam at work.

Adam at work.

When Eve catches wind of Adam’s malaise, she hops a plane from Tangier, which isn’t an easy thing for a nightdweller to do, and flies to Detroit. When she arrives, Adam’s ills begin to fade. She is an equalizing force and comes to him at a critical junction. But as we know, these days of happiness never last and when Eve’s sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) arrives, it’s clear trouble is a-brewin’. With blood supplies low now that a third party has arrived to partake of them, Adam especially tries his best to get rid of her. After a night of partying, Ava’s actions tip the balance of the peaceful existence as Adam has feared. Forced to leave Detroit, they risk everything, including their very existence, as they attempt to return to Tangier.

Ava, the troublemaker.

Ava, the troublemaker.

I am happy to report, and this should be no surprise, that Jarmusch‘s elegant film trumps pretty much every vampire movie ever made. From top to bottom, this film shines. Shitty, overused vampire cliches are absent from this film, which helps it breathe fresh air into what has become an overwrought and stilted genre of films, which has not been helped by television either (the last three or four season of True Blood, I’m looking at you). Still present is the minimal brooding so prevalent in Jarmusch‘s films, perhaps put to its best use yet. The dark foreboding nature of the vampire is so well suited to Jarmusch‘s style of filmmaking. Couple this with the melancholy soundtrack/score provided by Josef van Wissem and it’s a home run. Jarmusch has always been able to integrate music so well into his films. This is no exception.

Together 'til the end...

Together ’til the end…

The performances by the two leads should surprise no one. Swinton is cast in a role she was made for and as I stated above Hiddleston can seem to do no wrong. They are a perfect match and their chemistry on screen is palpable. Ellen Lewis, who cast the movie and who has worked extensively with Jarmusch and Scorsese, deserves an award for this film as there really only are six roles of any substance and they must work together incredibly well or the film fails (obviously some of the credit goes to Jarmusch as well for his direction and justly so). That we only see the vampires fangs when they drink blood (from glasses and flasks not from human necks or wrists) and without the accompanying “click” so often employed these days in shows like True Blood is a wonderful touch. I would easily slate this film in my top five of Jarmusch‘s films. He’d have to make a Citizen Kane-like masterpiece to top either Stranger Than Paradise or Down By Law and he may well be capable of that. This one is pretty damn close. That he worked with longtime François Ozon director of photography, Yorick Le Saux (who also shot Luca Guadagnino‘s beautiful I Am Love), is also a perfect move. While Le Saux‘s photography doesn’t have the same raw beauty as that of Jarmusch‘s longtime collaborator Robby Müller, it does a fantastic job of setting the mood and adding depth to the film. The pacing of this film differs from past Jarmusch works in that it is a lot more dialogue-heavy and less reliant on contemplative silence and pregnant pauses (rest assured, they are still there). Like I said, top to bottom, this one is a winner. No spolier, but the ending scene is absolutely perfect and may well stick in your mind for hours after watching it. I certainly did for me.

Frankly, this is going to be like no other vampire movie you have seen in the last 25 years and may be like no other ever. Jarmusch is among the most exciting and innovative filmmakers working and each of his films is a true event in my eyes. If only we got them a little more frequently. If you’re looking for something out of the ordinary, a film to help cleanse the mental palette before the mind-numbing shockwave of summer blockbuster shit hits, I’d suggest seeing Only Lovers Left Alive. I’d like to think you’d be pleasantly surprised. There’s no doubt that this film isn’t for everyone, though. To be sure, I would highly suggest checking out some of Jarmusch‘s earlier works, Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai, Broken Flowers and Dead Man being the three that might most hit home with wider audiences.

Here’s the trailer:

Tom Berninger’s Mistaken for Strangers is a delightful little treat

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mistaken-for-strangers poster

Documentaries about musicians are popping up everywhere these days. Hell, one (Waiting for Sugar Man) even won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature in 2013. Most tend to focus on a musician’s obscurity as in Sugar Man, a band’s last hurrah as in Shut Up and Play the Hits, or a band’s rise and fall (and subsequent return) like loudQUIETloudTom Berninger‘s quasi-doc about The National, Mistaken for Strangers, is nothing like any of these…and this is precisely why it’s so good.

Brothers, for better or worse.

Brothers Tom (left) and Matt (right) Berninger, for better or worse

It seems as if the film is supposed to be a standard doc about a band on the road. Shot (mostly) and directed by the brother (Tom Berninger) of The National’s lead singer Matt Berninger, we get a familiar scenario – little brother is asked to go on tour with big brother and help out doing roadie type stuff, mostly acting as liaison/assistant to the band. Tom still lives with his parents in Cincinnati and while we don’t get much of a view into his life, we can tell that he doesn’t have much going on. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Frankly, this is one of the reasons this movie hits so many high points. Tom has a perception of the rock star lifestyle like so many of us do, you know, sex-drugs-booze fueled mischief that may lead to snorting ants or something. But that isn’t what we see.

Matt Berninger doing this thing.

Matt Berninger doing this thing.

The National’s tour is quite tame, with some drinking but nothing that lives up to his perception of the rock stars of yesteryear. For most of the film, Tom ambles through the tour not quite living up to his role, drinking too much and in general not taking what he does seriously. He films when he should be working, shirking his duties in order to get footage for the film, angering his brother and the band’s manager, Brandon Reid. His excessive drinking (which Matt refers to as the “the allergy”) gets him into more hot water and when the bus leaves him behind at a bar after a show, that’s the last straw. He is technically fired and leaves the tour, but continues to work on the film.

Mistaken_for_Strangers_1

At Matt’s house during starting post-production.

After the band returns from the tour, he moves in with his brother and his family (wife and daughter) to finish the film and record more footage of them recording their newest album “Trouble Will Find Me” released this past year. The dynamics between the brothers is noticeably less confrontational than it was while on tour, but Matt, in a scene that hilariously opens the film, urges his brother to find a direction for the film as it seems he is just flying by the seat of his pants without an agenda or blueprint for what is filming. Once he has a rough cut of the film, he screens it for friends, family and the band before a performance. In typical Job-like fashion, the film cuts out in the middle and the screening is never completed. Teetering on disaster, Matt encourages Tom to complete the film, finally finishing something that he started, a theme that resonates in Tom‘s life as confirmed in interviews with his mother and father in the film. So what starts out to be a road trip doc about a mid-level band making waves in the rock world really turns into a story about two brothers and their relationship.

The band with Tom in filing.

The band getting ready to gig with Tom in filming in the background.

This film is funny, sad, frustrating and wonderful all wrapped up into a 75-minute story. It encompasses what I love about the documentary form – you never know what you’re going to get. Formula is thrown out the window as this film really follows no narrative rules and probably should work as well as it does. Shot mostly on a hand-held HD camera by Tom Berninger and Matt‘s wife Carin Besser, the film has an amateurish quality that really succeeds since it so reminiscent of the home movies of all of our youth. And one can’t help but to cheer for Tom as the film unfolds because you can tell the guy just needs to catch a break.

If you are into The National as a band or have an interest in watching two brothers hash out their problems (one happening to be a famous singer), then this is a film for you. Also, you get some really interesting famous people cameos as an added bonus (Werner Herzog, Emily Blunt, John Krasinski and Will Arnett to name a few). Overall, this is a very solid and unexpectedly touching film and like I said, it’s definitely something different in the documentary arena.

Here’s the trailer:

March 24, 1984…30 years ago today, The Breakfast Club fictitiously took place.

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breakfast club - poster

“…And these children
that you spit on
as they try to change the worlds
are immune to your consultations.
They’re quite aware
of what they’re going through…” – David Bowie

I am a terribly nostalgic person and this is a movie I hold in the highest regard. As I trundle along in this life, I reflect back on my youth a fair amount. Movies are easily used signposts in this reflection. Thinking about this film, that I was 10 going on 11 when I saw it, gives me pause. In the intervening 29 years (29 FUCKING YEARS!!!) that have passed since then, I, like many of my peers, have come a long way. I honestly don’t think my child-self and therefore my adult-self would be the same without films like The Breakfast Club (or John Hughes‘ entire oeuvre for that matter).

A criminal, a princess, a brain, an athlete and a basket case...

A criminal, a princess, a brain, an athlete and a basket case…

Also, here‘s a great list of trivia about the film. That is all. Back to your standard programming…

Today is Michael Caine’s birthday – what better way to celebrate than with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon’s Caine impersonations?

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caine - gcSo, today is Michael Caine‘s birthday. I reckon he’s pretty good at what he does, this whole acting business. He’s won two Oscars, both for Best Supporting Actor, in Hannah and Her Sisters and The Cider House Rules. He’s been Alfred Pennyworth in Christopher Nolan‘s Dark Knight Trilogy, was in classics like Get Carter, the original Italian Job, the original Alfie, Victory, A Bridge Too Far, Sleuth and who could forget his turn as Lawrence Jamieson in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Check it:

But the real reason to post today about Mr. Caine is also to really post Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon‘s fantastic impersonations of Caine.

Here’s Caine:

Now check out Coogan and Brydon. They are spot-fucking-on:

So if you’re feeling up to it, give a Caine film a spin today. Try The Quiet American. It’s pretty good despite Brendan Fraser being in it. The old boy is 81 and who knows how much longer he’ll be around. I will say this – he should have kept his given name rather than change it for acting. Maurice Micklewhite is pretty badass.

Streamer of the Week – Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha

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frances ha posterNoah Baumbach burst onto the cinematic scene with the triple-hilarious Kicking and Screaming, anointed by the Criterion Collection as an important contemporary film good enough to be collected alongside master like Akira Kurosawa, Jean Remoir, Jean-Luc Godard and Federico Fellini among others. His work has evolved over time, often abandoning the comedic nature of his first feature for more dramatic fare such as The Squid and the Whale and Margot at the Wedding. His return to the more comedic arena happened with 2013′s Frances Ha, featuring almost exclusively Greta Gerwig who appeared in his underwhelming Greenberg. Few actresses have a persona that carries through their roles that is as infectiously fun as Greta Gerwig. And it is on full display here in Frances Ha.

Frances, in all her glory.

Frances, in all her glory.

The story of the film is pretty simple. Frances is an apprentice dancer in a company in New York City. She understands that she’s not very good, but sallies forth in this, her chosen “profession” trying to make it work. She teaches kids’ ballet classes on the side to help supplement her income. She has a boyfriend (Michael Esper) who is really doing it for her on really any level. She and her best friend Sophie (Mickey Sumner, daughter of musician Sting) are like two peas in a pod and it’s with Sophie that she finds her true soul mate. But when Sophie takes things to the next level with her boyfriend/fiancee Patch (Patrick Heusinger), she breaks the team up, moves out and isn’t there for Frances as much. From here, things spiral downward quickly for Frances as she finds herself out of the dance company with no boyfriend and a best friend who is moving along with her life and leaving her behind.

Frances and Sophie slapboxing, two peas in a pod.

Frances and Sophie slapboxing, two peas in a pod.

A gender twist on the standard Knocked Up-like man/child storyline except far superior to anything Judd Apatow has ever committed to the big screen, Frances Ha is quirky, funny and pertinent. We can’t help but to wince as Frances makes poor choice after poorer choice time and time again. That said, she does it with humor and a touch of grace throughout. Here is Frances at her finest:

Shot in beautiful black and white by Wendy & Lucy DP Sam Levy, Frances Ha jumps off the screen. With great cameos by GirlsAdam Driver and Kicking and Screaming‘s Josh Hamilton, this film is populated with funny and interesting characters that add value to every scene. And to add, another testament to how awesome Greta Gerwig is, she also co-wrote the film with Baumbach. She is a talented lady and I truly believe she deserved an Oscar nomination for her performance. Top-notch in every way.

This film is available for streaming on Netflix and YouTube.

Here’s the trailer:

New Fletch movie starring Jason Sudeikis?

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It’s been a while since I did an out and out rant about something stupid that Hollywood is doing, so lucky for you here’s another one:

Jason Sudeikis playing Fletch in a new origin film based on the Gregory MacDonald novels which spawned the iconic Chevy Chase films Fletch and Fletch Lives in the 80s.

fletch - using the whole fist

You using the whole fist, doc?

It was bad enough when Kevin Smith had wanted to restart the Fletch franchise using Jason Lee in the title role. Now this. I understand it might be a new take on the material, less comedic and grittier, but I really have to ask, is this fucking necessary? Perhaps Hollywood execs should spend more time poking around on The Black List for original, thought-provking scripts rather than reimagining films that fucking worked the first time around. And Jason Sudeikis? Fucking really? Were Colin Quinn or Sinbad not available? I’m just not sure they could have chosen a less funny person other than those two to take the role.

I may not be funny, but I do wear funny hats!

I may not be funny, but I do wear funny hats!

Hollywood’s obsession with repurposing existing films/franchises/tv shows/video games/board games, etc. needs to fucking end and the only way that happens is if people don’t pay to see this shit. So it’s on you folks out there. Don’t pay your hard earned money for shit like this. You’re better than that. Do us all a solid and buy Long John Silver’s instead.

End rant.

Now, watch Chevy Chase holding it down in the original:

A Quick Note on Todd Sklar’s Awful Nice

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awful nice posterImagine yourself, your father just having died. You are tasked with finding your brother who has been off the grid for some time to bring him home for the funeral. When you finally track him down, you find him naked and passed out in a tee-pee on a Native American reservation. What are your thoughts? Something like, “This is going to go well” ? Probably not. And that’s precisely the situation Jim Brouillette (James Pumphrey) finds himself in. His brother Dave (the fucking hilarious Alex Rennie, who co-wrote the film as well as the short film ’92 Skybox Alonzo Mourning Rookie Card on which Awful Nice is based), is the family screw-up who has never been able to hold down a steady job or create anything remotely resembling a life for himself. He and Jim are polar opposites and that’s what makes their relationship so damn funny. Jim is married, has a 4-year old son, has published a book and holds a steady job at a university. His only care in the world outside of these things is cheering on the Minnesota Twins. So when his world is toppled so that he and Dave can go sell their Dad’s lake house that he left them in his will, he doesn’t react terribly well.

Of course lingering family issues bubble to the top, mostly about how Jim is the golden child and everything has gone easily for him. In one of the funniest scenes in movie (of which there are quite a few), the two brothers come to blows, both verbally and physically after having a chugging contest at the dinner table essentially ruining their father’s funeral.

And so the sibling rivalry begins anew...

And so the sibling rivalry begins anew…

To anyone who has a brother and feels remotely competitive with him, this scene really hits home. So, once they decide to make the trip to scope out and sell the lake house, it’s road trip time, which takes on another set of humorous interactions and fights, sibling rivalry at its finest. Once they get to the house, however, they realize that the trip is not going to be a wham-bam-thank you-ma’am effort. The place is trashed, fallen victim to squatters and it really needs to have some work done in order to get it in shape to be sold. After consulting their father’s good friend and business partner, Jon Charbineau (a wonderfully hairpieced Christopher Meloni), they decide in lieu of having actual contractors fix the place up, that they will honor their father by working together to get it ready. Needless to say, this goes horribly and hilariously awry.

Two brothers, broken.

Two brothers, broken.

I love movies about brothers. I always have. I have a very strong relationship with my own brother and we were fortunate to never really fight with one another while growing up. So I always get extra laughs out of seeing those that do because it is such an anomaly to me. And the relationship between Jim and Dave in this films is so extreme that it begs you to laugh at them. Dave dedicates such a tremendous amount of energy antagonizing Jim and pushing him over the edge that he narrowly misses pushing the relationship into ridiculous territory. This is where execution is everything. Alex Rennie is the star of the show as he is able to bring the seemingly normal and well adjusted Jim to his level…and trust me, this is a level is at the bottom of the barrel.

Do you know where my Alonzo Mourning rookie card is? It's probably worth $10,000 now.

Do you know where my Alonzo Mourning rookie card is? It’s probably worth $10,000 now.

Literally every interaction Dave has with another human is rife with nihilistic sarcasm (is this even a thing?), but his resolve never wavers. He is true to his nature and that I appreciate. While the general conceit of the film is flimsy, I didn’t even care because I just wanted to see these two scrap over every single little detail of whatever task was at hand. That Dave was able to raise the bar of absurdity each time made it all the better. And to put this out there, I would watch the hockey scene in this on a continuous loop for the running time of this film. So. Damn. Funny. And it warms this heart to see Dave shotgunning multiple cans of Hamm’s throughout the film. That, too, is a HUGE selling point.

Branson, fried chicken and shotgunning beers - 'Murica!

Branson, fried chicken and shotgunning beers – ‘Murica!

This is one of the funniest films I’ve seen in the last year and despite its missteps, I would gladly recommend this one to anyone looking for a laugh. This film brings the funny at every turn. Is it excessive? Yes. Is it low-brow? In spots, perhaps. Does that change its comedic value? Hell no. So grab some beers and get ready to shotgun because you won’t be able to help yourself after watching this one.

Here’s the trailer:

Also, be sure to check out my review over at Cinemit.com!

My Impressions of the 2014 Academy Awards

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So the 86th Academy Awards have come and gone and now that we’ve had a week to digest what happened in the Dolby Theatre on Sunday, now it’s time to sort it all out – what, if anything, did the Academy get right and what did they get wrong? Who better to tell you than your old buddy, Harmonov?

It was good to see Ellen Degeneres back at the helm. Seth McFarlane filled his role last year, but I wasn’t terribly excited about him as the host. Ellen told great jokes, skewered Hollywood quite nicely and kept the incredibly boring show rolling despite the producers’ best efforts to make it the worst show in memory. Ellen made the show fun despite the selfie non-sense. I guess some people eat that shit up. Not this guy. And I did appreciate Ellen looking like she just finished presenting a case in the House of Lords sans the ridiculous ass wig.

aa2014 - ellen host

And let’s face it, folks – the “Hero” theme this year was as fucking awful as the “Musical” theme from last year. The montages were boring (way too much Tom Cruise) and the Pink/Wizard of Oz tribute was preposterous. With Liza Minnelli sitting in the office, we get Pink to do this? Come the fuck on. And let’s be serious, why do the damn thing at all, right?

aa2014 pink wizard

The pizza delivery may well have been the high point of the non-award shenanigans. Should I really enjoyed watching Jennifer Lawrence scarfing down a slice of pizza as much as I did? Who am I kidding – I didn’t really care at all, although I think we were all secretly waiting for her to drop it on her dress.

Brad Pitt, Ellen DeGeneres

So on to the awards…

Director and producer McQueen celebrates after accepting the Oscar for best picture with Nyong'o at the 86th Academy Awards in Hollywood

While it seemed that Gravity, who had swiped seven awards up to the time when Best Picture was announced, might pull off the win, I’m happy to say that the Academy got this one right with 12 Years a Slave taking home the Oscar. I’ve said for months it was the strongest film of the year and it’s nice that the voters actually agreed. I do wonder, especially in light of the two anonymous Academy voters saying they voted for 12 Years a Slave without having seen it, if Ellen was right when she quipped that either “a)12 Years a Slave will win Best picture or b) You’re all racists.” I think I saw all but 8 or 9 of all the films nominated in every category. I who am a professional (well…let’s not rush to judgment there) with a 40-hour+/week job and two kids was somehow able to see that many of the films. Get your fucking act in gear Academy. Anyhither, this was a two-pony race for the last few weeks with American Hustle falling by the wayside.  I will say this – get a documentary into the Best Picture category. There is too much going on in that arena of film to be denied consideration. I will address this later on.

86th Annual Academy Awards - ShowIt was great to see Alfonso Cuarón pull out the win for Gravity, but I will still pulling for Steve McQueen. He more than deserved one for Children of Men, one of my favorite films of the aughts. Likewise, McQueen should have had one for Hunger as well. I feel certain that we will see more from them both in the future that will merit awards consideration. There was no villain for me to root against in this category this year like there was with Spielberg last year. I would have even been fine with David O. Russell winning for American Hustle, which came home with a goose egg, winning no Oscars in the ten categories it was nominated. Shame, really, because it was very good. And a quick note – Cuarón is the first man born of Latino heritage to take home the Best Director award (McQueen would have been the first African-American to do so), so this was a historic night. Let’s not lose sight of that. In a category that has been cornered by white men (Kathryn Bigelow and Ang Lee are the only two from minority populations to have won this award), Cuarón‘s win was historic. I feel like this was lost somehow.

aa2014 lupitaThe Best Supporting Actress category was another that was mildly close until the voting ended. Academy voters had a choice – award Hollywood “it” girl Jennifer Lawrence with back-to-back Oscars at age 23 (obviously the youngest to do so) for a performance in American Hustle that I wouldn’t even consider one of the best five of the year (it was still good, though) as an ignored New Jersey housewife or give the award to Lupita Nyong’o for her brave performance as Patsey, a tortured slave and the object of affection for her brutal owner. Seemed like a no-brainer and I’m glad the Academy chose wisely. So often they fall on the wrong side. June Squibb and Sally Hawkins were both sentimental favorites of sorts knowing that neither had a chance. Hawkins‘ turn was nothing short of amazing and to stand out when acting alongside Cate Blanchett in what amounts to her signature starring role, is no small feat. She charmed again just like she did in Happy-Go-Lucky. She is simply fantastic and I always look forward to how she crafts her characters. June Squibb gave us without a doubt the funniest performance in any of the acting categories. I was so glad that they showed the cemetery clip from Nebraska for the nominees sequence. I laughed heartily at that scene. Julia Roberts…you can suck it. If ever there was a token nomination, this is a great example. Still building her characters exactly the same as she did 20 years ago, it’s good to see the Academy recognizing the range in her work. What a fucking joke. There were at least ten performances that deserved a nomination over hers. And this is why I can’t help but to question the merit of the Academy voters. Sigh.

aa2014 letoThe Best Supporting Actor was a race that was wrapped up months ago with Jared Leto taking home the Oscar for his role as Rayon, the transsexual business partner of Ron Woodroof in Dallas Buyers Club. It was a great performance, but I still say this award should have gone to Michael Fassbender for 12 Years a Slave. Both of the films were important as were the roles and performances, but Let‘s performance didn’t leave anywhere near the impact that Fassbender‘s did. And let me point this out…Jordan Catalano now has an Oscar. Who’d a thunk? I thought this was the weakest set of nominations in the acting groups with Jonah Hill and Bradley Cooper both stretches to be honored alongside Leto, Fassbender and Barkhad Abdi, who I thought was just fantastic in Captain Phillips. I thought that Casey Affleck (Out of the Furnace) and Ryan Gosling (Place Beyond the Pines) were the two better choices in this category.

aa2014 mcconaugheyThis one was settled months ago as well and it’s hard to get mad at this pick. The story was important and the performance was spot-on (this is hard for me to admit), but to me it wasn’t even his best performance of the year (see Mud people…for serious). My vote would have gone Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave. Obviously I’ve made no bones about it being what I believe to be the best film of the year and its success was steeped in the three key performances - Ejiofor, Nyong’o and Fassbender (Sarah Paulson‘s is nothing to scoff at either). Christian Bale landing a nod here was worthy, but not the strongest of his career. Despite American Hustle scoring 10 nominations, it seemed that Bale was lost in the shuffle of everything else. I thought DiCaprio shone quite brightly in The Wolf of Wall Street, which is also very hard to admit. Bruce Dern took it on the chin for his age at every awards show, but he was fantastic, although if you’re going to laud him, his work for The ‘Burbs should be heavily considered.

aa2014 blanchettThis was the toughest one for me to choose who I wanted to win. When I saw Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine this past summer, I knew it was a performance to be reckoned with, standard for her. She brings it every time and is without a doubt my favorite actress working today. However, Amy Adams is just as consistent and I thought her performance in American Hustle was the best part of that film. She has been nominated five times and has been deserving of the award every year. She will get hers at some point in what I believe is the very near future, but this one was tough. Meryl Streep broke the record for most nomination by an actor/actress for her role in August: Osage County, an over the top performance that really doesn’t stack up against most of the other 17 she’s received. We get it Academy, you love Meryl. We do, too, but seriously, it dilutes the importance of the nomination when you give her one for every fucking performance. STOP. Sandra Bullock was okay in Gravity, but once again, I don’t think she’s got a tremendous amount of range and frankly without the special effects to keep the eyes busy, I doubt she gets a nod. Judi Dench was good in Philomena, but she is like Meryl in that if it’s a serious role outside of the Bond films, she’ll get a nod. Her Irish accent needed some work as well.

And with Blanchett’s win, we did get to see this:

aa204 blanchett ddl

Her and Daniel Day-Lewis together on the same stage…I’m surprised the world was not swallowed in a vortex of badassery because that’s precisely what this is. Worth watching the show for this one shot alone…

aa2014 lubezki

And I just wanted to say how happy I was to see Emmanuel Lubezki finally win and Oscar for cinematography. His work with Terrence Malick in The Tree of Life and The New World as well as his photography in Cuaróns Children of Men were all the best nominated in those years. Now, if we can just get Roger Deakins one, all will be right in the category.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t once again say that Joshua Oppenheimer‘s The Act of Killing losing the Best Documentary Feature award to 20 Feet from Stardom shows what pussies the Academy can be. That The Act of Killing was not nominated for Best Picture was tragedy enough, but losing this is truly unconscionable. This is a film that will have (and already has) long tern change in Indonesia and helps opens people’s eyes to an atrocity that had American backing (although this isn’t explicitly said in the film) and makes us question our roles as accomplices in acts as despicable as what occurred in Indonesia in 1965 and the lasting effect it still has. Watch the film, people. Get to Netflix asap. I don’t want to take anything away from 20 Feet from Stardom because it is a fine film, one which I enjoyed very much, and the stories of the backup singers in it are compelling, but it just doesn’t even compare on any level to the reach that The Act of Killing has had and will have. I was lucky enough to sit in a room with Oppenheimer last week and have him explain this film, his motivation for making it and how it affects us all and came out even more convinced that this film losing this award is an artistic tragedy. Much in the same way they passed up Brokeback Mountain and Paradise Now, the Academy went with the safe bet. I can’t abide that. Film is a medium that can provoke thought, start discussions and cause people to act (see Blackfish). It’s at its best when it does so. The Academy missed an opportunity to being forth discussion.

Another year in the books and another year until I get to bitch about something that really has no relevance to the world outside of a group of super rich people jerking each other off over taking at last $8 from us each time we visit the theater to see one of their creations. Funny that.

If I Had Chosen the Academy Award Winners and Nominees – 2014 Edition

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So we are less than a week away from the Oscar ceremony, so I now feel like it’s my turn to chime in on what I think the best films in the major categories were and who should win.

I did this last year and felt pretty good about my choices. In hindsight, the only change I would make is that I wish I listed The Invisible War in both the Best Documentary Feature and Best Picture categories because the more I think about it as a film and the impact it has had, it should have merited more consideration. I think it’s a stronger film than Searching for Sugar Man, which is still a fantastic film.

Let’s do this:

Best Picture

oscars - 12 yearsThe Act of Killing
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints
American Hustle
Blue Is the Warmest Color
Frances Ha
Gravity
Her
Inside Llewyn Davis
12 Years a Slave* (winner)
Upstream Color

I listed 10 films instead of the nine that the Academy nominated because I felt that these 10 represented the best films of the year, although there were plenty that could have slid into contention. I’ve try to make it painfully obvious that 12 Years a Slave is the best film of the year. From top to bottom, it is lush with fantastic acting and technical merit. Steve McQueen, whose two previous feature films were equally good, is at the top of his game here. As is typical, the Academy chose bigger studio fare over edgier films. The Act of Killing is a film that equals the power of 12 Years a Slave and I find it ridiculous that the Academy didn’t give it consideration in this category. Chicken shits. Maybe if Harvey Weinstein had been pushing it, it would have ended up with the nod. Gravity is a film that I struggled with, moving it off and keeping it on this list repeatedly. Ultimately, I decided it deserved a spot. I think Alfonso Cuarón makes really fantastic films (I think Children of Men is criminally underrated), but ultimately it had too much of a Titanic-in-space feel to it to have me slot it in the top spot. The effects are insanely mesmerizing, though, which is something Cuarón is very good at handling as a director (once again, see Children of Men).  I still can’t believe that the Coen BrothersInside Llewyn Davis was essentially shut out. What a joke. This film can easily be seen as a companion piece to the Best Picture-nominated A Serious Man and Oscar Issac‘s lead performance is simply stunning. Upstream Color is a film that would likely put off 9 of every 10 viewers, so it’s no surprise that it was not nominated for the Oscar. I would argue it is the most inventive film of the year and another triumph for writer/director/actor Shane Carruth who is joined as ably by Amy Seimetz.

Best Director

oscars - 12 years mcqueen

Shane CarruthUpstream Color
Joel & Ethan Coen – Inside Llewyn Davis
Alfonso Cuarón -  Gravity
Steve McQueen12 Years a Slave* (winner)
Joshua Oppenheimer - The Act of Killing* (winner)

As stated above, McQueen brought his A-game to 12 Years a Slave. This film is to slavery films what Schindler’s List is to Holocaust films. It’s that important and McQueen is a large part of that. Some say he is a sadist, that he revels in the pain that his films portray. I don’t agree with that. While his films do depict a tremendous amount of pain, they do so with a distance that allows the viewer to see these acts and reflect on their heinousness and how they apply to the world at large rather than situating the viewer in the position to view the film just to watch them squirm. McQueen gives it to us raw, but trusts us sort out what we see. I appreciate that. I can’t speak highly enough of Joshua Oppenheimer‘s work on The Act of Killing. It is a film that will forever stick with me and the effort and extent to which he went to create this film is just astounding. This is a film that enlightens, sickens and never redeems, which is an important lesson since life is often reflects this same pattern. That this film is a documentary is all the more amazing. Oppenheimer and co-producers Werner Herzog and Errol Morris (two of the finest documentarians in the history of the genre) did an AMA on reddit just yesterday which is chock full of worthy insights about the film. Check it out, here. They do a far better job at describing the film and its virtues.

Best Actress

blue-warmest-color

oscars - cate

Amy AdamsAmerican Hustle
Cate Blanchett - Blue Jasmine* (winner – tie)
Adèle Exarchopoulos - Blue Is the Warmest Color* (winner – tie)
Greta Gerwig - Frances Ha
Brie LarsonShort Term 12

This, to me, was the hardest category to pick a winner. All five of the amazing women I would have nominated knocked their roles out of the park and each of them are deserving of an Oscar for their performances. Blanchett absolutely stunned me in Blue Jasmine, but then again, she does this even in roles like hers in The Shipping News (a shitty film to be sure, but damn she was solid). She is an equal to the likes of Daniel Day-Lewis. Meryl Streep and Phillip Seymour Hoffman (RIP), all chameleons in the roles they choose/chose. Exarchopolous blew me away in Blue Is the Warmest Color, the 3-hour tale of Adele’s maturation and metamorphosis from youth to adult. The range that Exarchopolous is able to achieve in the role is truly noteworthy and I can’t wait to see more from her. Just fantastic. Brie Larson actually received my vote for the Independent Spirit Awards for her role as troubled teen facility manager Grace. She, like Exarchopolous, are throwbacks to Hollywood’s Golden Age of acting, able to convey so much emotion without speaking a single word, just by using her eyes and gestures. After cutting her teeth in Showtime’s The United States of Tara, I knew we would see great things from her. Greta Gerwig is quickly becoming one of my favorite people to watch on film. Her collaboration with Noah Baumbach in Frances Ha is just the jumping off point for many people who may not have been exposed to her earlier work in the “mumblecore” arena in works by Joe Swanberg and the Duplass Brothers as well as in Whit Stillman‘s fantastic Damsels in DistressAmy Adams is well past getting her Oscar. She’s been in the unfortunate position the last few years to be up against Hollywood darlings like Anne Hathaway, Cate Blanchett and co-actress in The FighterMelissa Leo. Her day will come and hopefully, it will come soon. She is spot-on in everything she does.

Best Actor

oscars - chiwetel

Chiwetel Ejiofor12 Years a Slave* (winner)
Oscar IsaacInside Llewyn Davis
Matthew McConaughey Dallas Buyers Club
Joaquin Phoenix - Her
Tye Sheridan Mud

While not as strong of a class of performances as the women, these five performances were quite incredible. McConaughey is a lock to win the Oscar and he was truly outstanding in Dallas Buyers Club (his best since Dazed & Confused), but I truly think this award goes to Chiwetel Ejiofor for his role as Solomon Northup in 12 Years a Slave. I already said it’s the best film of the year and Ejiofor‘s performance is a large reason as to why. A strong, measured approach, Ejiofor embodies the struggle that Northup had to go trough making it visceral. Two scenes absolutely broke me while watching this – the hanging scene (if you’ve seen it, you know what I’m talking about) and when he finally gives over, singing the song to honor the fallen slave in the field. These are the two most powerful scenes in film this year, and plenty of the others come from Ejiofor’s castmates. I’ve mentioned it before, but Oscar Isaac was completely robbed for Inside Llewyn Davis. Playing another Coen Brothers lovable loser, Oscar‘s performance transcended the film and left one of the more lasting impressions for me this year. It’s unfortunate that Jeff NicholsMud has been so overlooked this year and in that same vein, that Tye Sheridan has gotten barely a whisper of praise for his performamce. Self-assured to the point you’d think he’s been acting for years, Sheridan had only acted in one film prior to Mud and that was the exquisite Tree of Life (directed by the one and only Terrence Malick). I expect great things from in the future as he has six new projects lined up or in some form of production. With the arrival of Her, I think many people can agree that we are happy that the supposed rap career of Joaquin Phoenix was a hoax. A sublime film and an equally sublime performance, it’s easy to see why Phoenix is one of the most exciting actors working.

Best Supporting Actress

oscars - lupita

Sally HawkinsBlue Jasmine
Daniella Kertesz - World War Z
Rooney Mara - Ain’t Them Bodies Saints
Lupita Nyong’o - 12 Years a Slave* (winner)
June SquibbNebraska
Kristin Scott ThomasOnly God Forgives

This is a category that I literally could not whittle down to five nominees, so suck it, Academy. I would have nominated six women. That Sally Hawkins was not overshadowed by Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine should be a testament to how strong her performance really is. She holds her own and that is no small feat. A broken record, I know, but Lupita Nyong’o takes the trophy home in this category. As Patsey in 12 Years a Slave, she personifies the different dangers that female slaves, especially those favored by their white owners, faced – rape, torture and drawing the ire of the white mistresses. I was completely blown away by her. She is currently locked in a dogfight with Hollywood “it girl” Jennifer Lawrence for the Oscar, but truth be told, Lawrence‘s performance doesn’t hold a candle to any of the six I’ve mentioned here. Perhaps the biggest surprise here might be Daniella Kertesz. Her ballsy, hard-as-nails Israeli soldier in World War Z was one of the few bright spots of a totally uneven and often times silly movie. I could have watched a film solely about her character Segen. June Squibb made me laugh so damn hard during Nebraska and she completely deserves this nomination. Kristin Scott-Thomas goes full Don Logan is this film which was quite polarizing for the few who saw it. All the same, much fun to see her pull off a gangster. Rooney Mara is starting to show off her chops and I believe that Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is her coming out party. She did well with the Lisbeth Salander role, but she had another film to base it off of. Her we see her full potential and I look forward to seeing more from her.

Best Supporting Actor

oscars - fassbender

Barkhad Abdi – Captain Phillips
Casey Affleck – Out of the Furnace
Michael Fassbender12 Years a Slave* (winner)
Ryan GoslingThe Place Beyond the Pines
Jared Leto - Dallas Buyers Club

FASSBENDER. It’s hard to say how much I enjoy watching this man work. As deplorable as his character is in 12 Years a Slave, he crafts one of the great villains this year. Immersive, Fassbender continues to amaze in every role he undertakes. GET THIS MAN AN OSCAR. Casey Affleck continues his triumphs as he chooses grittier roles. While the film may have been uneven, his turn was a bright spot. Barkhad Abdi in his first film role wows as the chief pirate trying to overtake the ship in Captain Phillips. I thought he would be a frontrunner for this award, but everyone knows Jared Leto has this one sewn up. It’s hard to believe Jordan Catalano will be an Oscar-winner. I must admit he is better than I thought he could be, but I think there is something to be said for the many transgendered actors out there not having a shot at the role. Ryan Gosling continues his ascent by delivering a nuanced performance as the motorcycle-riding bank robber trying to do well my his baby son in The Place Beyond the Pines. This was an overlooked performance (and film, in fact) due to its early release date last April. Oscar voters have short memories, apparently. Shame, really.

Best Documentary

oscars - act of killingThe Act of Killing
Blackfish
Medora
Stories We Tell
Bending Steel

I’m not sure if it’s my age or what, but the older I get the more documentaries I watch. This is an area of film that is budding with possibility and so exciting to watch. My list of films in this category differs completely from the Academy’s. No surprise. I’ve spoken about The Act of Killing ad nauseum here, so I won’t expound on it much more. It is one of the two best films of the year and it deserves any and all accolades it gets and plenty of those that other films steal away from it. That Blackfish got no Oscar nod is one of the great tragedies of the year. The film, which details the life of killer whale Tilikum at SeaWorld (who has killed three people, including two trainers), sheds light on animals in captivity and how wrong it is. Incredibly gripping and in almost any other year, this would get my vote for the win. Sarah Polley‘s Stories We Tell is also another notable Academy Award nominee omission that deserves great praise. A story centered around the mystery of who is really the father of the director (also an accomplished actress – see Atom Egoyan‘s magnificent The Sweet Hereafter as well as Hal Hartley‘s pertinent No Such Thing). This gripping story filmed with the help of her family and the man who she thought was her father for 20 years, one can’t help but to be swept up in the tale’s twists and turns. This film is a phenomenal achievement. Medora is simply fantastic. On the surface, it’s about a struggling high school basketball team in small town Indiana, but it’s really a metaphor for the loss of small town America. Davy Rothbart and Andrew Cohn did for high school basketball what Undefeated did for high school football. It’s a shame it didn’t grab the same amount of buzz that Undefeated did. Bending Steel is a film that likely few have seen. It is still touring on the festival circuit awaiting distribution. It is about Chris “Wonder” Schoeck, an introverted personal trainer, and his quest to become an Oldetime Strongman, bending steel bars, horseshoes, tearing decks of cards, etc. A really engaging character piece about the literal triumph of man versus the elements. I can’t speak highly enough of it.

Best Original Screenplay

oscars - upstream color Andrew BujalskiComputer Chess
Noah Baumbach & Greta GerwigFrances Ha
Spike JonzeHer
Ethan & Joel CoenInside Llewyn Davis
Shane CarruthUpstream Color* (winner)

When I think original screenplay, I look for thought-provoking material that pushes the boundaries of what we expect from story. It is rare that we see the really original films nominated in this category and it’s a shame. We all know that Hollywood really is a mechanism to bring in money, so the truly original films have to find a niche audience if they want to succeed, which is a shame. I’m not saying that more conventional films can’t have great screenplays, because they can. But too often are these awards handed out for lackluster films that do not innovate in the way the story is told or the situations that the characters are positioned. I mean, fucking Gladiator was nominated in this category. How good was that script really? Recycled from Spartacus with a few changes and there you go. Boo, hiss. Let’s not forget Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Memento neither one scored this award, and who can argue that those are two of the most orignal, best executed scripts of the last 25 years? So, Upstream Color to me was the clear winner in this category. It is like nothing I’ve ever seen and is a film that kept me thinking for weeks after seeing it. To synopsize it is nearly impossible. It involves a mind control powder taken from worms that is used to bilk people out of their money. Check it out on Netflix. It will blow your mind. Her is such an inventive turn for a romantic comedy/quasi-science fiction film. Spike Jonze may well win the Oscar in this category and he would get my vote in that group of nominees. Computer Chess is another film that unfortunately flew under the radar for most folks. Rare is the movie that really captures the essence of the 80s as well as this film does. From its photography to its premise (creating computer chess programs in archais computer languages to battle against each other), this film is the 80s personified. And Frances Ha‘s brilliance lies in its dialogue, captured so beautifully by Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig. This is great set of films, most of which too few people have seen.

Best Adapted Screenplay

oscars - 12 years poster

Steve Coogan & Jeff Pope - Philomena
Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Richard LinklaterBefore Midnight
Abdellatif Kechiche & Ghalia LacroixBlue Is the Warmest Color
John Ridley12 Years a Slave* (winner)
Terence Winter – The Wolf of Wall Street

The process of adaptation can’t be easy. Usually the source material is far more expansive than one film can handle, so whittling it down to make a coherent story usually takes some license. However, when it works it can be magical. 12 Years a Slave fits this bill as I think John Ridley‘s script gives us the highest highs and the lowest lows of Solomon Northup’s journey. I was quite surprised by Philomena, I must admit. This is a film that is pure Oscar bait and it’s no wonder that Harvey Weinstein is pushing it out so hard, certainly his forte. But the way Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope fashioned the story caught me by surprise. I was entranced the entire time and wasn’t expecting that. I will say that The Magdalene Sisters is a far better film on the same subject, but Philomena is still very good. Blue Is the Warmest Color is a tremendous feat and worth every minute of the heartbreak and ebullient love. A finely crafted screenplay and worthy of a nod. Terence Winter‘s script for The Wolf of Wall St. is cheeky and smug and very representative of its protagonist, Jordan Belfort. Before Midnight, the third film in the collab between Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy and Richard Linklater, is just as endearing as the other two, and I find it hard to believe that I would ever have said that about any of them.

Best Cinematography

oscars - gravityShane Carruth - Upstream Color
Benoît Debie – Spring Breakers
Emmanuel LubezkiGravity* (winner)
Adam StoneMud
Bradford YoungAin’t Them Bodies Saints

This is a category that can literally make a mediocre film shine. Spring Breakers fits this bill. A tale of youth gone wild on Spring Break in Florida is average at best with an overinflated sense of edge by having two former Disney princesses (Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez) booze and fuck and do drugs while hanging out with gangsters. However, Benoît Debie‘s photography makes this a far more watchable film. Capturing the colors and the brightness of Florida, Debie elevates this film to heights that it couldn’t have reached without it. It will be no shock when Emmanuel Lubezki finally hoists the Oscar on Sunday. Frankly, he deserved it for both Children of Men and The Tree of Life, but here he will at last taste victory. Almost shot entirely in a space setting, he is able to catch every little detail and add lushness to a landscape of vast emptiness. No small feat. Bradford Young I would compare to Ben Richardson, whose photography in Beasts of the Southern Wild was last year’s best. An up-and-comer, I expect great things. Adam Stone is a wild card here, but his ability to capture the southern river culture in Mud was incredible. And once again, I can’t speak highly enough of Shane Carruth‘s work in Upstream Color. From the palette he used to the angles of the shots, the photography was fully integrated into the film creating this fully formed organism acting like the drug culled from the worms in the film – invading you and taking over your being. This film is so damn good. Watch it, people.

So there you have it, a little long-winded, but those are my picks for the major categories at the Oscars. It’s really a shame that I can’t vote for them. I saw all but 5 films out of everything nominated for an Oscar. Chances are I would be a better judge of what should win than say…Tom Cruise, right? Oh well. If I got to vote, I’d still find something to bitch about. Agree or not with my picks, 2013 offered some truly amazing films and plenty of shitty ones.

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