2014 Recap: Top 10 Best + 5 Worst Movies of the Year

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Well, well, well, it’s that time of the year again where us film bloggers agonize in making these Top 10 list. Yes, agonize is not a hyperbole as it’s REALLY quite an arduous task not only selecting which 10 films would make the list, but also ranking them. But once I decided on my top three, ranking the other seven was a bit easier to do. I did make a Top 10 list from the first half of 2014, and it’s interesting to see which ones stay on the list and which ones are now relegated to my Honorable Mentions.

The same with the previous years, when I say ‘top movies’ it’s sort of a cross between a ‘best of and favorite’, so the criteria is that these films made an impression on me, combining the virtue of being entertaining, deeply moving, thought-provoking, and indelible. Re-watchability is also a factor here and I’d readily re-watch most of the films listed here, in fact, I have seen a few of them at least twice already. The [dis]honor of the WORST films of the year is at the end of the BEST list.

Ok well, without further ado… I present you …

10 BEST FILMS OF 2014

10. The LEGO Movie

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Everything is awesome! And still is. This is actually one of three animated features I absolutely LOVE from last year, but I decided I only wanted to include just ONE. The LEGO Movie wins by a narrow margin, beating out How To Train Your Dragon 2 and Big Hero 6 to make it to my main list. It really comes down to Emmet being such an adorably goofy protagonist, surrounded by spin-off-worthy supporting cast like Lego Batman and Good Cop/Bad Cop, it’s really a fantabulous geekstravaganza that would likely hold up with repeated viewings. Plus, that music is simply, well, awesome! That unabashedly vivacious song makes my Top 5 Songs of the year as well. (full review)

9. The Grand Budapest Hotel

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This is the first Wes Anderson movie that ever made it to my Top 10 of the year list, so I guess you could say it’s now my favorite of his collection. It captivated me from the opening scene all the way until the end and it’s more fast-paced than his previous films. But of course it has all the things you expect from Wes: the quirky characters, the perfect symmetry of every single scene, playful music, etc. The ensemble cast is wonderful once again, led by Ralph Fiennes in a rare comedic role who’s an absolute blast to watch. I also enjoy F. Murray Abraham and newcomer Tony Revolori as Zero Mustafa, the ever-so-resourceful & loyal lobby boy. Mischievously whimsy, but with heart. Like a charming hotel, it’s one I wouldn’t mind revisiting again and again. (full review)

8. The Imitation Game

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This is no doubt one of my favorite films at last year’s Twin Cities Film Fest. It won a TCFF 2014 Awards for Best Feature Film and both Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley also won acting honors. It’s a biopic on Alan Turing, a mathematician whose pivotal role in cracking the enigma code during WWII helped the Allies won the war against the Nazis. It’s an important film to be sure, boasted by a fantastic all-British cast led by a terrific Cumberbatch as the unsung hero. Though it may be a bit formulaic and by-the-numbers (pardon the puns), it’s still a highly entertaining, as well as emotionally-poignant film that stays with me after the closing credit. In a year of great ensemble-cast films, this is no doubt one of my favorites. I especially love Mark Strong & Matthew Goode here, two underrated performers who ought to get more leading roles of their own.

7. Citizenfour

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I only saw a few documentaries last year but this is the one that stuck with me the most. It seems like ages ago when we’re introduced to the name Edward Snowden, and since then some see him as either a traitor or a hero. Filmmaker Laura Poitras got an unprecedented access to one of the first of many meetings between reporter Glenn Greenwald (who at the time worked for The Guardian) and Snowden in a Hong Kong hotel room. It’s more of an eyewitness type documentary, allowing us the viewer to be a fly-on-the-wall so to speak as Snowden revealed the mechanics of those NSA intelligence leak. I remember vividly when his first photo was broadcasted all over the media and here we saw him wearing the exact same brown-ish shirt he wore for that shot. The doc may contain what’s seemingly mundane series of events of people talking in a hotel room, but it was utterly engrossing to me. It’s the implication of those conversations, and what it means to the central character and all of us who’s watching it that makes the scenes all the more captivating.

6. Selma

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“Selma is at once a peek into the past and a snapshot of the present.” I like the title of this AVClub review because it sums up the film perfectly. I’m glad there’s finally a big-screen adaptation of Martin Luther King’s story, but I’m glad this film isn’t a conventional biopic. Instead, director Ava DuVernay and writer Paul Webb effectively focused on the pivotal event of his life and made this more about the collective struggle for voting rights. Much has been said about the historical inaccuracies about Lyndon B. Johnson’s portrayal, which isn’t the first time liberties are taken on films based on real-life events. But I think apart from that, this is a powerful and gripping film, uncomfortably tense at times, especially during the Bloody Sunday sequence. The issue of police brutality couldn’t be more timely considering the events in Ferguson and NYC, which makes it all the more poignant and heart-wrenching. David Oyelowo embodied the role of King, convincing in both the fiery moments of his speeches, as well as the quieter moments with his wife (portrayed brilliantly by Carmen Ejogo).

5. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

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I haven’t re-watched this film since I saw it back in July, yet I still remember much about how I felt about the main character, Caesar. The fact that he’s not even a human being says a lot about how good the character development of the last two ‘Apes’ films and this sequel took us a step further into Caesar’s journey. The ‘king of mo-cap acting’ Andy Serkis once again delivered a phenomenal portrayal of the apes leader. His eyes convey so much that they’re practically hypnotic. Director Matt Reeves created a suspenseful & atmospheric piece here that’s immediately engrossing. At times it’s so sinister and eerie that I felt like I was watching a horror film, as well as genuinely poignant moments that tug my heartstrings. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is not just one of the best offerings of the Summer, but of the entire year. It succeeds because the special effects punctuates and supports the story/character instead of the other way around. (full review)

4. Belle

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I feel like a broken record when it comes to miss Gugu Mbatha-Raw, but she’s truly one of the best talent discoveries in a good long while. She’s the heart and soul of this film, displaying a nuanced and charismatic performance in nearly every scene. I’m also glad to have discovered director Amma Assante, who shows such dexterity in her sophomore feature, crafting a beautifully layered and affecting historical drama. There are so many things to love here, and after having seen this four times already, I’m still mesmerized. Visually it’s just a stunning film, the gorgeous lighting brings out the best of the costumes, set pieces, etc. But it’s the rich, engrossing story and brilliant performances by the all-British cast that make this such a rewarding film to see over and over. (full review)

3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

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I knew this film would make my final Top 10 from the first time I watched it. This is another movie on this list I’ve seen more than twice and I still absolutely loved it! It’s one of the rare sequel that easily surpasses the the first one. Billed as a ’70s political thriller masquerading as a superhero movie’, The Winter Soldier delivers on that promise and gives us something that’s genuinely intriguing and massively entertaining. It’s filled with adrenaline-pumping geek-gasm scenes without being banal or vapid. Chris Evans‘ much more confident in the role which makes him even more watchable, and Robert Redford + Anthony Mackie are great additions to an already-fantastic cast. This one has become my favorite Marvel stand-alone feature and Cap my favorite Marvel superhero! (full review)

2. Gone Girl

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It’s a testament of a great film when it clocks in at 2.5 hours and it went by like a breeze. Dark, twisted, stylish, and even mesmerizing, Gone Girl is one of those movies that play like a thrilling roller coaster ride. Instead of a straight who-dun-it type of thriller, David Fincher and writer Gillian Flynn made this more of a psychological character study of a couple in a crumbling marriage that turns more sinister by the minute. Rosamund Pike was nothing short of amazing as the year’s certifiable female anti-hero you love to hate. She gave an intense and haunting performance that’s absolutely Oscar-worthy. Props to Fincher and Flynn for making a story that might not translate well to film into something cinematic, gripping and wildly entertaining. (full review)

1. Birdman

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This is an easy pick for number 1. It’s one of the most unique and unusual films I’ve seen in a while, and the level of artistry that goes into it is off the charts. Technically it’s simply astounding, especially in terms of cinematography. The use of the continuous long takes helps tell the story in such a unique and immersive way that completely absorbs you. But the story itself is rich and full of thought-provoking allegory, brought to life by Alejandro González Iñárritu‘s adept direction. It’s one of those rare films where style actually meets substance, as the story brilliantly blends fantasy & reality, drama & comedy in a way that can be both deep as well as entertaining. It has its darker and even vulgar moments I don’t typically embrace, but it never overpowers the protagonist’s journey, which is the heart of the story. On top of all that is the phenomenal performances across the board, led by Michael Keaton in the lead role, one that I’ll been rooting for the entire award season. (full review)

 

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

Some of these movies were actually in my Top 10 list of the first half of 2014. I marked those with an * (asterisk), this time I’m NOT ranking these, so they’re listed in alphabetical order:

  1. Begin Again
  2. Big Hero 6
  3. Chef
  4. The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them
  5. Edge of Tomorrow*
  6. Foxcatcher
  7. Guardians of the Galaxy
  8. The Grand Seduction*
  9. How To Train Your Dragon 2*
  10. The Hundred Foot Journey
  11. John Wick
  12. Locke*
  13. The Machine*
  14. Time Lapse
  15. X-Men: Days of Future Past*

What I missed from 2014:

Boyhood, Calvary, Ida, Mr. Turner, Nightcrawler, Only Lovers Left Alive, Theory of Everything, Still Alice, Under the Skin, and Whiplash.


Top5WorstMovies2014

Now, I wish I could get my 2+ hours back from each of these awful movies! Ok I saw most of these at press screening, so thankfully I didn’t have to pay for them, but still they’re such a waste of my time. Avoid these if you can help it, consider yourself warned.

Bullets Dodged:

Glad I missed some terrible ones like  I Frankenstein, Pompeii, Blended, Transcendence, The Best of Me, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, etc.


So that’s my Best/Worst list of 2014. Thoughts on my picks here? I’d love to hear it!

FlixChatter Review: Birdman or (the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)

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It’s been nearly a month since I saw this film, but I’m still thinking about it. In fact, I was just telling a friend over coffee this weekend how the more I think about this film, the more I like it.

The story revolves around Riggan Thomson, played by Michael Keaton in an art-imitating-life sort of a role as he’s famous for playing Batman in the late 80s/early 90s. Riggan is a has-been actor, most famous for playing a successful comic-book franchise, Birdman. But instead of opting to take an easy paycheck out of the fourth installment of the franchise, Riggan attempts to reinvent himself and reclaim his past glory by directing/starring an off-Broadway play. Not a light undertaking, especially when one problem after another starts popping up, threatening to grind his play to a halt. It also doesn’t help that Riggan is still haunted by his Birdman character, literally, who constantly berates him in his dressing room.

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The way Alejandro González Iñárritu frames his story is captivating and unequivocally surreal. The camera is told from Riggan’s point of view and the camera often follows him in one long, continuous take. From the cramped dressing room through the narrow corridor all the way to the stage, the film takes place mostly in the confines of the theater’s backstage. The neon sign of Phantom of the Opera is often visible in NYC’s Theater District across Riggan’s theater, one of the things that grounds the film in reality amidst all the surreal elements. Slipping back and forth between reality and fantasy, and often blurs the line between the two, the film manages to keep me entertained and engaged throughout.

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It certainly helps that all his actors perform with equal dexterity. Nice to see Edward Norton get a role worthy of his talent. He’s a method actor who’s a bit of a diva and his on-and-off screen antics are fun to watch. There’s an amusing brawl backstage between him and Keaton that’s worth the price of admission. Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan and Emma Stone all provide memorable supporting role, with Stone perhaps having the flashiest part as Riggan’s daughter. Her performance, especially memorable for her heated monologue, has already earned her a Golden Globe and SAG nomination. Even Zach Galifinakis, an actor I never quite warmed up to, was quite good here as his often-hysterical theater producer. British actress Lindsay Duncan has a small but important role as the critic who could potentially make or break Riggan’s career.

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The real star here is Michael Keaton in a welcomed come-back role as a leading man. I’ve always been a fan of the underrated actor as he can deliver both serious, menacing and comical performance convincingly. He gets to do both here in equal measure as he truly embodies his character. He’s a natural in the more um, batty scenarios, but also genuinely sympathetic in the quieter moments that display Riggan’s vulnerability. Perhaps the fact that he has a similar personal experience helps him in the role, so it’s definitely inspired casting here that works wonderfully for the film.

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This is Iñárritu’s third film that I have seen so far. It could very well be my favorite and one I don’t mind seeing again. He strikes a perfect balance between drama and humor, at times hilarious and off the wall, and others heart-rending and poignant. The film’s a not-so-subtle mockery of Hollywood’s preoccupation with superhero franchises – and some of the real-life actors who’ve been in them– but yet it’s not done with disdain nor contempt as it’s all part of Riggan’s personal story. The movie also provides an interesting commentary on social media and how that affects celebrity culture in this day and age.

On a technical level, Birdman is simply phenomenal. The stunning and unique camera work make you think ‘how did they do that?’ without being too distracting. The percussion music isn’t really my style but it works in the context of the film. Emmanuel Lubezki, who won an Oscar for his astounding cinematography work for Gravity, will likely get another nom for this. I read somewhere that he shot this without artificial light due to space constraints of the cramped theater.

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I have to admit I still don’t know what to make of that WTF finale that seems deliberately left open for interpretation. It certainly makes for a fun discussion afterwards and it’s been fun reading all kinds of theories about it. I won’t say another word on it as it’s best that you discover that for yourself. Despite all the bizarre scenes and all its dream-like eccentricities, the film somehow still feels personal and human, even relatable in a strange way. No surprise that Birdman‘s become the critical darling of the year and has been raking a bunch of nominations left and right. I for one think the accolade is well-deserved as Iñárritu pushes the creative boundaries of story-telling to a new level.

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Have you seen Birdman? Well, what did YOU think?

Most-Anticipated Movies of the rest of 2014 (September – December)

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Well, since I’ve posted my Top 10 of the year so far and Summer Blockbuster Months are quickly coming to a close. I’ve already got my eyes set on what’s in store for the rest of 2014! Now, there are going to be movies I’ll be seeing next month that aren’t on this list because well, I’m not really hugely anticipating them. In fact, there is no movie that screams MUST SEE in all of August, though most likely I would be seeing Guardians of the Galaxy, Into the Storm, Expendables 3 and Sin City 3, so I’m just going to start the list with September all the way to the end of the year.

   Sept2014

A Walk Among the Tombstones (Sept 19)

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Private investigator Matthew Scudder (Liam Neeson) is hired by a drug kingpin (Dan Stevens) to find out who kidnapped and murdered his wife. Blurring the lines between right and wrong, Scudder races to track the deviants through the backstreets of New York City before they kill again.

Director: Scott Frank
Starring: Liam Neeson, Dan Stevens, Ruth Wilson


Ok so normally this isn’t my cup of tea but I quite like this cast. Neeson is always reliable in bad ass action movies, but it’s most interesting to see Downton Abbey alum Dan Stevens (who’s also in BBC’s Sense & Sensibility) and miss Jane Eyre herself Ruth Wilson. Seems that Stevens wants to break into Hollywood but I didn’t expect to see him in two R-rated thrillers in the same year, he’s also in The Guest that’s supposed to be out in the Fall as well.

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby (Sept 26 – Limited)

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Once happily married, Conor and Eleanor suddenly find themselves as strangers longing to understand each other in the wake of tragedy. The film explores the couple’s story as they try to reclaim the life and love they once knew and pick up the pieces of a past that may be too far gone.

Director: Ned Benson
Starring: James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain

I’ve made a full post on this one so visit that page for more details on that movie, so you can watch the trailer there.

Mildly interested in:

The Two Faces of January (Sept 26 – Limited)

A thriller centered on a con artist, his wife, and a stranger who flee Athens after one of them is caught up in the death of a private detective.

Director: Hossein Amini
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst, Oscar Isaac

I had never heard of this before last night, but Viggo and Oscar in the same movie? Yes please! The trailer looks pretty gripping, though this is a feature film debut from a screenwriter with a rather spotty track record, so we shall see I guess. Should be worth a rental with this cast, at the very least.

The Drop (Sept 12)

Bob Saginowski finds himself at the center of a robbery gone awry and entwined in an investigation that digs deep into the neighborhood’s past where friends, families, and foes all work together to make a living – no matter the cost.

Director: Michaël R. Roskam
Starring: Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, James Gandolfini

Interestingly enough, last year I had another movie with Noomi Rapace (Dead Man Down) on my most-anticipated list but I still haven’t seen that movie. Apparently this is Mr. Gandolfini’s last screen appearance, which would make this rather bittersweet. I do like Hardy but the trailer is pretty meh, but who knows, it could still be a good one.


Oct2014

Gone Girl (Oct 3)

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With his wife’s disappearance having become the focus of an intense media circus, a man sees the spotlight turned on him when it’s suspected that he may not be innocent.

Director: David Fincher
Starring: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Missi Pyle, Neil Patrick Harris

It’s been four years since I saw anything by Fincher (The Social Network). He did The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo which isn’t my cup of tea, but this who-dun-it type of thriller intrigues me. I read that Gillian Flynn, the author the novel is based on, is interested in ‘exploring the psychology and dynamics of a long-term relationship.’ To me, the slow-burn, character-driven approach is certainly far more intriguing than just a fast-paced action thriller. I always think that Affleck is a better actor than director but hopefully he does all right here. I do like Rosamund, glad she’s getting more prominent roles in Hollywood.

,,,

Birdman (Oct 17)

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A washed-up actor who once played an iconic superhero must overcome his ego and family trouble as he mounts a Broadway play in a bid to reclaim his past glory.

Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Starring: Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Edward Norton, Andrea Riseborough


Nice to see Keaton in a leading role again, and given that he did play an iconic superhero before certainly feels like it’s art imitating life. Billed as a comedy, a dark comedy no doubt, this looks as bizarre as ever! I’ve only seen Babel and 21 Grams from Iñárritu which were both dark and grim, so I’m curious to see him direct a comedy. Oh, and I also love miss Riseborough, though I’ve been hoping the talented Brit would score a leading role soon.

Mildly interested in:

The Judge (Oct 10)

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Big city lawyer Hank Palmer returns to his childhood home where his father, the town’s judge, is suspected of murder. Hank sets out to discover the truth and, along the way, reconnects with his estranged family.

Director: David Dobkin
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga

It’s been a while since I saw RDJ on screen without his Iron Man suit, but this premise doesn’t immediately appeal to me. I’ll see what the buzz says if this one is worth seeing on the big screen.

Kingsman: The Secret Service (Oct 24)

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Based upon the comic book by Mark Millar, and depicts a veteran secret agent who leads a young protege into the world of espionage.

Director: Matthew Vaughn
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Colin Firth, Mark Hamill, Mark Strong, Michael Caine

When I first saw the poster a few weeks ago at a local cinema, it definitely piqued my interest! There’s not a single name on it, but I knew Vaughn had directed X-Men: First Class. Well, now that the trailer is out, I actually don’t know what to make of it, and not in a good way. Sure the cast is awesome but I just don’t have a good feeling this would actually be an awesome movie. Still, color me intrigued, let’s hope the movie would be as good as the poster!


 Nov2014

Interstellar (Nov 7)

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A group of explorers make use of a newly discovered wormhole to surpass the limitations on human space travel and conquer the vast distances involved in an interstellar voyage.

Director: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, Casey Affleck


Ok so every single time I saw this trailer I kind of teared up a little. Mankind was born on Earth. It was never meant to die here, the tagline says. Just what the heck does it even mean? It’s as cryptic as ever, as most Nolan’s films that’s based on his own concepts are, but I know I can’t wait to see it! The cast is terrific, though most of them are Nolan regulars, esp. Michael Caine. I’ve been intrigued by McConaughey’s casting here, but I expect that he, as well as the film, will deliver!

Hunger Games Mockingjay – Part I (Nov 21)

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Katniss Everdeen reluctantly becomes the symbol of a mass rebellion against the autocratic Capitol.

Director: Francis Lawrence
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Donald Sutherland


The promos for this one has been doing a phenomenal job in getting me pumped for this movie. The second movie ended in such a cliffhanger that got me all riled up. I still wish they hadn’t split the finale, but this cash-grab trend seems to be here to stay [sigh]. In any case, it’d be sad to see Philip Seymour Hoffman here, he’s SO good as Plutarch, he’s the one I most look forward to seeing on this final installments!

The Imitation Game (Nov 21)

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A historical drama film about British mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst and computer scientist Alan Turing, a key figure in cracking Nazi Germany’s Enigma code that helped the Allies win World War II, who was later criminally prosecuted for his homosexuality.

Director: Morten Tyldum
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightly, Mark Strong, Matthew Goode


Mr. Turing certainly has an incredible story worth-telling, and with Cumberbatch playing him, it naturally piques my interest. I LOVE espionage movies, even more intriguing that it’s based on a true story. The all-British cast looks great, nice to see Matthew Goode here as well. That guy is so underrated it’s criminal! I sure hope this would fare much better than Cumberbatch’s previous biopic [on Julian Assange] The Fifth Estate, but if it’s anything like the emotional & gripping trailer, I can’t imagine it’d be worse.

Mildly interested in:

Big Hero 6 (Nov 7)

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A group of six superheroes are recruited by the government to protect the nation.

Director: Don Hall, Chris Williams
Starring: Alan Tudyk, Jamie Chung, Maya Rudolph, Genesis Rodriguez

I had never even heard about this project before but the trailer does look funny. It has the Wreck-It Ralph! feel to it, so it should be pretty enjoyable.


Dec2014

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (Dec 17)

The Company of Thorin has reached Smaug’s lair; but can Bilbo and the Dwarves reclaim Erebor and the treasure? And, if so, can they hold on to it?

Director: Peter Jackson
Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage

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I know some people call this whole trilogy thing a cash grab and all but I’m not one of them. I LOVE this universe and Peter Jackson’s so committed to this whole franchise and he has a palpable love for this story. I can’t wait to see the final journey for all the characters, especially Thorin & his band of dwarves in their quest to reclaim their lost kingdom. Wish they’d release a trailer already, but hopefully that’ll happen soon!

Unbroken (Dec 25)

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World War II hero Louis “Louie” Zamperini, a former Olympic track star, survives a plane crash in the Pacific, spends 47 days drifting on a raft, and then more than two and a half years living in several Japanese prisoner of war camps.

Director: Angelina Jolie
Starring: Jack O’Connell, Miyavi, Domhnall Gleeson, Garrett Hedlund


The story of Mr. Zamperini is an extraordinary one to be sure. Not only what he has endured, to hell and back, but what he did after he survived the whole ordeal. The devoutly-Christian man actually sought out those who’ve tortured him during the war and forgave them. What a perfect story to experience on Christmas Day!

Mildly interested in:

Exodus: Gods & Kings (Dec 12)

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An interpretation of the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt as led by Moses and related in the Old Testament Book of Exodus.

Director: Ridley Scott
Starring: Christian Bale, Sigourney Weaver, Ben Kingsley, Joel Edgerton, Aaron Paul

I’m all for Biblical stories… well, so long as it actually respects the source material. The Moses I know from the Bible  I love the actors but they all seem miscast to me and this trailer did nothing to alleviate my dread about this project. Totally agree with Drew on this: “Moses is apparently the next Maximus, which has me worried that Scott wants so badly to recreate Gladiator that he’s literally going to botch the whole thing. Moses was not a warrior. This is not scripture.” I still have a sliver of hope that Ridley Scott would somehow prove me wrong about this movie, but I’m not holding my breath.


Well, that’s just what I’m looking forward to in the next five months. Which one(s) are you most excited about?