Dumb and Dumber To

Dumb and Dumber To

Star 1.5

Dumb and Dumber was an instant classic comedy. Not only did it catapult the directors Peter and Bobby Farrelly to the kings of cinematic comedy for almost a decade, it proved that Jim Carrey was not a one-trick pony, showing that he had three movies in a row with Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask, and then Dumb and Dumber that equaled box office pay dirt. The much talked about and much delayed sequel to D&D was off and on so many times that nobody was certain it would ever happen, but alas, 20 years later it has finally arrived. It’s here and let’s just say I didn’t like it uh-lot.

We find Harry (Jeff Daniels) and Lloyd (Jim Carrey) pretty much in the same spot they were last time except for Lloyd pretending to be in a comatose state with a need for 24-hour medical attention the last twenty years. After Lloyd reveals to Harry that he’s been playing a practical joke on him all this time and he’s just fine, Harry precedes to try and yank out Lloyd’s catheter with the help of two groundskeepers. This is merely the beginning of super gross out jokes that swing and miss. For every ten jokes there were maybe one that work, and when they did work, it’s more in the fashion of getting a mild grin instead of causing you to laugh out loud. I counted how many times I laughed (never a good sign) and Dumb and Dumber To managed to get three laughs out of me. This movie didn’t insult my intelligence, I was insulted by not getting the “good” dumb stuff.

I felt like I was going to see a legendary rock band in concert that is way past their prime. The songs don’t sound half as good, but more than anything you’re impressed with the fact that they can still get up there and do it. That’s was my big takeaway from sitting through Dumb and Dumber To. Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels looked surprisingly spry with comedic energy, but the on-screen material just wasn’t there in any shape or form. You know going into a movie like this that it will more likely be really good or really bad, but the one thing that I didn’t anticipate was being bored throughout. There were stretches of the movie that started to make it feel more like a 180 minutes of flat bits instead of the actual short 109 minute running time. Maybe hardcore Dumb and Dumber fans will disagree, but I would be willing to bet even they will find this follow up at least mildly disappointing. Dumb and Dumber To was awful, a waste of time, and a definite waste of talent, yet I feel that Harry and Lloyd would revel in such a dubious distinction.

The Farrelly Brothers made so many great comedies. Effective, hilarious, ripe for multiple viewings, but we are now a long time removed from Something About Mary, Kingpin, and the original Dumb and Dumber. I’ll even go out on a limb for Stuck on You and Fever Pitch, I would call them “mid-tier” Farrelly comedies, but enjoyable nonetheless. 2005 was when Fever Pitch was released, so that puts The Farrelly Brothers on a nine year slump. I hope they have a triumphant return to their old form someday. I really like to laugh, and man have they made me do that a lot with their movies.




Star 3.5

Nightcrawler tells the story of an uber-creepy sociopath that becomes a successful “stringer” for a television news station in Los Angeles. After we first meet Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) as a petty thief, he happens upon a near horrific single car accident on the highway. Two police officers are trying to free the driver from the burning car, and instead of trying to find a way to help he just stands there watching with a peaked interest. You start to get the feeling that if there was popcorn he would have some and whether or not the person lives or dies would have no effect on Lou’s disposition. That’s our first clue to just how disconnected Lou is with the human element. When cameramen show up seconds later Lou instantaneously gets TMZ fever and starts asking questions about how he can get in the stringer game. Joe (Bill Paxton), who later becomes Lou’s rival, explains that the pay isn’t great and it’s a pretty shitty gig, then he scampers off to his van to their next hit straight off the police scanner. But Lou knows it’s better than trying to offload random scrap metal he’s stolen, so seeing this as his golden opportunity, he steels a custom racing bicycle and pawns it for a camera and he never looks back.

As Lou cuts his teeth with his video camera he finds himself negotiating to sell his amateur footage to Nina (Rene Russo),the program director of the news station. Nina has been seen better days as she’s been passed around around several stations, and when she discovers Lou isn’t afraid to duck under the yellow crime tape to the get the bloody close-up, she’ll do anything to secure Lou’s shot. Lou’s not a nice person, although he interacts with most people with an eerie politeness. But he masks his contempt for his fellow man and quiet rage with a monotone certitude. A confidence that as long as he sticks to his business plan, and doesn’t let anyone stand in his way, then Lou seems to be content. If it bleeds, it leads, and as his business starts to grow he adds an “employee” Rick (Riz Ahmed) who he uses as his GPS guide while recklessly weaving in and out of traffic to be the first one on the crime scene. The real revelation in this character study is how Lou reacts when he’s threatened. Rival cameraman Joe, Nina, and even his own partner Rick find out the hard way on why it’s dangerous not to cross a person high on ambition and low on morals. The dialogue is nice and tight and although the action is spread out, the pacing works nicely to set up several climatic encounters throughout its 117 minutes.

The film is strikingly derivative from so many classics. Nightcrawler’s car chase climax has a subtle Bullitt heartbeat. Its L.A. street life at night had a Michael Mann feel that was very reminiscent of Collateral, although this film ends up looking better. Dark. Crisp. Clean. But above all else the spirit of this film is rooted in Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy. Lou is a creepo cocktail that is one part Travis Bickle, two parts Rupert Pupkin, with a twist of Gyllenhaal. His performance is stellar. He nails the bug-eyed emptiness of Lou, and does so with a surgeon’s precision. Thin and light on blinking (thought it was curious that Gyllenhaal’s Loki had the nervous tick of blinking his eyes in Prisoners and Lou never blinks at all in this one.), he embodies the physical aspects of the character with impressive nuance. Whether Lou is in the midst of one of his cheesy sales pitches or is pleasantly grinning from ear to ear while rattling off one of his passive aggressive soliloquies, it seems so rehearsed. Not rehearsed in the sense by the actor Jake Gyllenhaal, but he makes us believe that Lou planned that conversation and played it over and over many times alone in his apartment leading up to that moment. Gyllenhaal has really been on a roll. This makes his fourth release in a row that I would highly recommend. And in his three previous films, End of Watch, Prisoners, and Enemy he is the main reason why I would recommend them to you. But Nightcrawler has so many elements that add up to a high quality flick. Dan Gilroy’s writing and directing, Robert Elswit’s dazzling cinematography painting L.A. in street-lit darkness, and Gyllenhaal’s tour de force turn as Lou make Nightcrawler a sleek thriller you won’t want to miss.


Gone Girl

Gone Girl

Star 4

Gone Girl was assuredly made for the entertainment of adult audiences everywhere. At its very core is that Hitcockcian spirit that seems to throw logic out the window and speed right past plot holes for pure movie-going pleasure. This type of film making only excels when in the hands of an expert though, and Gone Girl just happens to be made by one of the best auteurs working today – David Fincher. Fincher brings Gillian Flynn’s best selling novel about marital bliss gone awry to the big screen and wisely hired the author to adapt her own book into a script. The combination of the writing, directing, acting, and score come out to be a huge home run. But one thing is for certain, Gone Girl is a trip.

Gone Girl has so many twists and turns that it would be an exercise in futility for me to go past just scratching the surface of plot without spoiling something for you. When Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) disappears from her home under mysterious circumstances, it’s her husband Nick (Ben Affleck), who is suspected of being involved once it appears to be foul play. As we pull back the curtain on their 5 years of marriage, we learn that Nick isn’t such a good guy and that it seems very possible, but why? Was Amy such an angel either? Your empathy dizzily swings back and forth countless times over two and half hours between Nick and Amy. Its polarizing in the sense that some people will be turned off about its ideas/views on the institution of marriage and some people will feel embarrassed, amused, or floored by some elements that seem to hit a little bit too close to home about their own relationship’s ups and downs. It has a lot to say about marriage and gender relations. Sometimes it is wickedly funny as it floats just below parody in regards to relationships. It also has a heavy undercurrent of class hierarchy in our country. East coast high society types looking down on Midwestern middle-class they are “slumming” with, everyone gravitating to pointing the finger at the homeless first when a crime is committed, etc. But in the end it gives us a look into the way Fincher sees the world. He’s either disgusted by today’s society in general or just gets a kick out of watching people squirm to try and claw their way to the American Dream or at least the status quo of being viewed as normal, successful, and happy in the eyes of family, neighbors, and peers.

There is much to applaud about the two leads and their performances. Affleck was born to play Nick. In what is most certainly his career best, his turn as public husband number one might finally help shake his bad actor stigma. Much of which is undeserved if you ask me. Ben Affleck isn’t a bad actor, he’s just been a victim of a long line of miscasting. But not here, he nails the nuance of the not so bright, pile of shit husband. It’s pretty exceptional that even with all his borderline sociopathic behavior that somehow we find ourselves pulling for his character, which is a high compliment of Affleck’s performance. Rosamund Pike will more than likely win The Oscar for her portrayal of Amy. She goes from nice to naughty to off-the-charts bonkers with the greatest of ease. Not only does she nail Amy’s emotional roller coaster, Pike seems to physically shape shift to suit each particular scene in an uncanny way. She’s great. Great. Great. Crazy Great. But don’t be fooled, the supporting players stealthily elevate this thriller. Kim Dickens and Patrick Fugit as the two doubting local detectives and Carrie Coon as Nick’s smart ass twin sister get overshadowed, but really help stir the plot at a high level. And David Fincher did something unexpected. He made me like Tyler Perry. Perry’s super lawyer Tanner Bolt is part Johnny Cochran, part Billy Dee Williams, and all comic relief. Smooth, calculated, and surprisingly naturally delivered, Perry gets a huge thumbs up from me and was one of best parts of this movie crowded with terrific performances. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ excellent score quietly creeps in and subtly provides the perfect background noise for a not-so-subtle film. Fincher has crafted a date movie of the darkest kind. Black and pulpy, completely enthralling, interesting, and entertaining, Gone Girl will no doubt bring repeat viewings and provide plenty of fodder for the water cooler and dinner parties for some time to come.


The Equalizer

The Equalizer

Star 3

Denzel Washington can be quite the badass. He can leave a dark past as an expertly-trained killing machine and trade it for a life of solace as an everyday working man and blend in like an average guy with the greatest of ease. He can predict the time it will take him to dismantle five Russian hoods by himself to within seconds of the actual outcome. He can battle a group of gangsters armed with machine guns with no gun to defend himself, just random home improvement tools. At least Washington can do all this as Robert McCall, his new character in Antoine Fuqua’s The Equalizer. The film is based on the 1980’s TV show by the same name where an ex-intelligence agent helps commoners even the odds with bad guys.

McCall (Denzel Washington) leads a quiet life now. A dependable hand at the local Home-Mart, he’s well respected and liked. He clocks out and heads to his single bedroom apartment that is cleaned and organized as if it is to be inspected right after the military latrine is checked. But wait for it, he has a dark past. A dark past where he has obtained “certain skills”. He seems to keep to himself until a chance encounter at a local diner where he befriends a young prostitute named Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz). When McCall witnesses her Russian pimp getting rough with her and then learns that she’s been beaten so badly she’s been put in the hospital, he takes some time for reflection and after a calculated decision we find McCall coming out of retirement to settle the score with the men responsible for what happened. Little did he know that he is messing with one of the most dangerous factions of the Russian Mafia. The Russian Mob Boss sends in his cleaner, Teddy (Martin Csokas), to investigate and serves as a worthy adversary to McCall as they play cat-and-mouse through the whole second act leading up to two big confrontations in the final act including a battle royale that is essentially Home Alone in Home Depot which I surprisingly enjoyed.

The Equalizer keeps the excitement high throughout with solid storytelling and quality climatic encounters between McCall and various baddies. It plays a little smarter than it actually is, which can be credited to the director, Fuqua, who has major talent but his body of work seems to be primarily hit or miss. He’s a very stylistic filmmaker who seems to always be preoccupied with forcing gratuitous violence. He shows flashes of becoming the next Tony Scott, although the jury is still out. Fuqua has a Scott-like tendency to over-produce and shares the penchant to make Washington his vigilante harbinger of fate. The Equalizer felt a lot like the majority of action genre movies feel. Plot holes, a story where nobody seems to care about finger prints or DNA, and your stereotypical support players and their sub-plots. This one is the overweight co-worker McCall is trying to help make weight for the big security guard test and of course eventually becoming a security guard at the sight of our big climax comes in handy and convenient to help fill pages in the script. But The Equalizer overcomes these things by just being entertaining pretty much throughout its entire run time. I can tell you that although Fuqua is an established filmmaker with a big upside, this vehicle in the hands of a lesser actor would’ve fell flat. Washington elevates the material several notches. This character in the hands of a lesser actor wouldn’t have shown as much care for the McCall’s physical details. The way he opens and closes the door to the diner. His mannerisms and subtle eye movements. McCall’s quiet rage is the antithesis of Washington’s last collaboration with Fuqua. King Kong ain’t got nothing on me he is not, but like I said – Denzel’s McCall is still quite the badass. He manages to help carry the film, raising it from Just above 2 Guns, but just shy of Man on Fire. I don’t see it as being overly memorable for me, but Denzel, Fuqua, and company have put together a fun movie that goes well with popcorn.


Alright alright alright, Lincoln

Matthew McConaughey is spinning Rust Cohleian musings again, but this time he is doing so behind the driver seat of the new Lincoln MKC. These commercials are actually pretty good, and I think a lot can be attributed to the added bonus of being directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. I had to share. We will probably be talking about these spots again once Lincoln does their product tie-in with the digitally remastered blu ray of The Lincoln Lawyer.

Spot 1

Spot 2

Spot 3




Hercules is one of the most tone-def summer blockbusters to come down the pipe in quite a while. It’s nothing new to American audiences. It’s one of many adaptations of the fabled legend including one earlier this year, The Legend of Hercules by director Renny Harlin. But even though there are a few different spins that the filmmakers try to re-energize the Hercules story with, it still falls flat, and those new twists and turns even add insult to injury by actually making the story worse off. Limping out of the gate with a tired formula, the back and forth game that director Brett Ratner plays with the mood and feel of the movie has it dead on arrival. Where Ratner starts to toy with B-Movie fun, he quickly retreats, roughly segwaying into what appears to be a scene ripped straight from Gladiator or 300 that we are supposed to take seriously. Then we get thrown into not so seamless CGI battles and crowded one-liner dialogue that even has Dwayne Johnson seemingly taking a back seat at times. Where battle scenes seem to be heading toward a climax they end with a dull thud and we never get to let loose and have fun with Hercules and his crew of mercenaries. Hercules could’ve benefited from a Machete meets Sinbad approach, but the movie’s main drawback is that the opening credits read “A Brett Ratner Film”. It’s pretty astonishing that a filmmaker with such experience and resources puts out a big summer movie this bad. Not even Ian McShane could give it an ounce of oxygen and that should put it in perspective, as I am about as big an Ian McShane fan as they get. The hardest pill to swallow is that even a movie that should be so light-hearted in tone insults the audience by not even trying to suspend disbelief or to have some semblance of logic. The role of reality in fantasy can sometimes be a key ingredient and Ratner and company obviously don’t care here. I almost felt like I was part of a new episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and I should’ve been commenting on scene after scene that had me laughing (for the wrong reason) at every turn.

With no great special effects, lively performances, or great moments to speak of, Hercules is truly one of the worst movies of the year and with all the talent that was involved that is truly a shame. Being that it is I obviously cannot recommend this flick in any way, if you truly need a fix of The Rock wielding a sword action, revisit 2002’s Scorpion King. At least that movie knew to not try and take it self too seriously. It’ll be time much better spent, trust me.

*I did take note that Dewayne Johnson appears to have added even more muscle for the movie and appears to be in amazing shape, so that is some kind of accomplishment.




Darren Aronofksy’s curious choice to adapt one of the most retold parables from the book of Genesis is something unexpected to me. But haven’t most of Aronofsky’s choices been fairly curious within his body of work? From Requiem for a Dream to Black Swan he’s continued to evolve and reinvent himself. I think that is what has continued to set him apart with a handful of other auteurs on the shortlist of the best storytellers currently working in cinema. Noah, his latest story to hit the big screen is an epic to say the least, and it’s an interesting one nonetheless. It is also important to know going in that this adaptation is more of Aronofksy’s interpretation versus an accurate re-telling of the biblical story. It’s entertaining, with many flaws, but still entertaining. It’s a movie, and popcorn seemed to go well with it.

A lot of the things you’d expect from the story in the bible, we get. Noah (Russell Crowe) has a vision from God that he must save all of the animals from a great flood. So he starts to construct a giant arc to house the animals, but we also get a little bit of a bizarre twist for cinematic purposes…Noah can seriously kick your ass. On top of that we get a showdown between Noah and Tubal-Cain (Ray Winestone), a group of Tolkienesque giant rock creatures referred to as The Watchers (voiced by Nick Nolte and Frank Langella), and a third act that involves our new Noah anti-hero wrestling with whether or not God wants him to murder his oldest son’s newborn baby in order to punish all mankind for treating the land as their toilet. All a part of Aronofksy’s artistic liberties taken with the story from the bible to make this a bizzare, yet enjoyable ride. Jennifer Connelly brings balance as Noah’s affable wife Naameh and Sir Anthony Hopkins is on point as always playing Noah’s spiritual guide and grandfather Methuselah. Crowe turns in a performance that gives us ancient blue-collar grit that was surprisingly more reminiscent of his Richie Roberts than his Maximus. The visual effects in Noah are bold and breathtaking, and some of the best I’ve seen on screen this year.

The most fascinating thing about Aronofksy’s telling was that he seems to draw a parallel with the story of Noah and modern day faith in general. He doesn’t try to provide any answers, he just poses questions. And in the world today the faithful interpret the silence of the creator in different ways too. It was intriguing the way Noah’s story was framed here and how it relates to the present. I just hope people of faith can take Aronofksy’s Noah for what it is; a blockbuster action movie built to entertain.




A college history professor whose not really into movies, gets bored and decides to watch a movie and gets bored halfway through and turns it off and then decides to revisit said movie later to finish only to notice his doppelganger has a small part in the film and in turn becomes obsessed with learning more about his apparent double only to find out that their relationship will come boiling to a climactic finish as they play mind games and try to bed each others lovers. Sound like something you want to watch? Well, you should. As odd as Enemy sounds and actually is, it turns out to be surprisingly stimulating. French Canadian director Denis Villeneuve intricately adapts Jose Saramago’s novel Double for the screen with a mindful tact that other filmmakers might never have thought to approach it with, as they would’ve probably gone tumbling down the rabbit hole after rabbit hole. Like he showed audiences with his Sundance darling Incendies and one of last year’s best, Prisoners, Villeneuve has a knack for dark storytelling.

Adam Bell (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a professor that leads a dry and dreary life. He schlubs around the brown of inner city Toronto, meandering back and forth between his work life at the college and his lackluster home life with his girlfriend Mary (Melanie Laurent). When he stumbles upon his doppelganger playing an extra in a movie he rents, his interest in learning more about starts to drive him away from his drab life and his overwhelming curiosity lifts his spirits. He starts watching the actor Anthony Claire (Gyllenhaal) from afar and even poses as him to gain entry to his apartment building to get a closer look. Of course Anthony is the antithesis of Adam. He’s strong and confident. We see him coming in from a long jog instead of spending his time with laying around in self loathing like Adam. We see all the differences, albeit most of them subtle. Adam wears sloppy boring suits and Anthony is has more of style about him, he is after all, an actor. But then we see the running theme of both of their parallel lives intersecting; they are bored and unsatisfied personally and professionally. It’s probably why Anthony is struggling in his relationship too. His pregnant wife Helen (Sarah Gadon) starts to get suspicious when Adam starts calling the house, and only fuels her uncertainty about where they are headed in life. But when both of their interests about the others life peaks, the film takes a sexual turn, and the thrilling study of a man’s subconscious slithers, twists, and turns into a gratifying climax. Is the grass really greener on the other side, and if so is it worth exploring? What seems so great about another person’s life, might not be so great once you walk in their shoes.

Enemy is a psychological slow burn that borders on comedic absurdity at times, but builds to a payoff that I found worth the wait. Your brain gets a nice workout as your left to interpret what this story means to you metaphorically, but we also get to revel in Gyllenhaal’s subdued, yet powerful performance as the two leads. (Sorry haters, it looks like he can really act. IE Zodiac, Prisoners) I won’t even get into Enemy’s wild, mother of all indie-endings. I’ll let you chew on that tasty bit of madness yourself. This little mind trip won’t be for everyone, but it is definitely worth a watch if you’re in the mood for something different. It’s just too bad the title The Two Jakes was already taken.


A Critic’s Dozen: Best Films of 2013


1 – The Wolf of Wall Street

Only Scorsese could’ve made this film as exhilarating to watch as it is. Epic spectacles of excess that take you on a roller coaster ride with despicable, conscienceless men who dupe average Joe’s out of millions and build an empire out of it. A three-hour film about the rise and fall of real life sleaze Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) and the greed and drug-addicted lifestyle that eventually led to his company’s demise. It’s one zany story after another that Scorsese wisely keeps on rapid fire throughout to not let you realize this movie you are enjoying so much is about horrible, immoral people. Tragic, yet undeniably funny, The Wolf of Wall Street ranks up there as one of Scorsese’s finest works. Not only is it a harsh truth about the world we live in and the darkness shrouding our financial system, it’s a cautionary tale with great relevance to headlines ripped from the front page of our modern society. DiCaprio and Jonah Hill’s balls out bravado, Terrence Winter’s biting script, and Scorsese’s best directing effort in years make The Wolf of Wall Street the best movie of the year. The pure chaos and comedic brilliance of scenes like the “Popeye Quaaludes” scene were quickly etched into my cinematic memory as some of the most memorable scenes in years. I was in awe of how this story was put together for the screen. I can hardly wait for repeat viewings. Just make sure and put the kids to bed first.


2 – The Place Beyond the Pines

Criminally underrated and unrecognized, Derek Cianfrance’s epic tale of cops and robbers and fathers and sons moved me in more ways than one. Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper own the screen exploring the tricky relationship between fathers and sons. No matter how bad a young man’s father is, he always wants to try and emulate him to a certain extent. A boy’s hero worship for his father is generally unstoppable and the film takes the subject on with such layered storytelling, disguising the human drama of the flawed as a genre movie. The end result is a mesmerizing film full of gut-punching twists that I can’t wait to revisit again.


3 – Gravity

Cast Away in space is a very crude way to describe a film like Gravity. But that’s the basic premise. But, Gravity is much more than a survival movie. It’s much more than a space movie. A giant, heartfelt movie about the power of the human spirit. Alfonso Cuarón’s direction and the spellbinding, breathtaking special effects are an amazing achievement on their own, but combined that with two actors at the top of their game, and an earnestly triumphant story, Gravity is one of my favorite cinematic experiences of recent memory. My generation’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Pacific Rim

4 – Pacific Rim

I don’t find it difficult to get excited about a blockbuster directed by Guillermo Del Toro about a battle between giant robots and monsters, but to see the way Del Toro’s vision of Pacific Rim came out as a cinematic finished project is astonishing. Rarely is blockbuster this fun and technically sound all at the same time. Beautifully realized and equally entertaining throughout Pacific Rim is easily Del Toro’s best work to date. Filed under the same category as The Lone Ranger as the other big studio tent pole that went misunderstood and underachieved domestically, Pacific Rim deserves to be watched and watched again. Monsters vs. Robots people!

Christian Bale;Amy Adams;Bradley Cooper

5 – American Hustle

Fun. Fun. Fun. With its pitch-perfect ensemble performances and fast-talking story American Hustle dazzles from start to finish. Russell triumphs by borrowing from the greats. His Scorsese zoom pans almost are used ad nauseam, but I was having too much damn fun to really care to knock him for it. The key to making this Russell’s most confident film to date was realizing who to borrow from and he shows true inspiration with his choices. Whatever small negatives I could find quickly faded into the background of this con-artist caper. Russell’s first two features Spanking the Monkey and Flirting with Disaster showed promise. I rather enjoyed Three Kings too, but I felt like he had slight misses with I Heart Huckabee’s and The Fighter after that. Then came last year’s wonderfully insane love story Silver Linings Playbook. Russell builds on that momentum and finally hones his penchant for dysfunctional characters with good hearts. American Hustle is Goodfellas meets Silver Linings Playbook and the combination is one hell of a good time.

Inside Llewyn Davis

6 – Inside Llewyn Davis

The Coens deadpan storytelling reaches new heights with somehow making audiences empathetic to a protagonist that is pretty damn unlikeable. A film about the path to stardom and the fact that it never leads to anywhere for most who travel down its weary, winding roads. Oscar Isaac’s showcases his supreme talent as we follow Llewyn on his self-centered trek seeking folk stardom. It features all the caveats that we are used to with a Coen Brother’s film: Amazing music, funny and sharp dialogue, and amazing supporting performances. But, the main thing that stood out about this one for me was that it was the Coens most succinct film to date. Tightly woven and expertly directed, Inside Llewyn Davis had me grinning and chuckling for all 104 minutes of cold weather without a winter coat that Llewyn had to endure.

12 Years a Slave

7 – 12 Years a Slave

Director Steve McQueen takes a page out of one of our country’s darkest historical periods. Based on the book of the same name, the film follows the harrowing journey of Solomon Northup, who was born a free man, but was kidnapped and sold into slavery. Chiwetel Ejiofor’s turn as the mistaken slave pours out with emotion and not only has you feeling his frustration as a free man trapped, but also keeps you rooting out loud all along the way. McQueen triumphantly brings Northup’s story to the screen with his usual straightforwardness and gives one of the clearest pictures of what it was probably like to see slavery as it was. Nudity and blood are no strangers in McQueen’s films and here you get an uncomfortable amount. Fassbender’s heartless plantation owner Epps is ferociously evil yet represents the moral justification that existed from the white majority at the time. As visually punishing as some of the graphic violence in Northup’s story is, it’s worth enduring through for a gratifying ending that is sure to move all that make it through the gut-wrenching story that is 12 Years a Slave.


8 – Her

What more can I say about Joaquin Phoenix. Easily one of the top actors working today, he continues to slither in and out of his characters like a reptile’s skin. He has also been very good about choosing who he collaborates with. This time out he and Spike Jonze along coupled with the voice-over of Scarlett Johansson create a futuristic world that explores where our relationship with technology may be heading. Fresh and original, Her works simultaneously as entertainment and a think piece. A dark social commentary with a lot of big laughs and poignant moments, the script penned by Jonze, should be the chalk come Oscar night. I feel like Her will be even more profound years from now when our reality creeps closer to Spike’s vision. Jonze and Phoenix continue to march to their own drumbeat and I hope neither one of them ever take a different route.

1170481 - This Is The End

9 – This is the End

If you want to pee your pants, you should see This Is the End. I laughed so hard throughout its entirety I thought I might soil myself at any moment. Luckily, I made it through with zero accidents. In a hilarious send up of their Hollywood celebrity personas, This Is the End worked in every way for my funny bone. Generally when you get this many talents in one vehicle it tends to be bloated and extremely watered down. But not here…This Is the End is funniest movie of the year. It finds fresh and original ways to make the all-star cast stay in sync with each other and keep the story moving along one hilarious bit after another. Rogen and Goldberg were smart enough to give us a nice story that finds a way to show a little heart shine through amongst the dick-jokes and graphic post-apocalyptic FX. That’s the sign of a good comedy – when the characters are so loveable and funny that there is no amount of crudeness that would turn you off. That’s what This Is the End does, it makes you laugh a lot more than most comedies, but it also is written and directed in a way that both the story and the horror scenes keep you entertained when you have a few moments in between laughs. In the old school tradition of Cannonball Run, Rogen and Goldberg steer an all-star cast through heaven and hell to swim through a sea of cameos in one of the year’s best movies.


10- Prisoners

So many comparisons have been drawn to Prisoners. Films like Mystic River, Seven, and even Zero Dark Thirty seem to keep coming up. But for me, I drew parallels with another film Gyllenhaal excelled in, David Fincher’s Zodiac. It’s similarly paced, with solid performances, and Fincher never lets you count any suspect out until the very end of that jigsaw thriller. Director Denis Villeneuve lays out the web of damaged characters by subtly revealing their back stories with little, yet precise details. Couple the ensemble cast’s strong effort with the super talent of cinematographer Roger Deakins beautifully framing the murky details through rainy grey windows and pitch black night exteriors and you have a winner here. I quickly figured out that critics and fans alike were divided into love and hate camps with this film and even though I correctly identified the who in the whodunnit halfway through, there were more than enough great qualities about Prisoners to keep me well entertained until the two and a half hour running time expired. This movie does not take you to a happy place by any means, but it is high-grade entertainment for all of us grown-ups.


11 – Mud

Mud is a film that harkens back to legendary literature classics of yesteryear. It oozes Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn and even though set in modern times, it could’ve just as easily been 100 years ago. The story takes place mostly on the river banks of the Mississippi and involves two boys happening on a mysterious and potentially dangerous loaner hiding out on the river. Although McConaughey and Witherspoon share virtually no screen time the casting is just right. McConaughey continues his hot streak with another spot on performance and Witherspoon, hides years of pain behind those eyes. Both actors turn in stellar character portrayals with a striking subtlety that’s quite refreshing. Tye Sheridan’s turn as Ellis evokes just the right amount of innocence, so that we can really recognize it being stripped away in the third act. Michael Shannon, Sam Shepard, and Paul Sparks complete a solid cast. Writer/director Jeff Nichols, who’s been somewhat of an indie darling, has turned out one intellectually stimulating film after another with great storytelling in both Shotgun Stories and Take Shelter. He follows suit with Mud, his best film to date. Nichols realizes that a great story doesn’t just happen; you have to read and turn the next page to get the full effect. There is no instant gratification with Nichols’ films. Some may even call his pace slow, but Nichols knows the value of classic storytelling of the past…and it’s good to know they actually still do make em’ like they used to. Mark Twain would’ve been proud.

Spring Breakers

12 – Spring Breakers

I can’t remember a film that I was so bored with in the first act that made such a surprising comeback in the second and third acts. Harmony Korine’s film could’ve been labeled as a pure fetish film if you just watched the first 30 minutes, but as this weird little flick got off the ground it was one of the most refreshingly unique and entertaining works I saw all year. A lot of it can be attributed to James Franco’s powerhouse performance as a wannabe gangster Alien, and surprisingly effective turns from Selena Gomez and Ashley Benson as the bikini-clad gunners. Whether or not you want to read into how much of this film was a social commentary on meat-head millennials or just a neon-laced heist movie, Spring Breakers stood out as 100% weird, and that ends up being a good thing.

The Lone Ranger

13 – The Lone Ranger

Why this was one of the most widely panned movies of the year still is a bit mind boggling to me. Goofy and fun, but extremely well crafted, The Lone Ranger was one of the most entertaining blockbusters of the summer. Sure this was a new take, a re-imagining of the classic TV series. Tonto (Johnny Depp) is now pretty much the lead and he’s not taking any of The Lone Ranger’s (Armie Hammer) shit. But even though it was a new spin director Gore Verbinski took up where he left off with Rango, his other magnificent collaboration with Depp. With nods to the classic Westerns and silent films galore, The Lone Ranger was funny, action-packed, and has a story that had more to say than most probably cared to realize.

Honorable Mention:

Frances Ha, The Act of Killing, We’re the Millers, Behind the Candelabra, Nebraska, Out of the Furnace


A Critic’s Dozen: Best Albums of 2013

I think 2013 was a stellar year for music and really produced some great full-length albums. So it was tough for me to come up with my best of list. Kanye going off the charts with Yeezus and Drake giving us his best effort to-date. Haim kept me wrapped up in high quality sister-pop. Vampires of the City was amazing from start to finish. Hell even a band I worshiped in my adolescence made a turned in their strongest in years (NIN). The one I kept coming back to though was Queens of the Stone Age, …Like Clockwork. It sounds as good listening to it in its entirety now as it did back in May, and I feel like it won’t lose much in the years to come. That’s how I evaluate a great album. Start to finish, with staying power, and I think that is just what Josh Homme and company gave us with …Like clockwork. Long live Rock.

1 – Queens of the Stone Age, …Like Clockwork


2 – Kanye West, Yeezus

Kanye West

3 – Haim, Days Are Gone


4 – Drake, Nothing Was the Same


5 – Vampire Weekend, Modern Vampires of the City

Vampire Weekend

6 – Daft Punk, Random Access Memories

Daft Punk

7 – Palma Violets, 180

Palma Violets

8 – Nine Inch Nails, Hesitation Marks


9 – The National, Trouble Will Find Me

The National

10 – Chvrches, The Bones of What You Believe


11 – A$AP Rocky, LongLiveA$AP


12 – Parquet Courts, Light Up Gold


13 – Earl Sweatshirt, Doris