Top Ten Performances of 2014

Long time no talk.  I know, it’s been almost four months since my last post, but it’s been quite the hectic fall/winter season, but the most wonderful/stressful/frustrating/awful/awesome time of the year is upon us.  Well, watching these films are a visceral experience.  Analyzing their awards potential, rewarding/not rewarding them, and seeing all this obnoxious campaigning (specifically whisper campaigning AGAINST certain films) is disgusting, but it’s part of the process… I guess.

Anyways, as a certain tradition of mine, I’ve chosen ten performances that I felt were unmatched.  I kind of cheated combining some a few performances, but who cares.  Here are my ten favorite performances of 2014.

MICHAEL KEATON (Birdman)

Michael Keaton as Riggan Thomson in BIRDMAN is a revelation, divulging into an extremely flawed, egotistical, and overtly ambitious man child who looks for meaning and fulfillment through praise and adoration.  For how artistically driven the film is, this entire thing would’ve crumbled if Keaton was anything less than prolific and completely devoted.  This is one of those performances where you have very little reason to appreciate the character on paper, but through the moving image, Keaton brings out the emotions and the flaws that we all suffer from — just on a more upscale level.  He drips with insecurity and confusion, moving through the halls of the St. Regis Theatre unsure of where he’s walking towards and when it’ll end, just hoping… HOPING he becomes what he desires to become.  Keaton kills it here, and though this is an ensemble piece with an excellent visual execution, Keaton is the beating heart of BIRDMAN.

MARION COTILLARD (Two Days, One Night)

Premiering at Cannes at steamrolling through Telluride and Toronto, the latest film from the Dardenne Brothers encapsulates a simple narrative of a hopeless and weak person turning into an example of strength and will.  Similar to Birdman, TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT fails if they don’t nail the central figure, Sandra, a wife and mother of two who tries to retain her job by convincing each co-worker to not accept their bonus.  Cotillard’s performance is quiet, but doesn’t mean it’s not meaningful and gutting, expressing her depression and attitude through incredible facial expressions and body language.  This is a risky film, though being small, mainly because it’s hinged on our attachment to the main character, and if we don’t bond with her, empathize with her, understand her battle, then it all fails.  But thankfully, it magnificently works with plenty of credit going to Cotillard.

J.K. SIMMONS (Whiplash)

This image above is everything you need to know about WHIPLASH, J.K. Simmons’ award winning performance, and pretty much the thesis behind the brilliant film of 29 year old Damien Chazelle (yes, that’s correct).  Simmons is the grim reaper of all music instructors, a dark world that’s brutal and violent but rarely ever gets a spotlight on, pushing his students in ways that is criminal… but also rewarding.  I can’t imagine anyone else that could pull this role off the way Simmons does.  His mannerisms, his bulging biceps in a tight black shirt who soaks in darkness, and his execution of obscene language that’s both awful but yet artistic.  He’s so respectable and pulls of this tight rope act of making us appreciate his persona even though he emotionally and physically violates these young, hopeful students.  Simmons will win Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars and rightfully so cause he’ll go down as one of the greatest villains/instructors/inspirations/motivators/devilish characters of all time.

TILDA SWINTON (Snowpiercer)

Tilda Swinton is the pinnacle of coolness.  She’s too good for all of us and human kind in general, and I’m so thankful I live in the age of Swinton as her choices and performances are precise and brilliant, always pushing the envelope for what she can do.  In SNOWPIERCER, she turned a male role into probably the most memorable element in the entire film, which says a lot considering the movie itself is a marvel.  Every second of Swinton is a masterpiece, and she’s pretty much unrecognizable here, though that’s true for almost all her performances.  Just like any auteur filmmaker, we should anticipate a Swinton film because she’s a gem in today’s entertainment world.

EDDIE REDMAYNE (Theory of Everything)

Watching Eddie Redmayne play Stephen Hawking in THEORY OF EVERYTHING was an indescribable experience, mainly seeing an actor speak less and less and evolve into an individual limited physically but mentally boundless.  So much in the mind, so much to express, so much to seek and understand, but unable to do the basic of human behaviors because of an unfortunate case of ALS.  I can’t imagine the preparation and technique that went into playing Hawking, saying so much through his eyes, his positions, his crouched stillness on his wheelchair.  It’s things like that where a performance is earned, and Redmayne deserves all the credit he’s receiving.

ANNE DORVAL (Mommy)

I can’t rave enough about Xavier Dolan’s films, specifically I KILLED MY MOTHER and MOMMY, which of course has Anne Dorval starring in both.  In MOMMY specifically, Dorval plays an immature and naive mother who slowly realizes that she’s unable to take care of her wild and emotionally uncontrollable son, and that experience of watching her coming to that realization is so painful and difficult.  Dorval plays another flawed character (see the trend?  Flaws are good) where she pulls off another work of magic with Dolan.  I pray that she gets more exposure (maybe she doesn’t want it) and gets to play ripe roles where we see her breathtaking talent more and more.

STEVE CARRELL, CHANNING TATUM, & MARK RUFFALO (Foxcatcher)

I’m cheating, I know, but it’s too difficult to choose between the three in FOXCATCHER, where each performance is so greatly intertwined with the other two characters and their intimate and sensitive relationships with one another.  It truly is a love triangle, all trying to manage quite carefully who the others are and what they’ll slowly become.  This is a film driven by suppression, wealth, failure, disappointment, fulfillment, and irrevocable emotions, making this such a complex and dense work of art.  And though I regard Bennett Miller as one of the great American directors, Steve Carrell, Channing Tatum, and Mark Ruffalo round out this powerful film with their devotion to this unfortunate story.  It sucks to see Tatum become so irrelevant in the discussions for best performances of the year with the other two getting appropriate praise.  No individual sticks out from the rest in my opinion.  All three are vital pieces that create a fascinating piece of human dilemma.

REESE WITHERSPOON & LAURA DERN (Wild)

Something about this film kills me within, and the more I think about it, the more I realize so much of it’s emotional stake is because of the relationship between Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) and her mother (Laura Dern) and how the loss of such an important life can impact our own journey.  WILD works so well because of this relationship told in flashbacks, and much credit is given to Witherspoon for her courageous and revealing performance as a sex and drug addict who hikes the Pacific Crest Trail, equal praise should be given to Dern who plays that motherly figure so well it makes me cry.  Literally.  She captures that gentle, tenderhearted soul in ways that makes you feel like she’s your mother, and realizing how this film is more about the discovery of self through the loss of loved ones rather than your typical escape through nature narrative, their performances have so much more weight now.

DAVID OYELOWO (Selma)

Excuse my language, but this fucking film is so damn good and David Oyelowo is damn good as MLK.  This should be required viewing.  Every school in the U.S. should put SELMA in their syllabus, making all students, Black, White, Asian, Hispanic watch this because it’s so important and artistically immaculate.  Oyelowo kills it.  Simply kills it.  The speeches, the politics, the way he revolves around conflict and individuals, his relationship with his wife and the revealing of his flawed moments — it’s all there.  This is a performance that should be reveled for years, and I can’t speak enough about how amazing Oyelowo, the rest of this cast, Ava Duvernay, and all involved are in this piece about American history.  Arguably, this is probably one of the most important films on our country, being so relevant today and our fight for progress FOR ALL.  I still can’t believe how Oyelowo pulled it off, and it easily goes down as one of the best performances of the year.

ROSAMUND PIKE (Gone Girl)

This look, this face, this image is EVERYTHING.  I think GONE GIRL deserves such a huge conversation and study that covers a multitude of topics include American marriage, gender roles and expectations, Women in film, the definition of feminism, media fascination and exploitation, etc.  That’s how great David Fincher is.  He can throw a heavy amount of themes and elements and still make this film feel seamless and proficient.  What else he does so well is get the best out of his actors, and I really can’t think of a performance that’s had such polarizing reaction and discussion other than Rosamund Pike as  Amy Dunne.  Pike nails the complex state of Amazing Amy, stretching the blurred boundaries of who she actually is — from her narrations, her diary entries, her innocent & victimized self, or the violent, aggressive, and capitalist Amy, this is a role that requires one to explore the darkest of human capabilities.  There’s nothing more cinematic and bone tingling in movies of 2014 than the “Cool Girl” monologue.  The fact that that picture above is the fear of men everywhere across this country shows what kind of an affect this film has.  This is the year of Rosamund Pike and GONE GIRL, and our true feelings of women, who women should be, who women actually are, and what women can be.

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Most Anticipated Film: FOXCATCHER

Though there are many potentially great films coming out this fall, nothing excites me more than FOXCATCHER, Bennett Miller’s (CAPOTE & MONEYBALL) new film based on the true story of Olympic wrestler Mark Shultz and his coach/multimillionaire John du Pont.  Considering it was essentially raved at Cannes and will start its awards campaign at Telluride (pretty much a lock), we’re looking at a strong presence come Oscar time, looking at nominations for Picture, Director, Actor, Two Supporting (Tatum and Ruffalo), Editing, etc.  GO TEAM FOXCATCHER!

The Tough Life of a Male Stripper: Magic Mike Review

This is not a male stripper movie.  This is a movie about a male stripper that embodies more than just his profession during nights and weekends.  Magic Mike, directed by the great Steven Soderbergh, is being sold and plastered as a girls night out film where you see plenty of nude rares and six packs.  And in this case, yeah, you do, but there’s a lot more to this film than meets the eye.  Though women will flood to the theaters to watch Channing Tatum and cast dance to their bare, I’m not exactly sure if this movie was made for women or for men.  The approach and the point of view from this odd film feels more generated towards the guys’ mentality, their struggles and the life of insecurity.  Though it would seem that male strippers would have no problem with confidence and self-esteem, as it shows here, sometimes all women want is a face to look at and nothing more. Deep…

Magic Mike is centered around not one, but two male strippers (it comes better in pairs…Okay, I’m going to try my best to refrain from jokes, but really, I’m going to write as many as possible) who are on completely different tracks in terms of the stripper world.  Mike, or as many women know him as his stage name, Magic Mike, is the vet.  Aging but still very popular, he knows how the system works, understands the finances and the business of male entertainment.  Working almost as a partner but getting nowhere near as much, Mike’s commitment to his boss’s club is undeniably loyal.

Dallas, played by Matthew McConaughey, is the owner and businessman who uncomfortably but persuasively works with his strippers under his management.  By far McConaughey’s best work, we fully believe and accept this ridiculous role only because it’s not taken ridiculously by McConaughey.  Though passionate and charismatic, he’s still ruthless and relentless in making sure that he gets what he wants, and this in line is where the rift between the coach and the star player start to play out.

Mike, looking for a way out with his many business partnerships and entrepreneurship, attempts to make a living other than getting naked and working it ones.  That we don’t start fully seeing until we meet “The Kid” played by Alex Pettyfer.  A 19-year old fresh from dropping out of college, awkwardly gets introduced to the stripper world and instantly falls in love with it as the attention, the money and the women all come together in one grand package.

Mike and Adam (The Kid) begin this close friendship where both are heading in the opposite direction.  Mike wants out, Adam wants in (#2).  Life gets crazier for both as Mike’s desires to achieve something other than the lust of many women grows immensely, and his inability to find a woman who actually wants to talk with him instead of just plainly wanting him frustrates the somewhat depressed dancer.  Adam, on the other hand, gets deeper and deeper (#3) into this dark and hazy world and not only is he taking off his clothes for work, he starts getting in too deep with drugs and narcotics.

As you can tell, this film isn’t the easy going, girls going wild event that I think most people expected.  There’s a lot of ways people will look at this film.  Girls I think will be somewhat disappointed with the actual emphasis of plot and character development rather than stressing male nudity, and guys will look at this film and say, “I’d rather watch The Vow”.  Either way, Magic Mike is a lot more than just a stripper movie.  It would be unfair to label it as that, and Steven Soderbergh does a solid job in delivering more than what public assumes.

Besides Soderbergh’s direction, what really stands out here (I could…) is Channing Tatum and most likely his best performance as an actor.  Tatum is renown for his acting abilities.  I mean, let’s just look at his previous films and we can safely say nothing yells out Oscar worthy.  But after witnessing the year of 2012 (the year of Channing Tatum), I’m starting to see a lot of progress being made.  He’s started to learn that becoming a good actor doesn’t mean only doing action and dance films.  Though he has strong skills (his dancing here is top notch), we’re see a transition being made on his career where he actually is finding projects that work with his personality and character.

I don’t think Tatum is this heartthrob softy who falls in love with any pretty face.  Though most of his films do contain such unfortunate story line, we’re witnessing a change in his roles, focusing more on what works best with him, not him trying to do his best with something he’s not.  The swearing and obnoxious behavior, that really works for Tatum, and I think that’s in large part due to the fact that that actually might be who he is.  Yeah, he’s probably not going to be nominated for any acting awards, but for someone who has been labeled as a poor actor with good physiques, he’s starting to really showcase his abilities and talent (like a stripper). 

Really though, you can’t take this film too seriously.  It goes for depth and it definitely succeeds, but still, you do have to sit through a decent amount of male dance routines with thongs.  Every individual has a story to tell, and Magic Mike is the first for the male strippers.  For what it is, it was a solid piece of filmmaking.  And however they want to sell it, the dollar bills from the ladies will be coming their way.

Magic Mike gets 3 stars (out of 5).

Magic Mike Going Into Broadway

Before it even hit theaters, creators Steven Soderbergh and star Channing Tatum (which this movie is based off of) is pushing for a transition from film to a Broadway musical…yep that’s right.  As if Broadway already attracts enough women and gay men, the screenwriters will also write the book for the musical and can be expected to see it on the big stage next summer in 2013.  If this film does well this weekend (estimated around $25-30 million), then we can see this project being put on the fast track.  Positive reviews are pouring out for this film and many are saying that it’s more enjoyable for men than women.  I’m going to refrain from any jokes.

Magic Mike comes out on Theaters Today.