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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The Dark Knight Falls Inexplicably: The Dark Knight Rises Review

I’m at a loss of words right now. The trilogy that was suppose to belong with the greats like Star Wars and Lord Of The Rings. The director, Christopher Nolan, the one that is now proclaimed as the director of our time. The “epic conclusion” to one of the great comic book films of all time. I’ve never been so speechless and disappointed from a film that I thought was going to be one of the greats of this year, possibly decade. I will warn those who read this review, it will contain some spoilers and this is a reaction review, not a day or two of thinking and evaluating review. I assuredly will go see this movie again and make sure my criticism for it is justified, but for now, you have been warned.

The Dark Knight Rises was one giant mess of a movie that tries to achieve so much in a little bit of time, even if that time is almost three hours in length. The Dark Knight Rises has absolutely no flow or rhythm and can literally be separated into three parts, and each part has nothing substantial or fascinating. The Dark Knight Rises has the blandest of characters I’ve seen from Nolan in all of his films and literally puts in useless face time and story where it feels like the entire movie is one bad case of bloated gas. And this is how it comes out, just pure stink.

The final installment to Nolan’s trilogy of the Batman character starts where we left off, except it’s eight years ahead. Moving from the incident and eventual death of Harvey Dent that was blamed by the dark crusader, Bruce Wayne and Batman are both gone from the public. Hiding in the Wayne mansion, Bruce feels no need to go out into the world where he doesn’t belong or is needed. Bruce has always been a character that has been conflicted from outward appearance and inner truth, and he continues this struggle throughout the film. Gotham is clean of organized crime, but it doesn’t mean it’s clear of those big massive villains that always seem to find its way through Gotham. Bane, a violent and bone-crushing mercenary piles through Gotham with weapons, an army and most importantly, a message. This message is for those who have been on the bottom of the barrel. Those who have been left with the trash and need to come and regain their city. With a nuclear device that of course was for good but now has been turned into an evil weapon, the city of Gotham is threatened by a nuclear attack where everyone and everything would be destroyed. Clean slate. That’s kind of how I feel about The Dark Knight Rises too.

There are a bunch of new characters thrown into Rises, mainly from Anne Hatheway as Selina Kyle aka Catwoman (though never introduced as so), Joseph Gordon-Levitt who plays the admirable John Blake and Marion Cotillard, who plays Miranda Tate, a rich philanthropist who is working with Wayne Enterprises. All three play supportive but crucial roles in this film, and are all part of one giant mishandling of too many characters in one film. Each have their own story, their own importance, their own purpose, but this all has to go back to Batman. What does this character have to do with Bruce Wayne? How does this relationship effect the masked vigilante? Why is this relationship necessary in this conclusion? I felt these questions weren’t really answered, whereas these characters were some part of this final gigantic bow where too much is happening.

Enough of the criticism, let’s get back into the plot. So Bane starts blowing crap up everywhere and eventually breaks Batman where he is sent into some God forsaken land in the middle east and we have no clue how he gets there. Okay, that’s fine. This is where Batman truly needs to literally break himself to regain his proper motivation into why he will go back into Gotham. Blah blah blah. As he’s doing so, Gotham City has become a violent and chaotic mess where citizens are controlling citizens, and the people are doing whatever it takes to survive.

Honestly, I don’t have to continue with explaining this story because you know what’s going to happen. Batman will come, we’ll have this big awesome fight scene and Gotham will be saved. Maybe. Maybe not. The funny thing is is that I absolutely did not care about what happened to Gotham or its people. Honestly, I kind of wished all these characters would’ve died and we can just get The Joker back and play his psycho games. Truth be told, I’d watch the Joker sell soap rather than watch all of this unfold again.

I sound very harsh, and I think it’s not really how I feel about the film, but how I personally feel we’ve been misled this entire time. Nolan’s first two Batmans were nothing short of grand. It has such beautiful flow and connectivity and I, at least, was expecting this big finale where everything was done right in Gotham. But it feels as if nothing was done right in this third film from the flow, the dialogue, the character development and even the fight scenes.

Everything felt so underwhelming. Everything just felt mediocre and flat, and it really was confusing how this was happening cause Nolan is such an advocate from great story telling. And I think the main issue with this film is that there’s just too much going on. In the first of the three part series of the third film in the trilogy, we’re thrown into this situation where we have no clue what’s going on, all these characters mumbling about something and we progress so quickly that we barely get to realize that the trailers are over. Nolan tried to do too much here. Too many story line. Too many characters. Too much ambition without execution.

What really upsets me is that there seems to be absolutely no care in the little details. If there’s one thing about Nolan that I cannot stand is his distaste for any sort of brutality or evidence of violence. Someone gets shot, no blood. Someone breaks a neck, let’s cut it back. Over and over again I wanted to see Bane’s strength and brutality but was shied away. I wanted to get into the war between the Gotham Police and Bane’s army but all I get is some really lame fist fights. And this is not just about more violence. We get a car chase scene that starts in daylight and ends at night. Unless someone is going to say, “oh no, the sun is setting” then you can’t have this happen. And some of the cheesy lines and unintentional comedic scenes… It’s just shocking that a director of this magnitude would let this kind of film making happen.

Another really big issue I had was the fact that this movie moves so quickly but yet is almost three hours! How does that happen? That’s when you know you’re trying to accomplish too much. All these characters are solid but they get no time to shine, and they all have to somehow integrate with Bruce Wayne/Batman, and everything just feels forced. Nothing felt natural. Though Selina Kyle and John Blake are great individuals and characters in the Dark Knight Rises, their presence was shied away from a bloated plot that really didn’t need their involvement. And talk about unnecessary. Juno Temple’s role as Kyle’s sidekick. Wow, literally waste of film.

I didn’t hate everything about this movie. I actually liked it in the beginning, kind of. I was conflicted. I thought there were so many flaws but I still was fixated by what was going on, and then it lost me. With it’s overplayed messages about society and the current state of our country, to the whole idea of Batman breaking completely and rising from new ground. It was just so arrogant and sometimes pretentious. There’s just way too many themes that are trying to be discussed that no theme really excels. Whatever message you want to send to your audience, the message has to come within a package that resembles a good movie. This, unfortunately, is not delivered.

I did not come into this movie with high expectations. I did not come into The Dark Knight Rises hoping for as good or better than The Dark Knight. The movie doesn’t fail because it doesn’t live up to its predecessor. The movie fails because it’s not a good movie. Everything about this final installment yells laziness. Cutting corners. Making sure I make the movie I want to make and put these elements in here, and we’ll get it done no matter what. Nolan has the resume to make whatever movie he wants. And my opinion means absolutely nothing to him or to anyone who reads this review. But from a fan of Nolan’s and a fan of this series, I thought I deserved better than what I got. Batman deserved better. Batman Begins and The Dark Knight deserved better. But when things get too high, gravity pulls it right back down.

The Dark Knight Rises gets 2 stars (out of 5).