Sunday, October 25, 2015

Steve Jobs




Expectations:
Coming in to 2015, there were few (if any) films that I was looking forward to more than Steve Jobs. In fact, as soon as I learned that Aaron Sorkin was writing the film, it became my most anticipated in the near and distant future. I successfully avoided all other films about the late Jobs, wanting to go into this film fairly ignorant, because that is exactly how Sorkin would want it. As all of my readers know, Aaron Sorkin is my main man, and everything he touches is gold, as far as I am concerned. The film went through a few different casting issue and appeared to have some sort of turn off for many actors and directors, but, when you settle for Michael Fassbender and Danny Boyle, you're doing just fine. There is no doubt that Fassbender is a rising star, and Kate Winslet and Jeff Daniels always bring their best. So, with that said, my long term expectations for Steve Jobs never waned, making Thursday night one of my most exciting nights of 2015. 

Plot:
To be honest, my memories of Steve Jobs were created during Jobs' days as a frail cancer victim. So, the character that Sorkin brought to life was certainly one with which I was quite unfamiliar. Unfortunately, I didn't quite think that the film did a god job of explaining Steve Jobs' passion (not obsession) and giving us some reason to cheer him on. The format was a bit formulaic, particularly considering how abrupt the moment of realization was, at the end of the film. While I was certainly entertained and enjoyed every second of the dialogue that Sorkin leant to the film, Steve Jobs just lacked the excitement that I expected from a story about such an intriguing man. Ultimately, the entire second act could have been pulled from the film and used as flashbacks. The length of the film was not an issue, as it seemed to fly by, but there was just so much unnecessary repetition, implying audience ignorance, in my opinion. 

Characters:
On top of the amazing dialogue, tremendous acting is what really saved this film! My favorite thing about Sorkin's dialogue is that it always creates characters that feel extremely personal and comfortable with one another. Thankfully, that remained true with Steve Jobs, particularly with the relationship between Michael Fassbender's Steve Jobs and Kate Winslet's Joanna Hoffman. Additionally, the dialogue between Jobs and Jeff Daniels' John Sculley was clearly where Sorkin poured his heart into this film. Yelling = Love in Sorkin's mind, and Fassbender and Daniels surely know that fact, at this point. The only reservation that I had with Fassbender in this role was that the role felt like it was specifically written for Christian Bale. So, Fassbender actually appeared to be playing Christian Bale playing Steve Jobs, which makes the strong performance even more praiseworthy.

Best Character:
While I expected Michael Fassbender to amaze me, as he typically does, no one shone as bright as Kate Winslet in this film. Winslet is one of those actresses that I enjoy watching but rarely blows me away. Not any more! She was amazing! Not only was her Polish accent on key, but she really poured her heart and abilities into this character and stood toe to toe with Fassebender, who certainly pours as much passion into his characters as any actor that I've seen. Kudos to Winslet for impressing me!

Worst Character:
The cast of Steve Jobs was quite small and very impressive, which makes it difficult to pick a worst character, but I would say that Seth Rogen's portrayal of Steve Wozniak was fairly flat. The character itself was not all that bad, as it accomplished what Sorkin wanted. I just couldn't forget that it was Seth Rogen, as will be the case in any future dramatic roles portrayed by Seth Rogen. 

Conclusion:
Overall, Steve Jobs was a solid film with intriguing dialogue with which I was politely satisfied. I was far from blown away by the film itself, but the cast was amazing (probably the best I've seen, in 2015, from end to end). And, I'm sure that I could go back and watch this film again before The Oscars and probably find even more to love. If you want a long history of the life of Steve Jobs, this film is probably not for you. If you want to be entertained and watch smart people say smart things and do smart stuff, go watch! Personally, the film did not meet my overly high expectations, but it was a solid film that will probably impress those who don't expect the world to shift off of its axis at film's end, as I did. I give Steve Jobs 3.88 out of 5 stars. 

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Must See TV: Emmy's 2015

Year three of my own Emmy awards and boy is television changing. The pace at which TV has shifted to a stream and binge activity is a bit intimidating to me. Sure, there have been a number of trends and changes in film, during my 23 years on the earth, but the recent changes in the television world are absolutely crazy. Nevertheless, the content continues to flow at a faster pace.

Does anybody else remember the days when you only watched two or three shows and life was just as fun?... Yeah, me neither! Instead, 2015's Top Ten list only includes only about half of the shows that I watched from start to finish, this year--not to mention the time-fillers, like HGTV, re-runs, and all things ESPN.

Just so you know, the shows and seasons that qualify for this year's list aired between June 2014 and May 2015, much like the actual Emmy's.

If you want to compare and read the descriptions, check out my lists from 2013 and 2014.

Here are my Top Ten shows from last year:

1 - Orange is the New Black (Season 1 - Netflix)
2 - True Detective (Season 1 - HBO)
3 - The Big Bang Theory (Season 7 - CBS)
4 - The Tonight show Starring Jimmy Fallon (Season 1 - NBC)
5 - The Newsroom (Season 2 - HBO)
6 - American Horror Story: Coven (Season 3 - FX)
7 - The Writer's Room (Season 2 - Sundance)
8 - The Americans (Season 2 - FX)
9 - The Colbert Report (Season 10 - Comedy Central)
10 - MasterChef Junior (Season 1 - FOX)

A few notes, as your compare this year's list to last's:

- I have yet to watch season 3 of The Americans, but the reviews have been quite favorable.

- The Writer's Room appears to have been cancelled or perpetually postponed, as I have heard nothing about it (which is quite a shame).

- True Detective did not air from June 2014 to May 2015 and does not qualify for this year's list.

So, now, check out my favorites from the 2014-2015 television season...


10. The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon
(Season 2 - NBC)
 
While some of the new car smell has worn off of Jimmy Fallon's Tonight Show tenure, he still has so much going for him, and, as long as he keeps it up, I'll keep watching. I truly believe that no one has more fun at their job than Jimmy Fallon, and that fun-loving air permeates through the television every night. Kudos to Jimmy Fallon for being so likable.

9. The Celebrity Apprentice
(Season 14 - NBC)
 
Unfortunately, Donald Trump has decided that his ego is more valuable than my television entertainment, but, regardless, for 14 seasons, he and Mark Burnett kept me plenty entertained. There is very little space in my diet for reality shows, but The Apprentice has always been great, in my opinion, regardless of how C-list the celebrities may be.

8. American Horror Story: Freak Show
(Season 4 - FX)
 
Another season of AHS, another shift DOWN my Top Ten list... Most critics have been harsh on this season of AHS, and I can understand why. The story was all over the place, with very little purpose or emotion. But, nevertheless, there were a few great performances from Kathy Bates, Finn Wittrock, and Angela Bassett. Hopefully, AHS can turn things around, this season, with Hotel, but I am not sure that Gaga is going to be the savior.

7. The Newsroom
(Season 3 - HBO)
 
Most of my readers know of my love for Aaron Sorkin and, out of that love, stems my love for The Newsroom. While most critics never cared for the show, I have loved it from the first episode, and, if there had been a fourth, fifth, or sixth season, I would have loved it just the same. If Sorkin writes it, I'm intrigued. It really is that simple. The first three of the final six episodes were so good, and my hopes were quite high that Sorkin actually cared enough to write a great ending. But, everything quickly went to crap. Fortunately, it was still The Newsroom, and I still liked it.

6. The Colbert Report
(Season 11 - Comedy Central)
 
Thankfully, the Colbert drought is over, as Stephen's tenure on The Late Show has finally begun, but there is no doubt that the Stephen Colbert of The Colbert Report will forever be missed. The final season offered a number of great moments, with Colbert just being Colbert, and that is exactly what we, the fans, wanted. Kudos to everyone who was ever involved with The Colbert Report!

5. How to Get Away with Murder
(Season 1 - ABC)
 
For the record, I never thought I would ever enjoy a Shonda Rhimes show, but How to Get Away with Murder really impressed me in its first season. Sure, the show is overdramatized and a bit slow, but there are a number of twists and turns. And, there are not nearly as many overly-emotional moments as with Grey's Anatomy (thank God!!!). Kudos to ABC and Shondaland for impressing me, this year!

4. Bloodline
(Season 1 - Netflix)
 
While there were a few shows that I enjoyed better than Bloodline, this year, there are none that I miss as much as Bloodline. I truly fell in love with the crazy Rayburn family and loved the drama that kept you on the edge of your seat, even with the outcome being declared in the premiere. That move alone was genius and quite engaging. I'm not sure that season 2 can really keep up, but, either way, I cannot wait!

3. The Big Bang Theory
(Season 8 - CBS)
 
For the second straight year, The Big Bang Theory lands at number 3 on my top ten list, which is quite an impressive feat for a show in its 8th season, in my opinion. I know that many folks are no longer as fond of the show, but the past two seasons of the Big Bang have seen great improvements over seasons 5 and 6, where the women took a lot away from the show. The continuing evolution of Sheldon Cooper, along with a truly emotional send off for Ms. Wolowitz sold me on season 8 of this classic show. Hopefully, everything will continue to trend up, during season 9.

2. Orange is the New Black
(Season 2 - Netflix)
 
Orange is the New Black took Netflix and all of television by storm, during the summer of 2013, and, thankfully, the show just kept on chugging in season 2. There are a number of television shows that are great, from a critical standpoint, but Orange is the New Black draws you in and provides you with all you need to connect emotionally to its flawed characters. While it didn't quite make number 1, this year, there is no doubt that Orange is the New Black continues to impress.

1. The Last Man on Earth
(Season 1 - FOX)
 
Networks have such a hard time producing appropriate content that keeps the interest of today's TV audience. But, this season, FOX was able to absolutely blow me away with the unique addition of The Last Man on Earth, a hilarious new show from Phil Lord and Chris Miller (21 Jump Street, The LEGO Movie). It is my guess that many of you have not seen The Last Man on Earth, but you should work hard to correct this issue. If you're looking for something original and hilarious, go check it out! The last true comedy that I fell in love with was New Girl, which also airs on FOX, but it has been a whole 4 years since that show premiered. And, of course, New Girl has struggled greatly in recent seasons. While there have been new comedies that I like (Silicon Valley, Girls, Trophy Wife, etc.), none have been THIS great. I can't wait for season 2. I don't even care that New Girl got bumped to mid-season! Go watch this show, people!


Well, there you have it, folks! Be sure to tune in to the Emmy's on Sunday night and see who the lucky winners are, this year.

Also, go watch each and every show that I've just listed. You won't be disappointed!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Future of The Average Critic

Hello, folks!

It has been quite some time since my last post (over 3 months, actually), and I believe it necessary to update you on the events of my life.

Recently, I accepted a position with the Baldwin County Economic Development Alliance, in Baldwin County, Alabama. The decision to leave my beloved home town of Purvis/Hattiesburg was not an easy one to swallow, but there is no doubt in my mind that Baldwin County is the place for me to be, during this new season of my life.

In late May, after wrapping up my graduate course work, my wife and I moved down to Coastal Alabama, where we found a lovely house in which to reside, and I quickly began my new position on June 1st. We are now about 20 minutes from the nearest public beach, and the view, below, is not difficult to live with, at all!


Needless to say, the last 7 months or so of my life have certainly been insanely busy. You know, with the getting married and the grad school and the job hunting and the moving and whatnot. As a result, my movie watching has certainly taken a bit of a hit. But, I am getting back in the swing of things, as I have been to the theater four or five times, over the past month.

Unfortunately, however, I have not been able to get in the swing of writing new blog content or reviews. And, while the me of July 2014 would have been quite upset about that fact, the me of July 2015 is perfectly content, which is kind of nice.

When I started this blog, back in 2011, I had no idea that it would provide me with such a voice on film. My friends, family members, and people who I haven't spoken to in six years all seem to enjoy my blog and never fail to ask my opinion on a certain movie or movie-related issue... to which I usually respond with a "pretty good" or "we'll see," because my voice only comes alive on a keyboard. Nevertheless, I started The Average Critic without any real expectations, which is ironic, considering the high value that I place on expectations, when writing about a film. In fact, I never put much pressure on myself to push out content. I have never really been saddened by not getting around to reviewing a film. And, because of that lack of pressure, I have never had any emotion but pure joy, with regard to writing about film.

That said, the past six months or so have really been life-altering for me. While moving to a new area and beginning my career certainly changed the temperature on my season of life, marriage has totally thrown me into a different universe. And, I'm not talking about the whole selfless-love, always-and-forever thing. As far as those elements are concerned, they have been around since well before I began this blog, as I loved my wife in that way for a number of years, preceding our wedding day. No, the real change is found in my passions and hobbies that I desire to embrace, when I arrive home, whether that be from school, for the early part of 2015, or from work, for the past month. When I was a bachelor, there was a large amount of time that I had to fill with something, and I sure did love blogging about movies. But, now, I come home from work, and I want spend my time with her. And, when we part, in order to have alone time, I fill my time with the watching of movies or TV shows that she isn't interested in or playing an occasional video game or whatever.

Unfortunately for The Average Critic, there isn't a ton of time for blogging. In fact, I'm only getting around to this post, because I am travelling for work and absent of my lovely wife and pretty much any other responsibilities. Now, I'm not at all complaining about this shift in priorities. In fact, marriage is great! And, blogging has never been as much fun as going to the movies with the love of my life! But, it has shifted its way down my priority list.

So, what does this life change mean for The Average Critic???

Well, first off, I am not shutting down The Average Critic! Posts will continue to come about a lot less regularly, but I still want to keep this outlet for my thoughts on movies and TV. Also, I still plan to read the numerous blogs that I have come to love from various movie bloggers, across the world. It has been quite neat to virtually meet so many individuals who share a passion for film. In fact, if you have a passion or hobby, I would encourage you to find folks who blog about those things, if only to hear their ideas and opinions.

As this blog moves forward, there may come another time when I get a hankering to post as regularly or more regularly than I have in the past. There may come a time when it is time to close this thing down. But, for now, just know that The Average Critic is still out there watching movies, and he still has opinions about them. He just has a big, amazing life to live!

Friday, April 3, 2015

A Fistful of Moments Blogathon


Blogathon are so much fun, and I truly wish that I had more time to participate in them. But, for now, let's just enjoy the ones here and there!

Today's blogathon is courtesy of A Fistful of Films, a long-running blog that I (somehow) just discovered. The idea is great, and I think that it is something that any moviegoer can relate too, regardless of how average or above average your film repertoire may be...

The rules are super simple, so simple they may as well not be rules, just suggestions.

1) Pick a number between 1 and 100 (any more than 100 is just gaudy)
2) Choose that many cinematic moments that are either your all time favorites or ones that could, on any given day, be your all time favorites
3) Post them on your blog (or Tumblr or whatever) with the above header (or one you create for yourself)
4) Send the link by either posting it on A Fistful of Films in the comments or on Twitter ( @fististhoughts )

A cinematic moment:
We all have them in the back of our minds; those moments that make us think "man, this is what the movies are all about". We relive those moments in our mind's eye, remembering them and dissecting them and adoring them. They come in all shapes and sizes, from all types of films, and yet they all share one very important aspect; they define why we love the movies. It could be the way that the moment is cut; the way it's edited together. It could be the way the moment uses it's actors to evoke a powerful emotion from us. It could be the way that music floods the scene and draws us even closer to the moment in question. It could be a grand climax, a breathtaking introduction or a simple interchange. It could be any and all things, because for every film lover, the list is different
As a precursor, I am certain that many great moments are being left off of this list, considering that I did not have ample time to waste in preparation and my classic film repertoire is fairly weak, but I tried to pick from some of my favorites. Some of the "moments" that I've listed are actually moments, while many of them are just scenes that I love. Liberties were certainly used with the term moment.

Also, memes would be appropriate here, but all you get are pictures...

Bob and Weave
True Detective: Season 1
 
True Detective was intriguing from the get-go, but, when Matthew McConaughey went running around, dodging bullets and fists, for what seemed like 3 hours, I was completely sold. Undoubtedly, one of the most intense scenes ever shot for television.


Get Out My Belly!
Prometheus

Craziness! If you feel the urge to say “holy crap,” watch this scene!


Can I Offer You My Breath?
12 Years a Slave

I’ve said before that 12 Year a Slave is a great film that should be watched, but it is also a film that you hate watching. No scene brings this point home quite like watching Oliver Northrupp hanging from a tree, clinging to life by his toes. There are other cinematic moments that I love much more than this one, but no other moment has ever made me feel a character’s pain quite like this.



Out the Window He Goes
The Place Beyond the Pines

(Spoilers) I don’t know about you guys, but I was not expecting Ryan Gosling’s Luke to be killed so early in The Place Beyond the Pines. For this, I am very grateful! That moment, with Gosling falling out of the window, was so raw and real. Undoubtedly, this moment MADE The Place Beyond the Pines.


 
Poor, NPH
Gone Girl
 
To avoid spoilers and keep this blog PG, I won't go into detail about Neil Patrick Harris's memorable scene from Gone Girl. But, you should know that it is extremely intense, and the score is so perfect that I felt like I was bleeding out the entire time. Fantastic direction from Fincher!
 
 


Row On, Winklevi!
The Social Network

While my favorite moment from The Social Network is still to come, there is no doubt that this scene steals the show for many (even if it feels like an aside). Beautifully directed, the scene is so intense. If you saw only that scene, you would never, ever know that this film is about nerds taking over the world…



A Perplexing Situation
Midnight in Paris
 
Midnight in Paris is one of my favorite films, and I knew that I couldn't make this list without including at least one of my favorite moments from Woody Allen's masterpiece. Enter Adrien Brody, who is one of the greatest actors in Hollywood (for those of you who are not aware). Brody has one of the most memorable moments of the entire film, and he is only in the thing for about 3 minutes! Terrific! The conversation that surrounds this scene paints the perfect picture of how film is odd enough to capture the unreal better than literature or music. I'm sure some might disagree, but I'm sticking with the rhinoceros!
 
 
 
David Lindhagen
Crazy, Stupid, Love.
 
I chose not to include very many slapstick comedic moments in this list, because they aren't really cinematic... they are just funny! But, this scene from Crazy, Stupid, Love. is so perfect! The timing, the humor, the direction, the writing... it's all perfect. This comedy is extremely underrated, if only for this scene's existence.
 
 


Wanna Have a Catch?
Field of Dreams

This classic cinematic moment requires little explanation. So, let me just say… I love baseball, and that love was instilled in me by my father. Need I say more?!?



An Actor Acting... While Acting
Birdman

Birdman was my favorite film of 2015, and no moment within the film had as great of an impact as our introduction to Edward Norton’s Mike Shiner. The scene is set up so perfectly by Zach Galifinakis’s hopeful tone and beautifully acted by both Keaton and Norton, who create an act on top of an act with such ease.



Judy Judy Bo Budy
American Horror Story: Asylum

American Horror Story has done some crazy, crazy stuff, and it was truly hard for me to leave many of those crazy things off of this list, but I didn’t want this to become that AHS Power Hour. Thankfully, there is one moment that reigns supreme, and, if you haven’t ever seen AHS, you may not appreciate it quite as much. But, I was blown away by their ability to take such a dark, dark season and insert the most upbeat scene of the entire series. Keeping us on our toes!



We Should Go Back on Penny's Boat
LOST
If you ever read my blog, you know of my affinity for LOST. That affinity, while always growing, truly took hold at the end of season 3. Within minutes, we lost a dear friend and found out that “we have to go back.” These two moments are etched in my brain forever, and I can’t even begin to explain to you how much they mean to me.


Which Way is Up?
Inception

Inception is one of my favorite films, and Nolan’s direction has much less to do with it than the crazy, intriguing plot. However, I cannot have a cinematic moment list that doesn’t feature what I believe to be the most fascinating fight scene that I have ever seen.



When Bonnie Stole My Favorite Toy
Toy Story 3

No moment in the history of the world has ever made me cry as much as the ending of Toy Story 3, and I am man enough to declare it! This film was the perfect storm, in the life of Tanner Jones. One day, I plan to write an essay about how much this movie means to me, but, for now, just know that Andy's farewell to his toys is one of my favorite cinematic moments, ever.



Power Walking
The Social Network

My favorite score. My favorite scene. My favorite film.

There is no way that I could possibly explain to you how happy this scene makes me, each and every time that I watch... which is usually once a month or so. Who knows how many other films I could see if I wasn't always drawn to The Social Network...


There you have it, folks... a quick list of some of my favorite cinematic moments. Be sure to sound off in the comments with some of your favorite moments and any thoughts that you may have on my choices!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Chappie


Expectations:
Neill Blomkamp is THE MAN! Sure, all of you hateful critics are going to harp on the fact that Elysium wasn't as good as District 9, and, however true that may be, I personally didn't hate it as much as everyone else. It had problems. Heck, even Blomkamp has been hating on it, as of late. But, it wasn't terrible! It just didn't have the wow factor that came along with District 9. Instead, it felt a bit more like a typical sci-fi action flick and, if judged accordingly, holds its own. That said, Chappie is being seen as a chance for Blomkamp to redeem himself, and I was quite hopeful that he would be able to shut the critics up with this film. To me, the trailers for Chappie were absolutely terrible, particularly considering that Blomkamp has sold the film as a sort-of comedic sci-fi flick. Regardless, I knew that I would be checking Chappie out on opening weekend, and that is exactly what I did...

Plot:
While there were a few superfluous moments throughout this sci-fi dramedy, I was totally pleased with the story! While I can't pinpoint the reason, Blomkamp never has any problem connecting with me, and his ability to discuss social issues with his characters (however blatant) is something that I really enjoy. Chappie had a large resemblance to District 9, being set in the slums of Johannesburg and focusing on a character who was a bit of an outcast. Where District 9 was about not being accepted by your own people, Chappie focused more on the issue of not accepting new ideas and individuals who may not be anything like you. Sure, that element may have been shoved down the audience's throat a bit... But not any more than it was in District 9! Overall, Chappie really felt like an early 2000s sci-fi, action film, with its mix of humor, action, and fun. I'm not exactly sure why people have been so harsh on this film, but oh well...

Characters:
In the past, Blomkamp has sort of bombed with any character that wasn't played by Sharlto Copley (one of THE MOST underrated actors, by the way). While I am one of his biggest fans, there is no forgiving the horror that was Jodie Foster in Elysium. Thankfully, Chappie took a turn for the better...

Negatives:
You may or may not know, but I LOVE The Newsroom. And, what an appropriate time to bring that up, as I'm going against the critical flow! Anyway, on The Newsroom, Dev Patel plays Neil, who runs the news show's blog and pretty much anything else that has to do with technology. As I watched Chappie and saw Patel playing pretty much the exact same character, I just couldn't quite turn Neil off, in my mind. While Patel's performance wasn't horrible, I just don't think I connected to him as well as I should have. And, he never EVER closed the trunk to his van, which really pissed me off. Additionally, the mean guy who spoke English but still had subtitles... Yeah... Why?!?

Positives:
Ninja and Yo-Landi Visser, who actually played a version of themselves in the film, were quite fun as non-traditional gangsters, however goofy they may have been. Sure, there were times when you could tell that they needed some acting help, but the characters accomplished what they needed to and allowed for the main man to shine. And, that leads me to... Chappie! Of course, when your name is the title of the film, you are expected to steal the show, but I must say that Chappie was one of my favorite sci-fi characters in quite some time. Sharlto Copley was able to bring him to life in a way that not many could, and I was surprisingly impressed. Chappie was caring. Chappie made mistakes. Chappie made you laugh. But, above all, Chappie made you accept who he was becoming and never missed a beat in doing so...

Conclusion:
It appears as if 2015 is going to bring with it the bold return of these stand-alone action flicks, tucked neatly in the holes between Marvel and Star Wars. Unfortunately, the box office has failed to show a large amount of support for such films, which is quite disappointing to me. There was once a day when we could watch something that wasn't a superhero film or Oscar bait and actually enjoy it. It wasn't all Liam Neeson and teenagers killing each other! For me, Chappie was a return to those glory days of action films, when I was a kid who wouldn't have been impressed by the films that I love these days. Additionally, it was a reminder of how much I love Neill Blomkamp, who I believe has yet to miss on any film. Group think is a huge problem in the world of film criticism, and I believe a combination of group think and a horrible trailer led to the critical demise of Chappie. However, my opinion is unwavering. Chappie was a strong action film with an awesome story to tell about outcasts and embracing yourself for who you were truly meant to become. I give Chappie 3.89 out 5 stars.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Above Average Awards: Drama 2014


Yearly best lists are powerful things in the minds of movie bloggers. Not only are they the ultimate expression of film success or failure, but they totally dictate movie viewing habits from October to February of each year. People wonder why films from early in the year are so easily forgotten, and it all boils down to the fact that people want to talk about what they're watching with people who are watching the same things. Debates die out after a couple of months, which is unfortunate for early-year releases.

So, while I have had far from enough time to watch every film worthy of an Above Average Award, I tried my darndest to get to as many as possible, and the three lists, below, are the culmination of every 2014 movie that I have had the opportunity to see. Bask in the greatness, people...


Best Actress
While not nearly as populated as the best actor list, this year's best actress list features some amazing performances, beating the heck out of the 2013 female performances. As a guy, I must alert you to the fact that I tend to get more out of male performances. I'm not at all saying that actresses are lesser or lacking in talent. They just can't reach me on the same level.
 
That said, the ladies on this list were able to accomplish that difficult task of reaching my emotions, and, for that, they deserve all of the recognition in the world.
 

Honorable Mention: Jennifer Connelly (Noah), Anne Hathaway (Interstellar)
 

#5 - Kim Dickens
(Gone Girl)
While watching the trailer for Gone Girl, Kim Dickens annoyed the crap out of me, which greatly lowered my expectations for her character. Maybe that was why I loved her so much, but, regardless, she was great! Kudos to Dickens for impressing me and the rest of the world that is encompassed with Gone Girl fandom.

#4 - Rosamund Pike
(Gone Girl)
If you have seen Gone Girl, you know exactly how perfect Pike's portrayal of Amazing Amy turned out. There is no doubt in my mind that Pike was ideal for this role, and I am certainly hopeful that she can make a splash at The Oscars, however surprising that might be, at this point. On the other hand, if you have NOT seen Gone Girl, check it out! I'm going to keep my praise of Pike a bit short, in order to refrain from spoiling. So, just trust me and watch!

#3 - Laura Dern & Shailene Woodley
(The Fault in Our Stars)
If you read my review of The Fault in Our Stars, you know that I have a certain affinity for the novel and the resulting chick flick. Sure, the average audience member may have been 16, but this film got so very much right! Two of those right things are Shailene Woodley and Laura Dern. While neither of them would have been my selection for their respective roles, they were still great, and, honestly, the film was at its emotional best when the two were sharing the screen. While the novel may have revolved around a teenage love story, the film undoubtedly revolved around a relationship between mother and daughter, and it was brought to life by these two phenomenal actresses.
 

#2 - Felicity Jones
(The Theory of Everything)
Eddie Redmayne is one of my favorite up and coming actors, and, when I went to watch The Theory of Everything, I expected greatness on his part. But, while watching the film, I realized that the true star is not Redmayne, at all. Instead, Felicity Jones stole the show, and I was super impressed! The film is based on the memoir of Jones's character, which should have lead people on to the likelihood of her being the true star, but, nonetheless, it snuck up on me. Kudos to Jones and kudos to the filmmakers for allowing the best piece of The Theory of Everything to shine so bright. 

#1 - Emma Stone
(Birdman)
It only took one scene! I mean, just look at this picture and tell me she doesn't deserve the Oscar! Forget you, Patty Arquette! In 2011, Emma Stone sort of topped my best actress list, as a portion of "Every Female Cast Member on the Set of The Help," to which I recognized with that top prize, but this one is exclusive. Stone is not one of my favorite actresses (certainly not to the extent of many folks that adore her), but, in Birdman, she excels in so many ways! Of course, Stone has many, many great performances ahead of her, in her young career. However, I do not believe she will ever top her Birdman mini-rant that put her at the top of this list.
 


Best Actor
This category was the most difficult to wrap my head around, mostly due to the superior performance of the actor who tops this list. When thinking "who should be #2???" I kept drawing blanks! But, it is my duty to give you a complete list, and I shall do my duty. My 2014 Best Actor list is full of mediocrity-turned-great, which makes me totally excited for the future! So many careers were changed, for the better, in 2014, and that, my friends, pumps me up!
 
Honorable Mention: Bradley Cooper (American Sniper), Jesse Eisenberg (The Double), James McAvoy (X-Men: Days of Future Past), Evan Peters (X-Men: Days of Future Past), Vincent Piazza (Jersey Boys), Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything), Channing Tatum (Foxcatcher)


#8 - Benedict Cumberbatch
(The Imitation Game)
Benedict Cumberbatch is his own enigma, in my opinion. I've never thought of him as a bad actor, but, considering the performances of his that I have witnessed, I never, ever thought he would give a performance as gripping as he did in The Imitation Game. You might be wondering how I could put such a great performance at number 8 on my list, which will be answered by my praise of the other AMAZING 7 performances that were just a little bit better...

#7 - Ethan Hawke
(Boyhood)
In the past, Ethan Hawke has been able to pleasantly surprise me, on multiple occasions. While he is not a great actor, there is something about him that is so honest and relatable, and, in Boyhood, that honesty was shining like never before. While I was not the biggest fan of the film, it was certainly well-made and emotional. Looking back at my own childhood and the maturation of both myself and my parents, I truly appreciate what Hawke brought to this film. Personally, I thought Patricia Arquette was borderline horrible in the film, but Hawke did not let that slow him down. In fact, it made him shine just a little bit more!

#6 - Edward Norton
(Birdman)
While I don't particularly dislike Edward Norton, I have never, ever been impressed with him as an actor. Thankfully, Birdman swept in and changed that struggle! Norton was absolutely great in this role, as he truly encompassed the character. He was likeably unlikeable, and I wouldn't have changed a single thing about him (or much of the film, for that matter). Edward Norton was just a small part of what made Birdman great... 

#5 - Michael Keaton
(Birdman)
Michael Keaton is in the mix to win Best Actor at The Oscars, and he is certainly deserving. In fact, if I enjoyed Keaton, as an actor, a little bit more, there is a good chance that he would be much higher on this list. For some reason, he just doesn't really connect with me, as a performer. Instead, I just always feel like I'm watching Michael Keaton, rather than his character. Regardless, his performance and character in Birdman were certainly worthy of recognition.

#4 - Jake Gyllenhaal
(Enemy)
Jake Gyllenhaal was on fire in 2014, and so many of the average viewers that I like to think I represent were deprived of said fire. Enemy has received ample critical praise, and Gyllenhaal is certainly responsible for much of that praise. The film itself was a bit too complex for me (but still good), but Gyllenhaal was spot on and deserving of my kudos! Check this one out! You will not be disappointed.

#3 - Chadwick Boseman
(Get On Up)
Anyone who is crazy enough to attempt to play James Brown deserves a certain amount of praise! But, anyone who is able to play James Brown as crazily as Chadwick Boseman deserves an abundance of praise. Because the film itself was lacking and poorly received, Boseman's performance went unseen by many and, throughout the awards season, unrecognized by most, and I am here to right that wrong! Boseman nearly made my list, last year, for his performance in 42, but Get On Up solidifies him as a rising star. I cannot wait to see what Boseman does in the future, but, for now, be sure you check out his performance in Get On Up.

#2 - Steve Carell
(Foxcatcher)
Creepy killed in 2014, and no one brought home the crazy like Steve Carell! So many people have been amazed at the performance, because of the fact that it is Steve Carell. However, I was just amazed at the performance because it was an amazing performance. Personally, as a fan of laughter, I hope that Carell sticks to his comedic roots, but, if these types of characters continue to fall into his lap, you can't blame him for taking the opportunity to blow us away. Kudos to Carell and whoever made this amazing, unusual match.

#1 - Jake Gyllenhaal
(Nightcrawler)
There may have been multiple grand performances in 2014, but the distance between Jake Gyllenhaal and the rest of the dramatic field is absolutely insane! Honestly, I had trouble coming up with comparable choices for the rest of the list, because he was just that good. In my four years of blogging, Gyllenhaal's performance in Nightcrawler is undoubtedly the best that I've reviewed, and I'm stoked to see what his still-young career has in store for him. Kudos to Gyllenhaal for his performance, and kudos to any of you who had the honor of enjoying that performance. Also, he is the first actor to ever make The Above Average Awards list twice in the same year! There is no doubt that 2014 is the year of Gyllenhaal!


 

 
Best Film
Conflict... Simple conflict is such a powerful thing. You may notice that 4 of the 5 pictures that I chose for my 5 favorite dramatic films of the year show two people facing each other, with some sort of conflict (don't peek). It is quite strange how these things work themselves out, but I did not plan that to be the case, at all. Maybe these pictures are an indication of theme of interpretation, throughout my 2014 movie viewing, but who knows! Regardless, 2014 was a year that featured many amazingly impressive films and a number of mediocre films. But, what I will remember most about 2014 is the lack of disaster among the year's blockbusters. Not only were studios successful in launching non-sequels, but they rarely failed (at least with films that I had the opportunity to view). So, lets see which film will take home the ultimate prize and join The Place Beyond the Pines, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and 50/50, each of which have topped my lists for best drama, over the past three years...
 
Honorable Mention: Enemy
 

#5 - Nightcrawler
At this point, I have seen Nightcrawler twice, and, both times, I was just thinking "what the heck!" throughout the entire film. Gyllenhaal's performance was obviously phenomenal, as I just notified you, but the entire thing is just so fascinating and draws you in! Of the films represented on my best list, Nightcrawler is probably the one that you, as an average viewer, have heard the least about. Don't let that discourage you! Check it out! Even the wife liked it!

#4 - Gone Girl
Even with the hype and heightened expectations, Gone Girl was undoubtedly one of the most universally loved, non-superhero films of 2014. Along with the next two films on this list, Gone Girl could have been an epic disaster. I mean, if it wasn't in the hands of David Fincher, that is! Fincher is one of the best in the biz, of course, which was the sole source of my excitement for the film, but I never expected it to be so intense and well-written. Gillian Flynn can certainly sell to more than just moms on the beach! 
 
#3 - Guardians of the Galaxy
Many consider Guardians of the Galaxy the "little Marvel project that could," and they are certainly entitled to their opinion. Sure, the film was GREAT, but I've yet to understand why so many people (many of whom worship at the throne of Marvel) were surprised by the success of Guardians. Regardless, the entire film was spot-on, and, at #3 on my 2015 best-list, Guardians of the Galaxy is the highest rated Marvel film in the four-year history of The Above Average Awards, besting The Avengers by one spot! However, 2012 was a much stronger year for film (in my opinion), and Guardians is not quite Avengers-good.  

#2 - X-Men: Days of Future Past
Days of Future Past could have been a disaster! And, when I say it could have been a disaster, I mean it could have singlehandedly murdered the X-Men franchise and other perspective superhero films. Yet, it turned out to be the most impressive blockbuster of 2015 (in my opinion). Because of the financial success of Guardians of the Galaxy, X-Men will not be considered 2015's biggest superhero success story (which is such a shame), but, regardless, Bryan Singer and crew took two entirely different franchises and successfully merged them into one, in a way that made total sense. Now, I'm a pretty smart guy, but there is no way in heck that I could have accomplished or foreseen the success of what Singer did with this franchise. Each and every time that I see the film (and I am certainly racking up the views), I am in awe of the ease with which the film flows from past to future to present to the deletion of 40 years of humanity. It was just great! And, while I do watch pretty much every superhero film, I'm not easily impressed by action and superpowers. In fact, in the first three years of my blog (during which the superhero era took flight), The Avengers was the only superhero film to make any of my yearly best lists. Days of Future Past deserves so much more credit than it has garnered, and I'm here to give it!
 
 
#1 - Birdman
No 2014 film caught me off-guard as much as Birdman! The cast was brilliant. The direction was brilliant. The story was brilliant. And, the score was one of the most impactful that I have heard in many years, and the fact that it was not eligible for Oscar voting is an absolute shame. Seriously, those drums were fantastic! But, anyway... Birdman was the most perfect piece of artistic filmmaking in 2014. Until I went to see Birdman a second time, X-Men was going to top my list, but things just kept trending towards the Bird. If Birdman ends up winning best picture (which I hope it does), I will be so excited. However, I never really thought that my #1 would line up with Oscar's. So, I'm excited to see if that is the case! Regardless, Birdman is one of the most engaging, exciting, nerve-wracking mind blowers of all time. Please, for the love of all that exists, watch this movie! And soak it in! Because Birdman is the best dramatic film of 2014!
 
 
 
But it still doesn't top The LEGO Movie!
 
 
Well, there you have it, folks! That's a wrap on the year that was 2014.
 
As always, thank you to everyone for reading and be sure to let me know if there is anything that I can do to make 2015 an even better year for The Average Critic.
 
Be sure to check out the best in comedy from 2014 in The Above Average Award: 2014 Comedy, which was released last week.
 
Happy Oscars!
 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Above Average Awards: Comedy 2014


Each year, I give the same rant about the lack of recognition that is given to comedic films, and you are about to hear a condensed version of that rant YET AGAIN!

Of course, most critics harp on crummy comedies like Blended, Tammy, and Sex Tape, and they forget that many moviegoers go to the movies with intentions to laugh. Sure, there are times when I want to be blown away with drama or suspense, but, there are many times that I just want to laugh. The actors, actresses, and films below are being recognized by me because of their ability to make me roll with laughter.

Categorizing films and performances can be extremely tricky, as many comedies have dramatic undertones and most dramas have at least some comedic presence. So, my job is not an easy one! However, in order to draw some sort of dramatic/comedic line, here is what I use to categorize films:

1) Did the film "feel" like a comedy?

If yes, then I consider that film a comedy.

And that is all...




Best Actress
Each year, I have trouble filling the comedic actress category, but it would be sexist to exclude them. So, here we are... I have two...
 
#2 - Melissa McCarthy
(St. Vincent)
Although the quality of Melissa McCarthy's recent films can certainly be argued against, she remains one of the funniest performers alive, in my opinion. Sure, you might get sick of her, but she ALWAYS gives it her all. In St. Vincent, McCarthy did a great job of connecting on an emotional level. In fact, I almost included her performance in the dramatic category, but her performance was so different from the others that made the dramatic list, moving her back to comedy. Surprisingly, McCarthy has managed to make my best actress list 3 out of my 4 years of blogging. Only one other person has ever made my list three times (and he will make it four, in just a few scrolls down). So, kudos to her, even if you hate her!

#1 - Jane Fonda
(This is Where I Leave You)
Jane Fonda's boobs may have been at the forefront of her comedy, in This is Where I Leave You, but she truly gave a hilariously appropriate performance. Honestly, most of this film's performances were spot on! But, Fonda, as the kooky new widow, really stole the female side of the show from two hilarious women, Kathryn Hahn and Tina Fey. Although the comedic actress field is often weak, in my mind, there is always someone like Jane Fonda there to save the day!
 
 

 
Best Actor
So many actors never have their comedic work fully realized. I mean, if you aren't Bill Murray or Jonah Hill, you are pretty much screwed, as far as being recognized by the big-wigs. I'm stoked to have the chance to share some of my favorite comedic performances with you, many of which went undetected by Oscar, in 2014...
 

Honorable Mention: Zach Braff (Wish I Was Here), Rohan Chand (Bad Words), James Corden (Begin Again), Bill Hader (The Skelton Twins), Channing Tatum (22 Jump Street)
 

#6 - Dave Franco
(Neighbors)
It has taken a little while for Dave Franco to impress me, as I didn't really care for him in his first couple of films. But, Neighbors brought out the best in him and truly gave him a chance to shine in a hilarious role. Hopefully, Franco will continue to pick them well, and, as long as he continues to hang around with his brother's counterparts, he should be alright!

#5 - Ralph Fiennes
(The Grand Budapest Hotel)

You have to respect Ralph Fiennes and what he was able to accomplish with his performance in The Grand Budapest Hotel. If you haven't seen The Grand Budapest, I hope that you will take the time to bask in the performance of Fiennes and the entire ensemble. Whether or not you enjoy Wes Anderson, there is no doubt that his actors give him their all!
 
 
#4 - Bill Murray/Jaeden Lieberher
(St. Vincent)
The Above Average Awards have been a great testament to my love for great child actors, and Jaeden Lieberher was the kid who really brought it in 2014. However, his humor and storyline would have been insignificant without the great performance of  St. Vincent himself, Mr. Bill Murray. These two were absolutely great for each other, and, if you watch St. Vincent, you are sure to agree!

#3 - Ice Cube
(22 Jump Street)
In 22 Jump Street, Ice Cube's character was really allowed to shine, much thanks to the hilarity of Jonah Hill. There is no doubt that the "situation" involving Mr. Cube's daughter and Hill's character created a few of the most memorable scenes of 2014, and, while much of this success is attributable to great writing, Ice Cube did a great job of doing his thing. It certainly kept me laughing!

#2 - Jonah Hill
(22 Jump Street)
In 2012, Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum shared my top honor for a comedic actor for their work in 21 Jump Street. Regardless of how high, I expected the two of them to end up on this list, again, for 22 Jump Street. Unfortunately, Tatum's role and performance in 22 Jump just didn't quite impress me as much, and he did not make the cut. However, Hill remains at the top of the game and continues to be one of my favorite actors. This year marks the fourth straight appearance in the Above Average Awards, after making the list in drama, in 2011, for Moneyball, and in comedy, in 2012 and 2013, for 21 Jump and This Is the End, respectively. Kudos to Jonah Hill for continuing to wow me. Hopefully, we will see him on the 2015 list, as well!

#1 - Adam Driver
(This is Where I Leave You)
Adam Driver has quickly become one of my favorite actors, and that goes for both his loud comedy and his sporadically dramatic moments. Throughout This is Where I Leave You, Driver was hilarious, as he is in every film that he touches. However, in a moment shared with Jason Bateman's main character, Driver showed a quick flash of emotion that was so real that I almost burst into tears during its 10 second span! It was insane! Of course, that drama belongs in the dramatic category, but his comedy is what I believe makes his emotion so impactful. This is Where I Leave You may not be the best comedy of 2015, but it is one worth checking out, if only for the great performances. Kudos to Driver for making me like him, as I hope continues to be the case. And, kudos to This is Where I Leave You for creating real, funny characters for us to fall in love with!


Best Film
There is no doubt in my mind that 2014 was one of the strongest comedic years, in recent memory. In fact, comedy beat the crap out of drama, in 2014 (or at least that's what I think). So, here are a few of my favorites. Be sure to note the honorable mentions and check each of them out, as well!

 
Honorable Mention: Neighbors, This is Where I Leave You, Wish I Was Here
 
#4 - St. Vincent
I've yet to truly understand why St. Vincent made me so emotional, but, if there was one 2014 film that came close to winning Tanner Jones's "Toy Story 3 Award for Tear Jerking," it was St. Vincent. And, because of the emotion that the film brought on, I came very close to placing this film in the dramatic category. Nevertheless, here it is in the comedic category, due to the large amount of laughter that accented that drama so very well. With great performances throughout, St. Vincent is sure to impress almost anybody (particularly if you love child actors... like me!).

 
#3 - The Grand Budapest Hotel

While I can't boast a great knowledge of Wes Anderson's work, I will say that I have never been a fan of anything of his that I have had the chance to view. I've never hated his films, but they just didn't click with me... until The Grand Budapest Hotel! This film may be one of the most artsy, weirdo flicks of 2014, but something about it just works. If you are looking for a hilariously quirky film, The Grand Budapest is just for you. Kudos to Wes Anderson for making a film that I like! Maybe I should take the time to check out the remainder of his work...
 
#2 - 22 Jump Street
Some sequels do an adequate job of living up to their predecessors, but some, like 22 Jump Street, grab the sequel bull by the horns and show it who is boss! While there have been a number of successful sequels, I don't know that any other has truly embraced sequeldom as well as 22 Jump Street. Kudos to the cast and the creators for giving me something to laugh at and be proud of, as a fan of R-rated, comedic humor. In a normal year, 22 Jump Street would take the crown with ease, but 2014 is far from normal...
 
 
#1 - The LEGO Movie
The LEGO Movie is the most amazing film of 2014 (comedy or drama), without a doubt! If I had a dollar for every adult to whom I have attempted to sell this film, I would be going to Paris or something! Although the film was a commercial success, there are so many folks who have yet to see this hilarious, clever, touching animated film. It is ridiculous! I will not stop until ALL have seen The LEGO Movie! The clever nature of the film just blew my mind as I watched and continues to impress me with every viewing. Kudos to the creative minds behind The LEGO for creating the BEST FILM OF 2014. PERIOD! (Screw you, Academy!)


So... That is all from the comedic world in 2014! Be sure to check out The Above Average Awards: Drama 2014, which I will publish in the next week or two. And, don't forget...