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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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...


Monday, February 9, 2015

American Sniper (The Film That Silenced Tanner Jones)

As a critic (however amateur), I believe that my job is to share my honest opinion, without having that opinion be influenced by outside forces. While I am far, far from the voice of the American film industry, I attempt to provide honest and entertaining readings for the few people who do actually read my blog.

About a month ago, I went to see American Sniper, the box office hit that has everybody talking. What I took away from the film was a mixed bag of emotions, including a desire to rant about polarized social beliefs, particularly racial and religious strife.

You see, different people watched American Sniper for different reasons. Some wanted yet another excuse to bask in the glory of our nation and praise our role as global babysitter. Some wanted to see a sniper take out a large sum of people, regardless of who those people were or whether they were representative of real-life individuals. Others, like myself, just wanted to see what the hype was about.

In the week following my viewing of American Sniper, I took the time to write a harsh review, the length of which tripled the post that you are reading right now. In that review, I called out A LOT of people on all sides of the political, social, and religious spectrums. While you may not be aware, my views of the world are quite moderate, meaning that I view almost everyone's opinions as valid, although mine are much closer to correct. That said, it is easy for me to criticize everyone's worldview (and American Sniper-view), because I don't believe in playing by their rules. In the past, people have told me that I don't really believe in anything, but the truth is that I believe in everything and attempt to understand most sides of every argument. Sure, there are some political and social issues that I feel strongly about, such as fiscal policy and abortion, but, for the most part, I enjoy hearing everyone else's opinions and deciding what is right, on a case by case basis.

Anyway... I say all of this political mumbo jumbo only to give you a better understanding of who I am and why I struggled with my American Sniper review. For a month, I have been contemplating whether or not to post the harshly critical review, in which I challenged strong beliefs of many, many people. And, in my contemplation, I didn't desire to write anything else, which was quite frustrating.

So, here I am... Obviously, I decided to keep the post to myself (at least until Google takes over the world and publishes all of my unpublished posts), but the battle between my political views and my duty to you, my readers, was quite intense. My real thoughts on American Sniper will remain with me, and, for that, I apologize. I know that all of this discussion is mostly for my own sanity, but I thought you might want to peak inside my brain and at least hear a little bit about the film that silenced my little keyboard.