Sunday, September 18, 2016

Must See TV: Emmy's 2016

Very few things have been able to pull me from my blog hibernation, over the past year, but the Emmy's can make me do anything. So, here I am, prepared to share with you my TV best-list from the 2015-2016 television season. For the record, only seasons of shows that aired between June 2015 and May 2016 are being considered for the list. Anything that has aired since May will be included in next year's list (I'm talking to you, Stranger Things).

Also, know that there are a number of great shows that I really love that didn't quite make the cut, this year. Fortunately, there is always hope for next year!

In case you are interested in comparing, here is last year's Top 10:

1. The Last Man on Earth (Season 1 - FOX)
2. Orange is the New Black (Season 2 - Netflix)
3. The Big Bang Theory (Season 8 - CBS)
4. Bloodline (Season 1 - Netflix)
5. How to Get Away with Murder (Season 1 - ABC
6. The Colbert Report (Season 11 - Comedy Central)
7. The Newsroom (Season 3 - HBO)
8. American Horror Story: Freak Show (Season 4 - FX)
9. The Celebrity Apprentice (Season 14 - NBC)
10. The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon (Season 2 - NBC)

Now, on to the good stuff...

10. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
(Season 2 - HBO)

In a world with no Colbert Report and no Jon Stewart, John Oliver has happily filled a void that, in the midst of an insane election year, absolutely must be filled. While I do love British humor, Oliver has done a great job of Americanizing his humor for many years, and, for some reason, his passion for his stories truly feels stronger and much more serious than than the stories of Colbert and Stewart. Kudos to Oliver for finding his niche and giving America something to laugh at!

9. The Last Man on Earth
(Season 2 - FOX)

Last year, The Last Man on Earth topped my tv best-list and truly blew me away with its unique form of humor. Unfortunately, season 2 felt a bit drawn out and lacking in creativity (likely because of the greatness of season 1). However, the show was still fantastic and remains, in my opinion, the most creative show on any of the big four networks.

8. Mr. Robot
(Season 1 - USA)

I was extremely late to join the Mr. Robot bandwagon, but there is no doubt that USA has a gem on their hands. Not only is the story intriguing, but the show is so visually impressive that I would often get lost in a scene because of the impressive direction and camerawork. The hacker jargon goes way over my head, but the characters are so well-written that everything makes sense anyway. Mr. Robot is definitely worth the hype!

7. The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story
(Season 1 - FX)

O.J. Simpson has taken the world by storm, once again, and, while it might eventually get old, I'm kind of digging it! As a big fan of Ryan Murphy and his FX ventures, I was an easy target for American Crime Story, and, while this season was cinematically wonderful, I cannot wait to see what Murphy and crew have in store for next year's Katrina-based storyline. Hold on to your seats, folks! We've only just begun!

6. Life in Pieces
(Season 1 - CBS)

As the lone new network show that I enjoyed, in 2016, Life in Pieces provided viewers a new, fun family that everyone could love and laugh at. The show may not be breaking any giant molds, but the cast is so great that they really don't need anything else. Anyone else looking forward to Life in Pieces season 2?

5. New Girl
(Season 5 - FOX)

New Girl had totally lost its way in seasons 3 and 4, but, for the few that were able to hang in there through the disaster, season 5 brought a breath of fresh air. We can only hope that the show continues to get back on track with season 6, and, also, we can hope that FOX won't blow through all 20-ish episodes in three weeks, as they did in 2016. 

4. The Man in the High Castle
(Season 1 - Amazon)

The lack of Emmy recognition (or even snub-recognition) for The Man in the High Castle is absolutely baffling to me. Unfortunately, there probably weren't enough viewers to initiate a Mr. Robot-esque takeover of awards season, but the show is truly a masterpiece that keeps you guessing, throughout. There are so many television shows to choose from, right now, but very few of them leave you wanting for answers in the way that The Man in the High Castle does. Go check it out!

3. Master of None
(Season 1 - Netflix)

Master of None's success at stacking up Emmy nominations was a surprise to many, but I'm not sure why everyone was so shocked. This show is genius! While there were a couple of episodes that didn't quite work, the bulk of season 1 was near perfection, and that's coming from someone who isn't really a huge Aziz Ansari fan. Master of None has a little something for everyone, and I can almost guarantee that you will find at least two or three episodes that blow you away.

2. Orange is the New Black
(Season 3 - Netflix)

As is the case with every year, Orange is the New Black lags a season behind the awards show, because of its release date. And, while I really want to use this time to talk about how amazing season 4 is, let's focus on season 3, which really helped the show transition from Piper-world to prison-world. Kudos to Jenji Kohan for allowing the show to continually evolve into what is has become, rather than sticking us with hours of Piper, just to weed through to the good parts. If you gave up on Orange is the New Black because of Piper Chapman, please return. She's still here, but not NEARLY as much!

1. How to Get Away with Murder
(Season 2 - ABC)

I watch a number of new television shows, each and every year, and, while I do enjoy a number of them, the long term outlook for these shows isn't always as pleasant as the present. Upon the completion of How to Get Away with Murder season 1, I was 90% sure that this show would be a one year fling that completely loses its way in season 2. Fortunately, in my decision to question Shondaland's brilliance, I was completely and totally wrong. Not only was season 2 of Murder better than season 1, but it was my favorite show of the 2015-16 television season--by far! Nothing else comes anywhere close! And, unlike the ending to season 1, the ending to season 2 absolutely blew me away and established a murderous formula that I believe has a good chance of living on for a number of years to come. 

Another great TV year, in the books! Take a look at this list, and you'll know who I will be cheering on, during tonight's Emmy's ceremony. 

Isn't TV just the bomb?!?

Monday, August 8, 2016

Suicide Squad

As superhero films continue to spiral out of control, Warner Brothers was happy to bring us Guardians of the Galaxy 1.5--a.k.a. Suicide Squad. And, of course, I was happy to watch--partly because of the hype and excitement that accents every new superhero franchise... but mostly because of the promise of the Caped Crusader and Will Smith. For the most part, I tried to avoid the (daily) new Suicide Squad trailers, for the sake of actually being a little surprised and interested during the film. Then, the reviews and criticism began to flow in, and many people preached that the trailers were actually better (and completely different) than the film. As a result, my expectations were not very high, but, really... Will Smith... So, who cares.

Spoilers ahead...

A lot of fuss has been made over the Joker's absence throughout much of this film, and, while some might argue that the film would be much improved with more Joker, I must disagree. A large problem with this film sat right in the Enchantress's heart (or lack thereof). Not only was every Enchantress moment overly dramatic, but the whole bit with her being in love with the unbearable army dude (Joel Kinnaman) was terrible. However, the Suicide Squad and their magic powers are not quite necessary to take down the Joker, making a supernatural villain a necessity. But, the biggest problem--by far--was the lack of cohesion among the Suicide "Squad." Unfortunately, the film felt more like the Suicide Individuals because there was never a moment to bring everyone together. Each and every squad member had their motives, which the film spent time establishing, but there was never any reason for them to make sacrifices for one another, which they managed to do numerous times anyway.

As I said before, the Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) and her lover-boy were unbearable, but the "Psylocke Award" for useless characters goes to Karen Fukuhara's Katana, who did absolutely nothing but stare at her sword. Literally, that's all she did. Thankfully, the rest of the cast was decent or great, even if they didn't interact particularly well with one another. As expected, Margot Robbie was spot-on as Harley Quinn, really piquing my interest in the character and her portrayal, as well her strange and intriguing relationship with the Joker. And, very unexpectedly, Jai Courtney was wonderfully cast, as Boomerang--a character that didn't accomplish very much but certainly provided laughs and a little bit of group cohesiveness.

But, the real hero of this film was the wonderful, the talented, the MAN himself... Mr. Will Smith. Honestly, I cannot remember the last time that I loved Will Smith in an action role, but boy did I miss him so very much. There was once as day when Will Smith was my favorite actor, and his turn as Deadshot helped me recall those glorious days. We can only hope that he continues to choose great roles and focuses on himself a little more than those crazy children of his.

My expectations for Suicide Squad were not very high, but, even so, the film could have been much better than it was. There was so much potential, with Smith and Robbie blowing the roof off of their respective performances, yet we ended up with a mediocre film that was critically despised. But, to all the Will Smith fans out there, looking for hope in an action-movie world filled with The Rock, Chris Hemworth, and, logically, Harrison Ford, I would encourage you to check Suicide Squad out. If you're anything like me, you'll be so excited to love Will Smith that everything else will just fade away! I give Suicide Squad 2.88 out of 5 stars.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

So, I actually wrote this review right after Batman v Superman was released and quickly became to busy to remember to post it. Now, I've remembered, and you get to recall your feelings toward this film. 

Isn't that nice?!?

Disaster of the year?... Possibly. Disaster of the decade?... Probably. 

Batman is my favorite superhero (by a large margin), and I truly adore the Nolan-directed Dark Knight trilogy, which deserves as much praise as it can possibly receive, critical or otherwise. Nolan changed all superhero movies... forever! Even Marvel wants to be a little bit darker! But, they will never be able to touch the baddies of Nolan's Bat-universe. Regardless, there was no bone in body that expected Batman v Superman to even come close to Nolan's films. Ben Affleck could never top Christian Bale. Henry Cavill could never get me interested in Superman. And, Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor? I mean, what's up with that? 

First and foremost, let me say that Zack Snyder's ridiculous, pre-film request to avoid spoilers was absolutely unnecessary. Did he think Batman v Superman was going to be discussed like Star Wars or something? I don't understand that? Anyway, I'm going to spoil a few things, in this section. So, proceed with caution...

For a film that I thought would be an absolute disaster, I was overwhelmingly surprised by how much I enjoyed watching everything unfold. Sure, it was simple and dumb, at times, and there were several huge, gaping holes in the story. But, overall, it was a lot of fun and truly intrigued me, with regard to how Batman and Superman would "v" one another. And, don't worry, I wasn't in a super critic-friendly mood. As soon as I saw Thomas and Martha Wayne pop up for yet another rendition of their untimely deaths, I was ready to run screaming.

Ultimately, my favorite thing about the film was how Affleck's Batman already had a history and seemed to have the same darkness and coolness that we came to know and love with Bale's Batman, without us having to endure the origin story. And, while it is certainly tough to sit through Henry Cavill playing any character, Superman's own crises were well-founded, and the scene with Superman arriving at the Capitol Building was pretty awesome, even if the outcome was terribly telegraphed.

The biggest flaw in the film was the disastrous Martha Kent, played by Diane Lane. First, in a film filled with 300 cameos, we truly could have done without Martha Kent. Second, why is Superman able to sweep in from some random, hallucinatory mountaintop and rescue Lois Lane, but he can't take the time to rescue his mother from the back alley of her diner? Third, and most ridiculous, what kind of superhero hears his dead mother's name, and immediately forgets every piece of vengeance in his heart, and decides to follow the god of Superman to the ends of the earth? Take Martha Kent out of this film, and everything improves--10 times over. The second biggest flaw in this film was the blatantly unnecessary plugs for the Justice League characters that were absent from this film. Nobody cares about Aquaman or Cyborg, and The Flash already had a cameo. So, why do you need to have some secret file with convenient video evidence that these people exist? A: YOU DON'T.

However, I will defend one character that has been questioned since the first trailer for Batman v Superman was released--Lex Luthor. There is one reason, and one reason only, that The Dark Knight is considered the best of the Nolan-directed Batfilms... The Joker. And, when the Joker has already been delegated to another DC film and there is no hope of ever reaching Heath Ledger's villainous performance, what is Zack Snyder supposed to do? Well, this one is easy. You just turn Lex Luthor into a younger, makeup-less joker and see what happens. But, little did Snyder know that viewers would be attached to the Lex Luthor of old, even if they hadn't considered the character in 20 years. I've yet to understand why people think that a different version of Lex Luthor is automatically a bad version of Lex Luthor. There were things about the character that I didn't enjoy, particularly the most dramatic hair-shaving sequence this side of Les Mis. But, ultimately, he was just meant to move the plot along and bring Batman and Superman together, and even Lex Luthor didn't expect that a woman's NAME would cause Batman to rethink his entire life.

If it wasn't so easy to find flaws within the film's attempt to create drama and establish a broader DC universe, more people would be open to seeing just how fun Batman v Superman really was. Obviously, that is a sad excuse to make for any film, but I truly believe that people should ignore the critics on this one, go watch the movie, and have a good time! It was an easy watch with plenty of action and solid characters. Sure, they were characters that we already knew, but, if I had a dollar for every time that I've had to re-imagine Spiderman, I would at least be able to buy my ticket to Captain America v Iron Man. In a world where The Avengers are a bunch of has-beens, Batman v Superman is a breath of fresh darkness, and I look forward to what comes next. I give Batman v Superman 3.14 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Above Average Awards: Drama 2015

***This post has given me trouble on the blog, for some reason. It was accidentally published by my dog in January (as she literally stepped on my mousepad and published it), but it was released, in completion, on February 27. Regardless, enjoy...

When I decided to cut back on my blogging, earlier this year, I had no idea of the immediate effect that it would have on the number of films that I watch. I mean, without any expectation to share my opinion, I definitely cut back on watching films that I wasn't particularly excited to see. Nonetheless, when it came time for awards season and every "award-worthy" 2015 film was released in the short span of three months, I quickly regained my desire to hit the theater. Something about good movies just makes you want to watch more good movies. And, something about Avengers: Age of Ultron just makes you want to denounce the name of Disney.

So, as you check out my 2015 best list, know that I didn't see as many films, this year. However, I likely only missed the crappy ones...

Best Actor
Honorable Mention: Christian Bale (The Big Short), Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant), Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs), Michael Keaton (Spotlight), Ryan Reynolds (Mississippi Grind), Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies), Benicio del Toro (Sicario)

#9 - Ryan Gosling
(The Big Short)
For the second time since the creation of The Above Average Awards, Ryan Gosling is landing on my yearly best list (The Ides of March), and I'm really stoked that he continues to choose such great films. Who knew that the dancing fool from Remember the Titans would go on to do such great things?!? In an ensemble that absolutely blew me away, Gosling was one of the best. And, the jokes from his best scene--the one with the Jenga set--were highly improvised. Another great accomplishment for an actor who gave an amazing performance!

#8 - Liev Schrieber 
If you ever told me that Liev Schrieber would one day land on one of my yearly best lists, I probably would have laughed in your face. Honestly, I can't say that I've ever enjoyed seeing Schrieber on any screen, but his turn in Spotlight is so subtly amazing that I couldn't help but add him to my list. Essentially, his level of under-acting produced the best performance of Schrieber's lengthy career. Subtlety is undoubtedly the theme of the acting, throughout Spotlight, and Schrieber pulls off that subtlety better than anyone else.

#7 - John Cusack and Paul Dano
(Love & Mercy)
My love for The Beach boys knows no bounds! When I was little, my parents and I would jam out to their greatest hits CD--every. single. summer. And, I wouldn't have had it any other way. Thankfully, Love & Mercy gave me an even closer look at my favorite musical group of all time, and the great performances by both Paul Dano and John Cusack were amazing to watch. I could not decide which performance was better and both were so necessary to the success of the film. So, here they are... together, as they were always meant to be! 

#6 - Sharlto Copley
My defense of Sharlto Copley as one of the most underrated actors is not subtle, if you are familiar with this blog. Unfortunately, the critical mass has failed to appreciate what he has accomplished, because they are so concerned with picking apart Neill Blomkamp. However, if you've seen Chappie, you can't help but love the innocent robot that is so easily humanized by Copley's movements and voice. This is the second year that Copley has landed on my list (last time for Elysium), and I can't wait to sing his praises again, soon!

#5 - Jason Segel
(The End of the Tour)
When looking at Jason Segal's full body of work as an actor, he has to be one of the least impressive actors to ever find success in Hollywood. He has zero range and lacks the ability to independently create laughter. So, I must say that I never would have imagined him landing on this list (much less in the drama category). Thankfully, I was wrong, as Segal totally rocked it in The End of the Tour, which was undoubtedly one of 2015's best films, regardless of how little attention it received. Check out this great performance, right now!

#4 - Tom Hardy
(The Revenant)
With all of the hype surrounding Leo's pre-destined Oscar win, Tom Hardy's far-superior performance in The Revenant has faded into the background, which is quite disappointing, particularly considering what a big year the actor had. But, Hardy will keep on keeping on, and he will surely appreciate the love given to him by THE Tanner Jones. Kudos to Hardy for making me love the bad guy soooooo much more than the preemptive Best Actor winner.

#3 - Jacob Tremblay
Brie Larson is likely to take home the Best Actress Oscar, this weekend, but the true star of Room missed out on even being nominated. When I first heard of Jacob Tremblay's performance in this film, I assumed that I would enjoy it, considering my love for child actors. But, until I saw the film, I couldn't truly wrap my head around the range that Tremblay displayed, even at such a young age. When his character, Jack, was hurting, Tremblay hurt. When Jack was sad, Tremblay was sad. And, most importantly, when Jack was happy and curious, Tremblay was happy and curious. Everything that this kid was able to bring to the screen screamed greatness and truth. Kudos to Room for impressing, and kudos to Tremblay for blowing me away!

#2 - Steve Carell
(The Big Short)
People love Steve Carell because he's Steve Carell, and, for me (and many others), he is fun to watch, regardless of what he is doing. But, if you listen to the excitement and joy that Carell has found in his recent dramatic plunge, it will truly make you appreciate his work even more. To know that he doesn't want to just be the funny guy makes him all the more funny and believable. Carell landed at number 2 on my list, last year, and, this year, he is playing second fiddle yet again. One day, he is sure to land on top! Carell is just so easy to love!

#1 - Mark Ruffalo
If there is one word that comes to mind, when thinking of Mark Ruffalo's turn as Mike Rezendes in Spotlight, it's passion. I'm not sure that I have ever witnessed an actor portraying a character's passion as well as Ruffalo did here, and he was able to portray the character's passion, without letting his own passion or acting get in the way. Ruffalo was able to take Mike Rezendes from a character you want to trust to a character you want to be to a real, living person that you want to become. If everyone on this earth was as passionate about their contribution to society as the reporters of Spotlight, this world would be a better place. Thankfully, we at least have the knowledge of this wonderful team of people that truly made a difference--none more so than Mike Rezendes. Kudos to Mark Ruffalo for bringing that to life and giving the most impactful performance of 2015.

Best Actress

#3 - Lupita N'yongo
(Star Wars: The Force Awakens)
While most people are waiting for Maz Kanata's backstory before making any sort of judgement on her character, I'm already 100% sold. She was easily my favorite part of The Force Awakens, and the way that Lupita N'yongo was able to bring her to life was absolutely perfect. I just want my own personal Maz. You know... for wisdom and supernatural initiations... stuff like that!

#2 - Brie Larson
Brie Larson is so lovable. Not only is she gorgeous, but she truly appreciates her work and clearly has a knack for picking great roles. While I might always remember her as the goofy teenager that fell in love with Jonah Hill on 21 Jump Street, she will surely be remembered throughout the land for her amazing turn as Ma in 2015's indie wonder-film--Room. While I will say that she owes much of her success to the amazing talent of young Jacob Tremblay, there is no doubt that Larson can bring it. And, again, she's so easy to love!

#1 - Kate Winslet
(Steve Jobs)
Steve Jobs was one of my most anticipated films of 2016, and I must say that I was a bit disappointed in the end result. Thankfully, Kate Winslet provided a large silver lining to said disappointment with her portrayal of Joanna Hoffman. This character, although a real person, was very much a creation of Sorkin's need for more and more strong dialogue to mask his poor plot. Regardless, Winslet blew me away, and gave me a new appreciation for what she can do. Sure, I'm only like 20 years late to hop on her bandwagon, but she was kind enough let me ride along anyway! Best female performance of 2015, by far!

Best Film
Honorable Mention: Room, Spotlight

#5 - The End of the Tour
While The End of the Tour wasn't particularly beautiful or unique in its direction, the film's dialogue and emotion was so beautifully unique that the film really didn't need anything but two guys to read the words from the pages. The performances were good. The story was good. But, the film was able to say so much in all of its subtle goodness. There is a strong chance that you missed this film, over the course of the year, but let me be the force that pushes you toward The End of the Tour.

#4 - Chappie
As soon as I saw the first trailer for Chappie, I knew that the film was going to deserve more credit than it actually received. Blomkamp pitched the film as a sci-fi comedy. The trailer pitched the film as sci-fi action. And, the film was actually a very rich attempt to create a moral code for artificial intelligence and the future of conscience, which is quite a complicated subject matter. Unfortunately for Chappie, the critics weren't all pleased, but this particular critic was impressed by yet another underappreciated Blomkamp success. If you haven't seen Chappie, go watch it! If you watched Chappie with a cynical mind, go watch it again! Audience expectations are so important to a film's success, and that's exactly where Chappie missed the ship. I promise, this film is fantastic!

#3 - Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Ok, ok... Let's get down to business. There was no 2015 cinematic experience better than the one created by Star Wars: The Force Awakens. When "STAR WARS" flashed on the screen after the Lucasfilm logo, I felt like a kid in the best of candy stores, as my eyes widened and my heart leapt. From a critical perspective, it might not have been among the best of 2015, but, with regard to having fun at the theater, no film could top it. Kudos to my main man J.J. and the folks at Disney for giving us at least one good film... before their imminent destruction of the franchise.

#2 - Kingsman: The Secret Service
Modern, non-superhero, action flicks are given the worst rap of any film genre out there. In a world where sequels and indie flicks rule, there's not much room for the emergence of new "universes." Thankfully, Kingsman: The Secret Service says "Oh, really?!?... Watch this!" The action was great. The bloody, ruthless nature of the film was great. The performances were spot on. And, the direction of Matthew Vaughn was among the most genius that I saw in 2015. In less than two minutes, the film had already engulfed you in a world full of fun action that had a small moral core and a large appreciation for slicing people in half and taking out an extremist church. Kudos to Vaughn and to 20th Century Fox for being willing to offer up some fun action, without the word Marvel attached.

#1 - The Big Short
When I was a senior in high school, I had absolutely no clue what would become of my life, and, of course, at the time, I felt like I should probably have the answer. And, as the evolving moderate that I was preparing to become, my nightly routine typically included falling asleep to the beautiful sounds of The Colbert Report. One night, while waiting for Colbert, I happened to catch the second half of The Daily Show and had the chance to hear Michael Lewis, the author of The Big Short, pitch his book about a few nobodies who were able to game the entire financial system, as a result of its fraudulent, crumbling roots. Lewis talked for about 8 minutes that night, but those few minutes were enough to convince me to read his book, as soon as I could get my hands on it. And, considering I was a kid who never read for pleasure (or school, for that matter), his pitch was obviously great. As you might expect, at age 18, my understanding of the financial system and its complicated lingo was quite minute, which made it quite a brain-straining task to make it through The Big Short. Thankfully, about halfway through the book, Lewis literally gives you a gold star for making it to that point. The gold star was enough to make me think, "If adults are getting gold stars for reading this far, I must be doing pretty darn good." So, I powered through and finished what might be the most intriguing book that I've ever read in my life. My interest in finances and the world of business was officially piqued. And, I went on to get my degree in Finance. 

While I do believe that the Lord has a way of working things out, there is no doubt that The Big Short truly initiated my desire to devote four years of my life to learning about business and the financial system. And, while I didn't actually end up launching my career in the financial sector, I would guess that I am in the top 1% of all movie bloggers and film journalists, with regard to my understanding of the financial system... Not to boast or anything! So, I say all of that to let you know what The Big Short means to me, as an individual. And, as much as I expected the film to be a half-hearted attempt at telling a very, very complex story, it turned out to be the greatest film of 2015... by a laaaarge margin, in my book. 

Obviously, the film appealed to me as someone who loves listening to people talk about the financial world, but, when I put on my film critic hat, there just isn't anything that compared to The Big Short, this year, with regard to original and genius filmmaking. I mean, who knew that the director of Step Brothers had it in him?!? The pace of the film is perfect. The explanation of complex financial instruments is genius. The characters are so easy to love. I mean, this thing has it all! 

If you think that the film would be a bore to you, because you hate learning about finances, please take the time to check this thing out, particularly if you have any affinity for the amazing actors in the ensemble. If you have zero knowledge of the topic, you will still understand what's happening... I promise! Also, as someone who has a good grasp on the events of the financial crisis, I can say that this is a great film for anyone with a good understanding of finance. 

For any of you who actually took the time to read all of that, congratulations on being a victim of my not taking the time to write an entire review of The Big Short. 

To everyone out there in the free world, go watch The Big Short! THE best film of 2015!!!

Well, there you have it! Even in a year of less blogging I was able to pull together a great list of films and performances. Now, let's see what happens on Sunday night!

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Above Average Awards: Comedy 2015

While the problem evades me, comedy continues to limp along, as we move from year to year, and it's terribly frustrating, as someone who loves true, true comedy. For some reason, true comedy just doesn't do it for me as much as it used to. In fact, I think Anger does a pretty good job of displaying how frustrating it is to watch an R-rated comedy, these days...

Nevertheless, it is imperative that we give comedic filmmakers and actors their due, something for which I will always advocate. My comedy list may be small, in 2015, but there is no doubt that the folks and films, below, made us laugh and deserve the praise that I am about to bestow upon them...

Best Actor

#3 - Zack Pearlman
(Staten Island Summer)
Staten Island Summer was quite ho-hum, in the grand scheme of things, but, thankfully, there were several silver linings, including a hilarious performance by Zack Pearlman. Honestly, I'm not familiar with Pearlman's work, but he has a knack for silly, fat-guy humor. So, don't be scared to check out his older material. That's what I'll be doing in 2016!

#2 - Skyler Gisondo
What a goofy kid! Skyler Gisondo may have been the brunt of 90% of the Vacation remake's jokes, and I had absolutely no problem with that. Gisondo brought humor to an otherwise mediocre film, and he truly went all out with his dorkification. As an only child, I don't understand sibling rivalry, but I sure as heck don't have a problem laughing at other people's problems!

#1 - Samuel L. Jackson
(Kingsman: The Secret Service)
Samuel L. Jackson has a huge reputation for popping up in small roles in very BIG films, but Kingsman: The Secret Service allowed Jackson to truly shine as the main baddie (with a lisp). His performance was absolutely hilarious, and, if the entire film would have just been Samuel L. Jackson talking with a lisp, I probably would have been satisfied. Undoubtedly, in my mind, the funniest performance by any actor, in 2015!

Best Actress

#4 - Amy Schumer
It is hard to praise Amy Schumer for her performance in Trainwreck, because there was such a fine line between her performance and her real-life persona. But, regardless, she was absolutely hilarious in the film and has obviously blossomed into quite a star, over the past six months. Kudos to Schumer for her big, big year. She is quite deserving.

#3 - Tilda Swinton
Did anybody know that Tilda Swinton had an ounce of humor in her body?!? I mean, you can typically cut glass with her perpetually evil glare! Fortunately for us, Amy Schumer (of all people) was able to talk Swinton into embracing her humorous side and getting a spray tan--both of which did her very well, in my opinion. Here's to hoping that Tilda finds herself in another comedy... very soon!

#2 - Miranda Hart
As a big fan of Melissa McCarthy's humor, I was quite surprised that I didn't enjoy Spy more than I did, particularly considering that the film was fairly well-received. But, regardless of my opinion of the film, there was no denying the hilarious turn by Miranda Hart, who was probably the best-cast comedian in any 2015 film. I don't have a clue who she is, but I really hope she has some funny, British-humor stand-up out there waiting to be discovered.

#1 - Phyllis Smith
(Inside Out)
Where Hart was the best-cast comedian of 2015, Phyllis Smith might have been the best-cast voice actor of ALL TIME! If anybody watched Inside Out and didn't laugh at Sadness, (a.) you've never seen The Office or (b.) you have no sense of humor. We will talk about Inside Out much, much more, but, in my mind, the film just doesn't work, without Phyllis's voice. Period. Kudos to whoever is responsible for putting her behind the mic and for bringing this particular character to life. 

Best Film

While I have trouble recognizing Trainwreck's originality and Amy Schumer's new voice of female-lead comedy, there is no doubt that the film is absolutely hilarious. Come on... any film in which LeBron James plays a large role is likely to at least be a little fun! In a year where comedy really struggled, Trainwreck was the lone beacon of pure comedy that shone through, and, for that, I am very grateful to Schumer and crew.

Inside Out
If I have to endure one more claim that "Pixar is back!" because of Inside Out's success, I might just go insane. Nevertheless, the film is absolutely genius! Sure, some may say that it shouldn't really be labelled a comedy, but the main reason that I loved the film was because of its amazing sense of humor and clever play on thought-related terminology. And, of course... SADNESS!... She was just the best. Kudos to Pixar for doing what they do best and making adults appreciate animated films for what they truly can be.

Well, there you have it, people... the best in comedy from 2015. My apologies for the brevity of the list. If you have any complaints, you can call Hollywood...

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Revenant

As my Oscar prep moves towards its final stages, the excitement grows, and my 2015 best list becomes clearer and clearer. It was this time, last year, that the lovely Birdman came into my life and made the entire year a success! Thankfully, Birdman director, Alejandro G. Iñárritu, didn't rest on his Oscar-infested laurels, giving way to... The Revenant! To be honest, I wasn't particularly excited to see The Revenant. The entire thing looked over-dramatized, and, no matter how great of a performance he gives, Leonardo DiCaprio just isn't one of my favorites. Can the guy act?... Of course! But, you will never hear me calling for Leo to win every Oscar from now til Jesus comes (in case you wondered). Regardless, my Oscarly duties required me to see The Revenant, and you never know when an actor might sneak up and surprise you...

There are times when artistic filmmaking collides with a terrific script and a great performance and we get great productions that impress from start to finish. Then, there are times when the art of filmmaking become more important than the film itself. And, times when the performance becomes more important than the film (not just in the media). Unfortunately, The Revenant is the victim of these circumstances. Sure, the film is intriguing, but, even in a non-superhero, non-sci-fi film, the plot is predictable and lifeless. Instead of wondering what will happen to the characters, we just wonder what injury Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) will incur next or what animal will soon provide some sort of transportation/sustenance/shelter. Truly, the film is redeemed only in its artistic value, particularly that which is provided by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki. The imagery, along with the amazingly directed fight scenes make for what is probably the most visually stunning film of 2015. Kudos to Inarritu and Lubezki for making that possible!

Oh, Leo, you sneaky son of a gun! I'm quickly becoming convinced that he could have revived the role of Lando Calrissian in The Force Awakens, using blackface in the midst of an Academy racial crisis, and still won best actor or supporting actor. Or, why not just give him both, because he truly "deserves" it. So... maybe that's a tad harsh, but, ultimately, the entire film (filled with great performances) is taking a backseat to Leo's Oscar ride, which is an example of somebody willing themselves to an award, rather than taking satisfaction in their ultimately successful career. Regardless, he gave his all to this role, and, whether or not I liked him or his performance, he sure did try.

End of rant!

Best Character:
As I said before, you never know when an actor might sneak up and surprise you, which is exactly what Tom Hardy did with his portrayal of John Fitzgerald--the rugged Revenant baddie. While DiCaprio certainly lucked up with the abundance of grunts and unfortunate physical struggles that lend themselves to Oscar frontrunners, Hardy actually gave a performance filled with life and character. While I've only had a couple of days to think about the performance, I must say that it is likely one of my favorites from 2015. Kudos to Hardy! You deserve Leo's attention!

Worst Character:
Domnhall Gleeson is quickly becoming the most poorly-cast individual in Hollywood. He seems like such a nice guy, but I've yet to enjoy him in any film. His character, Captain Andrew Henry, played a huge role in the outcome of The Revenant, and could have been one of the most likeable aspects of the film. But, instead, we had to settle for another failed attempt at toughness by Gleeson. Spoiler alert: he's still a scrawny ginger!

I wrote about The Revenant because I had a lot to say, and, also, because I think it's going to end up being the Oscar frontrunner (Spotlight just doesn't seem strong enough, to me). My review has been terribly critical, because that's what I get paid (ha!) to provide. But, in all seriousness, The Revenant is a beautiful film, lacking in only one area--plot depth. Fortunately for the viewer, the lack of plot fades away, in the face of great performances by DiCaprio and Hardy and the brilliant imagery, brought to us by Inarritu and Lubezki. Let's hope that these two continue teaming up, year after year. I know I certainly wouldn't argue! I give The Revenant 3.88 out 5 stars.