Best Indie: “The Spectacular Now”: James Ponsoldt’s tender teen romance is not only a love story, it’s a meditation on adolescence, devoid of formulaic platitudes. Even the supposed foundation of the story, the bad boy/good girl relationship, sidesteps cliché. This film masterfully captures the glimmer of time as high school ends and the crushing pressures of life’s waves; force even the most confused of souls into a life direction. The character of Sutter Keely (Miles Teller) is someone that resonates because he is someone a lot of us have met or known to some extent. He’s relatable and his trajectory is one that spurs people to feel an intervening interest. While, the film offers no easy, Hollywood fix to his problems, it does, leave us with hope he might be on his way to discovering the tools.
Most Underrated Action Flick: “Dead Man Down”: The director of the original “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” franchise, Neils Arden Oplev, reteams with star Noomi Rapace and the result is a satisfyingly, efficient film that places just as much interest in its philosophical reveries, as it does its action. Rapace’s performance is mesmeric as the mysterious woman out for revenge on the man who left her physically and emotionally scarred for life. A rare breed of European-American film fusion, “Dead Man Down” is full of life.
Best Biopic: “Rush”: Ron Howard’s exhilarating biopic centering on the formula 1 racing feud between Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) and James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) in the 1970’s is slick and emotionally involving. Where the film separate itself is in not telling a strict lifetime biography. Instead it focuses on documenting the relationship of these two powerful men and their incredibly different ideologies, facing off against each other on the race track. The storied rivalry, respect and friendship between these two ambitious men; is told with a captivating poetic symmetry.
Most Overlooked Movie: “The Iceman”: Dark, brutal and with a twisted heart at its core, this is one of those movies that stays with you, long after the credits roll. It’s an intense character study of a man whose crimes are brought into unsettling focus by drawing the audience inside the mind of a dual psyche. It is effective, haunting and simply brilliant.
Worst Comedy: “This Is the End”: This movie’s title should’ve been “This Is the End…of Our Careers” or so one might think after watching this movie. While, most of the talent’s careers will more than likely remain intact, this movie will not be the reason why. An acid trip gone awry that attempts to be a commentary on the Hollywood scene is instead, a frenetic blast of horrible. There is no distinct narrative and the attempts at satire, are bland. The party sequence at the beginning does at least show, the appropriate cliques cavorting and that is where the behind-the-scenes honesty ends. Seth Rogen’s attempt to parody himself falls flat, as it is difficult to differentiate between any of the other characters he has played or his known public persona. Hearing comparisons made between this and 2010’s “The Trip” is an affront to the latter film. Take a “trip” before letting this “end” any brain cells.
Best Comedy: “Clear History”: Larry David’s dry humor ignites the funny, as a man who changes his whole identity to avoid the public recognition, relating to a poor business decision. Read the full review here
Cheesiest Film: “Gangster Squad”: Ryan Gosling’s distracting accent and Josh Brolin’s deadpan seriousness give way to one amazingly ludicrous film. Laughable in its camp, the film feels like a satire and yet, it appears its cast did not get the memo as they treated the material with grave self-importance.
Best Creepy Film: “Stoker”: A mood piece that effectively weaves together the bizarre and the pedestrian; is one of the year’s weirdest ventures. Discovering who the characters at the center of this story, truly are, is engrossing and the overall creep factor never wanes. The cinematography is stunning and a character in its own right, this is a noir that’s intriguing as its slow build rests on the performances of its sturdy leads; Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode and Nicole Kidman.
Most Surprisingly Decent Thriller: “Side Effects”: The best film from Steven Soderburgh in a long time. This is a worthy send up to the erotic, crime thriller genre of the late 80’s and early 90’s. The enigmatic Rooney Mara is riveting and Jude Law is sufficient as the harried psychiatrist. An interesting commentary on the pharmaceutical industry and its ties to handling the mentally ill is, well-played. The only thing hampering the film is the grungy and florescent cinematography. There is a good story worth looking past it, to get to.
Best Indie Thriller: “The East”: Another competent thriller from writing partners Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij, the minds behind the marvelous “Another Earth” and the gripping “Sound of My Voice”. In “The East”, the underworld of an anarchist group is infiltrated by an ambitious agent (Marling), who finds she is falling under the spell of their leader (Alexander Skarsgard). This is a cerebral exploration into secretive factions and the psychological games that can ensnare, even the clearest of minds.
Worst Thriller: “Black Rock”: Hilariously inane and terrible in every sense of the word, Katie Aselton’s fem-thriller begins as a female buddy film and then diverges into a “Deliverance” inspired, run through the wilderness. The lead characters are dreadfully unsympathetic and the fallout is a plight, impossible to sympathize with.
Most Disappointing Movie: “Paranoia”: Hopes were high and soon dashed in this sluggishly, unlikable, pseudo-caper. A promising cast, intriguing script and a talented director, all culminated into the year’s biggest fizzle. You can read a full review here.
Most Disappointing Sequel: “Kick-Ass 2”: Kicking little ass with a ham-fisted execution and a misplaced focus on the character of Hit-Girl, the sequel failed to land the charmingly subversive punches, landed by its exceptional predecessor.
Read more after the jump…
Best Coming-of-Age Flick: “The Way Way Back”: Only Sam Rockwell could convince as the cooler than cool, older dude who refuses to grow up, all the while, managing to feel like a sage adult. Heartfelt and good-natured, life’s less talked about growing pains are gently explored with startling effect. Throw in a scene-stealing performance by Allison Janney and you have a golden piece of cinema.
Best Gritty Pulp Drama: “Mud”: Matthew McConaughey has been at the forefront of a career revival, due to some expertly chosen projects and Jeff Nichols’ “Mud” is no exception. The tale of two boys trying to help a fugitive (McConaughey) reconnect with his long lost love (Reese Witherspoon) is a fascinating meditation on love and the truth surrounding its often delusional façade. Aiding the film is the poignantly replete performance of the teenage Tye Sheridan, in the second performance of his career. Love, loyalty and truth are all expertly explored through the eyes of innocence and ultimately, it’s crumbling demise.
Best Critically Drubbed Film: “The Big Wedding”:Ensemble comedies can be difficult and with a cast that boasts Robert De Niro, Susan Sarandon and Diane Keaton, among others, expectations are going to be high. Personally, they were met. Is it a script that seems to come from the 90’s? Yes. The story it is trying to tell is still relevant though and it’s told in an entertaining fashion. The hate this movie has received seems out of left field for a harmlessly, cozy comedy, such as this.
Most Entertaining Documentary: “Seduced and Abandoned“: Alec Baldwin and James Toback’s love letter to the golden era of film is worth watching for Martin Scorsese’s illuminating interview alone.
Most Overlooked Performance: Michael Shannon in “The Iceman”: Oscar nominee Shannon is no stranger to giving electrifying performances (i.e. “Take Shelter”) and in this year’s biopic of hired gun, Richard Kuklinski, he does it again. From one chilling scene to the next, Shannon’s performance allows audiences a haunting glimpse, into how a man could lead two frighteningly different lives, with everyone remaining none the wiser.
Breakout Performance Male: Daniel Bruhl in “Rush”:There is something so magnetic about Bruhl’s portrayal of formula 1 racer Niki Lauda. It is bracingly forthright, sharp and cuts to straight to the substance of the man, without dithering in any sentimental camouflage. His, is a rare performance that delves full throttle into an enigmatic individual. In a nutshell, he’s dead on.
Breakout Performance Female: Juno Temple, “The Brass Teapot”: As the shallow, materialistic and driven, Alice, Temple shines; bringing her unmistakable screen charisma to a role, that in lesser hands would’ve been irredeemable. Making a difficult role, jump off the page is a true test of an actor’s appeal and Temple more than made the grade.
Best Performance of the Daring Variety: James Franco in “Spring Breakers”: Franco lets his freak flag fly as his most outlandish character to date as the skuzzy Alien. Whether he was playing Britney Spears’ hazy ballad “Everytime” on the piano or doing unmentionable acts with a weapon, Franco was present and giving his all, in the edgiest and most daring performance of the year.
Best Consistent Presence: Morgan Freeman: Whether he was in the heat of the action in “Olympus Has Fallen” or “Oblivion”, playing sly as an ex-magician out to expose the works of Robin Hood-style illusionists in “Now You See Me” or living it up in Vegas, in this fall’s comedy “Last Vegas”, Freeman was bringing his twinkly eyed disposition to each role, elevating them in the process.
Best Resurgent Performance: Colin Farrell in “Saving Mr. Banks”: Since bursting onto the Hollywood scene in the underrated western “American Outlaws”, Farrell’s career has been consistently entertaining, even as his personal life has been turbulent. Putting the pieces together in recent years, he has found a career balance and in “Saving Mr. Banks” Farrell reminds audiences why Hollywood has been so patient. Playing the alcoholic father of P.L. Travers, he displays his innate gift to captivate with a wily grin and affectionate demeanor. An actor capable of portraying deep emotion with a charming sensibility; his talents are given an appropriate outlet to shine in this whimsical film.
Best Chemistry: Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley, “The Spectacular Now”: Young love is so…awkward and where this movie succeeds most, is in its earnest acknowledgement of that fact. Woodley and Teller’s performances are unflinching in their portrayal of the shy vulnerability that permeates those first subtle glances and the colt legs trying to sustain it. There’s a trust between its stars that is indicative of a phenomenally mature, screen partnership. Woodley gives her career best performance and Teller plays a huge role in why. When actors team up on this level there’s no telling where they can go.
Best Performance by an Ensemble: The Cast of “Prisoners”: Led by Hugh Jackman, in a wrenching performance as a desperate father willing to do anything to find his daughter, “Prisoners” held its audience in high suspense and it wouldn’t have been possible without the masterful performances of its stars. Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, Melissa Leo, Maria Bello and Viola Davis all delivered top drawer performances that felt gruesomely real and impossible to forget.
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