Sunday, June 11, 2017

10th ANNIVERSARY AWARDS - Ten Years of Reviewing!

I can't tell if this is impressive or pathetic, but today marks the tenth straight year since I began reviewing movies! Three cheers for endurance! While I started using this Blogger site in 2011, I'd been reviewing long before then, blindly posting and submitting movie reviews here and there until I finally made the "no duh" decision to make my own blog.

My first-ever review was for the family-friendly romp Hostel: Part II, which I originally posted to my MySpace "blog" page on June 11, 2007 (I gave it a 'B,' and by golly, I stick by it). Although MySpace has come and gone, my love of movies - and writing about them - has not. For some strange reason, I feel it's my duty to continue writing about movies and keep 'Talking the Talkies' up and running, even though I'm not paid to do so in any capacity. In fact it costs me money to see the movies, so this is a true labor of love.

I sincerely thank you all for reading my blog - whether this post is the first one you've ever read or if you've been a long-time reader, it truly means a lot that you care enough to peruse through the work I've done. And thanks to all the random people who've thrown a compliment my way over the years - it can sometimes be tough to get a handle on what people think of this blog, and your supportive words have been encouraging. I hope that even if you don't agree with my opinions or ratings, you've found at least some enjoyment reading my thoughts and maybe learning about some movies you might otherwise not have been exposed to.

10 years is kind of a big milestone, so to celebrate the past decade of film, I've compiled ten movie-related "awards" to shine a light on some of my favorite movies and movie-people through the years. I limited the winners exclusively to the time between when I started writing reviews until now (2007-2017), which was still no easy task. Also, it's interesting to re-visit some of my picks, seeing as some movies have definitely grown on me over the years. So, without further ado, here are the 10th-Straight-Year-of-Reviewing Awards!

BEST ACTOR - Jake Gyllenhaal

For the following two acting categories, I'm only counting those films from the respective actors released in the past decade - not their entire body of work. In that case, I would say that no other actor on the planet right now has had as fiery a hot streak as Jake Gyllenhaal. As opposed to other child actors like Lindsay Lohan or Macaulay Culkin, he actually matured into a well-adjusted adult, honing his craft and always picking new, interesting, challenging roles.

His collaborations with Denis Villeneuve have really showcased his dramatic chops lately, but it's his unhinged performance as amateur cameraman Lou Bloom in Nightcrawler that takes the cake for me - it's one of my all-time favorite performances in any film ever! Like the best actors, Gyllenhaal totally loses himself in his roles, whether it's a likable everyman or a complete sociopath. I hope his streak continues for years to come and I can't wait to see what craziness he brings to Netflix's Okja this summer!

Top Five Performances:
Source Code (2011)
End of Watch (2012)
Prisoners (2013)
Nightcrawler (2014)
Nocturnal Animals (2016)

Runner-Up: Leonardo DiCaprio

I think just about everyone was happy to see DiCaprio finally get that Oscar a couple years back for The Revenant - his overall body of work has been astounding and, like Jake Gyllenhaal, he's refused to fall under the curse of child actors descending into downward drug-fueled spirals as an adult. He's one of those few remaining movie stars whose name can sell a movie, and that's because it's become synonymous with edgy, diverse, unconventional roles that he always sells to audiences as completely authentic characters, no matter how grueling or cartoonish they may be on the page (few other actors could've pulled off the "ludes" scene in Wolf of Wall Street).

Top Five Performances:
Revolutionary Road (2008)
Inception (2010)
Django Unchained (2012)
The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
The Revenant (2015)

Honorable Mentions:
Christian Bale (The Fighter, American Hustle)
Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave, The Light Between Oceans)
Joseph Gordon-Levitt (50/50, Looper)
Matthew McConaughey (Magic Mike, Mud)
Michael Shannon (Take Shelter, Nocturnal Animals)

BEST ACTRESS - Jessica Chastain

Jessica Chastain is one of those few actresses whose mere involvement will automatically make me interested in a project. She totally immerses herself in every role, always choosing inspired and complex characters. In an age where women seem to get short shrift when it comes to juicy movie roles, Chastain likes to illuminate strong, but flawed women in almost every film she does, always playing them superbly. With a kind of "old school" Hollywood glamour and the ability to pull off both a feminine sensitivity and a feminist ferocity (sometimes in the same role), Chastain is what automatically comes to my mind when I think of "top of the line," high quality movie stars working today.

Top Five Performances:
Zero Dark Thirty (2012)
Mama (2013)
A Most Violent Year (2014)
Miss Sloane (2016)
The Zookeeper's Wife (2017)

Runner-Up: Amy Adams

I guess we're in the golden age of redhead actresses! Seriously, I nearly chose Julianne Moore in this spot instead. But no, I'm shining a light on a different ginger: Amy Adams, who is simply great in everything. Nominating her for an Oscar is almost a cliche at this point; hopefully one of these days she'll take one home! She first landed on my radar with 2008's Doubt, where she acted opposite Meryl Streep and Philip Seyour Hoffman, proving she's definitely in the "big leagues." One of the most beautiful and talented actresses of this generation, she can effortlessly imbue almost any scene with dramatic heft; in Nocturnal Animals, she spends a good chunk of the movie literally just reading a manuscript...and it's riveting!

Top Five Performances:
Doubt (2008)
The Fighter (2010)
Big Eyes (2014)
Arrival (2016)
Nocturnal Animals (2016)

Honorable Mentions:
Anne Hathaway (Rachel Getting Married, Les Misérables)
Melissa Leo (Frozen River, The Fighter)
Julianne Moore (What Maisie Knew, Still Alice)
Charlize Theron (Young Adult, Mad Max: Fury Road)
Naomi Watts (The Impossible, Birdman)

BEST DIRECTOR - Christopher Nolan

I know that at face value, this seems like a bit of a "safe," mainstream pick. Christopher Nolan, whose films such as InceptionInterstellarThe Prestige, and The Dark Knight trilogy have collectively earned billions of dollars at the box office, can hardly be considered an underground, "indie" director to up one's film-fan street cred. However, I don't think there's a single other director from this era whose style has influenced the medium as much as Nolan, often finding a perfect balance between cool intellectualism and bombastic, inventive action which typically results in thrilling cinema.

Christopher Nolan re-defined the superhero genre with The Dark Knight, taking an inherently silly concept (vigilante dressed as a bat) and turning it into a gritty, realistic crime film, re-examining extremely familiar characters in ways we've never seen on the big screen. With Inception he destroyed the notion that you couldn't have a successful blockbuster that challenged audiences intellectually and artistically. Regardless of your opinions of his work (which I confer are not flawless), he's done so much to - in my mind - positively shape the cinema landscape towards a more mature direction, one that appreciates the true craft of filmmaking and doesn't insult the audience's intelligence, that he's become somewhat of a beacon of hope in the unoriginal cesspool known as "Mainstream Hollywood."

Nolan may not be an auteur on the level of Kubrick or Hitchcock, but when I look back at the past decade of films, his name immediately jumps out to me as one of the most important of this generation.

Suggested Double Feature
The Dark Knight (2008) and Inception (2010)

Runner-Up: Quentin Tarantino

Alright, so this is another "mainstream" pick, but I can't help it - I'm a huge Tarantino fan. His way of combining and remixing antiquated, little-respected genres and cult films into whole new experiences makes him in my mind like the director equivalent of a DJ or hip-hop artist using samples in their work. The way he uses dialogue, music, the camera, casting, action, violence and suspense always reveals a deep and infectious love of filmmaking and film history. The car chase in Death Proof is one of my all-time favorites, Inglourious Basterds is a modern WWII classic that literally uses the power of film to fight Nazis, and the controversial Django Unchained provocatively uses spaghetti western tropes to explore the horrors of slavery. Simply put: no one makes cooler movies than Quentin.

Suggested Double Feature
Grindhouse/Death Proof (2007) and Inglourious Basterds (2009)

Honorable Mentions:
Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler, Black Swan)
Bong Joon-ho (Mother, Snowpiercer)
Richard Linklater (Bernie, Boyhood)
Steven Soderbergh (Contagion, Behind the Candelabra)
Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Arrival)


Admit it - you cried within the first ten minutes. Up is one of those special movies that has "timeless classic" written all over it. It tells the story of a 78-year-old balloon salesman, Carl Fredricksen, fulfilling a lifelong dream in honor of his wife to travel to South America by tying a punch of balloons to his house. However, the curmudgeonly Carl's worst nightmare comes true when he finds a little boy named Russell stowed away on his porch mid-flight. The film is essentially their colorful "odd couple" journey together through a wild, dangerous new world, with each character figuring out how to work through their grief in different ways.

Up is a delightful, emotional, action-packed, hilarious, beautifully crafted film that would definitely be in contention for my top pick of the decade, and very well might be my favorite animated film of all time.

Runner-Up: WALL-E (2008)

Also part of Pixar's "hot streak" (starting with 2007's Ratatouille and ending with 2010's Toy Story 3), WALL-E completely blew me away when I first saw it. This, for me, marked a mature new step for Pixar, exploring a dystopian sci-fi world that makes legitimately scary insights into how our current culture could turn us all into mindless, idle "Wal-martians" (ironic how this film is distributed by Disney!). In addition to its brilliant cultural commentary, it's also a heartwarming, galaxy-traversing love story between two robots - again with Pixar's predictably jaw-dropping, gorgeous animation.

Honorable Mentions:
Coraline (2009)
Toy Story 3 (2010)
Rango (2011)
Anomalisa (2015)
Zootopia (2016)

BEST ACTION MOVIE - Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2011)

This is one of those movies that has really grown on me with subsequent viewings. I'm giving Ghost Protocol the best action movie not because it's the "best" action movie, but because it's the best action movie. Tom Cruise, love him or hate him, commits 110% and performs some seriously death-defying stunts, including hanging off the world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, in one of my all-time favorite action scenes. It also has some of the best spy-related gadgetry in any movie ever - and it's all the more thrilling because unlike similar Bond-ian gadgets, these ones are wont to not work perfectly, imbuing every action scene with nerve-wrackingly high stakes. Plus you gotta love that "Tom Cruise" intense run.

One of the things I most appreciate about the Mission Impossible franchise is that there's a completely new director with every entry, making each one stand out stylistically (though the upcoming 6th film will break that tradition). Ghost Protocol was the first live-action film from Brad Bird, best known for his work at Pixar with The Incredibles, and here he proved that his directing skills translated perfectly to the action genre. With animation being such a visual medium, Through physical actions alone, Brad Bird is able to give the film a proper sense of fun, humor, and intensity. Infinitely re-watchable and entertaining from start to finish!

Runner-Up: Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Yet another amazing sequel (not every sequel has to be a mindless re-tread!), Fury Road is, like Ghost Protocol, a true "action" movie in every sense of the word - at times operating as a kind of super-charged silent film. George Miller, taking a hiatus from his Mad Max world with the Happy Feet movies, proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he hadn't "gone soft" in the interim. In his 70s, he delivered one of the most thrilling action movies in years, creating a richly-detailed dystopian world that feels as fresh and inventive as a first-time director's work, but captured with the skill of a master. In place of using a script, Miller smartly used thousands of storyboards to map out the entire production, resulting in some of the most kinetic, visually-stunning action sequences ever put to film.

Honorable Mentions:
Crank: High Voltage (2009)
The Raid (2011)
Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
Skyfall (2012)
Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

BEST HORROR MOVIE - Let the Right One In (2008)

If there's one genre of horror film that feels overplayed it's the vampire movie. In the wake of the ever-popular teeny bopper vampire saga Twilight, released that same year, Swedish director Tomas Alfredson made this modern horror classic to remind us all that these fanged creatures of the night are actually terrifying - not hot, sparkly British dreamboats. Telling the story of two young misfits, one the pale loner Oskar, the other his mysterious neighbor Eli, Let the Right One In is a fantastic coming-of-age story that presents the vampire myth in a refreshingly realistic, grounded way. If vampires really existed, I couldn't imagine it would look much different from this film. Extremely well-shot, well-acted, well-scripted, well-...everythinged, this is definitely not one to miss for horror fans!

Runner-Up: Black Swan (2010)

I very easily could have put Darren Aronofsky down for "Best Director" earlier; he's one of those guys who's constantly pushing into exciting new territory with every project. With Black Swan, he made a psychological horror film that takes a sinister look inside the cutthroat, perfection-seeking world of professional ballet. Natalie Portman gives the performance of her career and Aronofsky basically makes his version of The Red Shoes in the spirit of a Roman Polanski thriller. Super-creepy with amazing performances all around - you'll never listen to "Swan Lake" the same way again!

Honorable Mentions:
[REC] (2007)
Martyrs (2008)
The Babadook (2014)
Don't Breathe (2016)
Get Out (2017)

BEST COMEDY - 50/50 (2011)

The very notion of a "cancer comedy" seems doomed to fail - I mean, who wants to laugh at something so tragic? Based on writer Will Reiser's own experience of being diagnosed with the "Big C," 50/50 is one of those risky concepts that very well could have backfired hard. However, thanks to its genuine, authentic script and nuanced characters, 50/50 comes across as a fantastic blend of comedy and drama headlined by two amazing, career-best performances from Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen. The film manages to find humor in the unlikeliest of places, and perfectly balances its two tones extremely delicately. It's powerful, heartwarming, hilarious, emotional, and practically flawless - it's one of the best films of the decade.

Runner-Up: The Edge of Seventeen (2016)

Continuing on this comedy-drama angle, The Edge of Seventeen is one of the best coming-of-age movies of the past ten years. Starring True Grit's Hailee Steinfeld as Nadine, an awkward teen going through some rocky life situations, and Woody Harrelson as her cantankerous history teacher, this film feels very much in the spirit of classic 1980s John Hughes comedies like Ferris Bueller and The Breakfast Club. Great performances, sharp writing, and uncomfortably relatable - I really hope more people will discover The Edge of Seventeen on video, because it totally deserves to be a cult hit.

Honorable Mentions:
In Bruges (2008)
Brüno (2009)
Klown (2010)
21 Jump Street (2012)
Nebraska (2013)

BEST DOCUMENTARY - Dear Zachary (2008)

Dear Zachary is the single movie I've recommended the most to other people over the years. It's one of the most emotional, disturbing, enraging, engrossing documentaries ever made and it will make you both lose and gain hope in humanity at the same time. I highly recommend going into this without knowing anything - as the way the edge-of-your-seat story unfurls is unthinkable.

I remember showing this to a group of friends in high school (getting high school boys to sit and watch a documentary is a challenge enough), and by the end credits there was just this dead, pin-drop silence of disbelief from everyone in the room. I also showed it to my high school fiction writing class when we had a substitute, with a similarly stunned reaction. It doesn't matter who you are - if you're a film geek or just a "Regular Joe," I think this is an important film to see (and afterwards you may want to hug your loved ones).

It's streaming on Netflix right now -- there's no excuse to miss it. Just make sure you have some tissues handy...

Runner-Up: Anvil!: The Story of Anvil (2009)

My favorite documentary about rock and roll ever made. Anvil is a band that in the 80s was seemingly poised to be swept along the same hard rock tidal wave as other successful bands like Metallica and the Scorpions, but despite their efforts to continue playing awesome music, they fell into obscurity and were forced to work menial jobs to support their families. This documentary follows the band as its two lead members, guitarist/singer Steve Kudlow and drummer Robb Reiner (no relation to the Spinal Tap guy), desperately try to keep their dream alive on a European tour where seemingly everything goes wrong. This movie is surprisingly emotional, heartfelt, and hilarious - and it doesn't hurt that the music is very much up my alley. But even if you hate heavy metal music, this is a fantastic documentary that anyone can and should enjoy. Please see it!

Honorable Mentions:
Catfish (2010)
The Imposter (2012)
The Act of Killing (2012)
Blackfish (2013)
Tim's Vermeer (2013)

BEST MUSIC SCORE - Hans Zimmer, Inception (2010)

What can I say - Hans Zimmer is the real deal. I'm super pumped that I'll be seeing him live in Boston this July(!), and I'm sure he'll play selections from Inception, one of the best, most iconic movie scores of the past ten years. Much like the collaboration between John Williams and Steven Spielberg, Zimmer found his cinematic soul mate in Christopher Nolan, whose bombastic, larger-than-life imagery perfectly compliments Zimmer's often brass and percussion-heavy sound.

The score for Inception brings a very diverse set of emotions, much like the film itself. For the frenzied action beats there are tracks like "Mombasa" to get your heart-pumping. On the other hand, "Dream is Collapsing" has a very heavy, dream-like quality that I love. "Time," probably the most famous track on the score, slowly builds up in emotion until it's easy to be moved to tears by the sweeping, melodic strings. What I love about this score is that it feels both epic and intimate, with Zimmer not afraid to experiment with different sounds, perfectly evoking the soundscapes of a (literally) mind-bending thriller.

Runner-Up: John Powell, How to Train Your Dragon (2010)

It's rare that the music score for an animated film is nominated at the Oscars, and even rarer when it's a non-Disney property. But John Powell's magnificent score for Dreamworks' surprisingly great How to Train Your Dragon was too powerful for the Academy to ignore. Mixing a classic full orchestra sound with some Scottish flavoring, this score compliments its accompanying film extremely well. "Test Drive" may be one of my single favorite tracks on a movie score ever, sonically capturing the thrill of what it must be like to ride a dragon. Gives me chills every time I listen to it.

Honorable Mentions:
Michael Giacchino, Up (2009)
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, The Social Network (2010)
Hans Zimmer, The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Hans Zimmer, Interstellar (2014)
Michael Giacchino, Jupiter Ascending (2015)

BEST "BAD" MOVIE - Birdemic: Shock and Terror (2010)

Sometimes the best movie experiences come from sharing the worst movie with your friends and family. I've probably gotten more joy out of watching people's reactions to this film than I have with just about any other movie-related experience in my ten years of reviewing. Birdemic is more than just a bad movie - it transcends being bad and enters that Twilight Zone-level of movie reality where anything can happen and everything is so interestingly terrible you can't take your eyes off it. It's best to go in blind and let the images wash over you. I'll refrain from giving away spoilers to the uninitiated, but I'll just say that you might want to have a coat hanger nearby.

Runner-Up: Sharknado (2013)

Unlike the relatively earnest BirdemicSharknado kind of owns its silliness. The concept alone for this SyFy made-for-TV movie is ridiculous. The idea that a tornado could contain enough force to physically lift sharks out of the ocean disobeys so many laws of gravity and science you can't help but shake your head and smile at the lunacy of it all. Gloriously silly, these movies have become my summer guilty pleasure, with a fifth film on the way, Sharknado 5: Global Swarming. So stupid, but so entertaining.

Honorable Mentions:
Fast and Furious 6 (2013)
Grumpy Cat's Worst Christmas Ever (2014)
The Visit (2015)
Nine Lives (2016)
xXx: Return of Xander Cage (2017)

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 

...You're still here? Well, if you made it this far you deserve a cookie. Thanks again for bearing with me through 10 years of movie reviews... And what the hell - here's to another 10!

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