2014: The movies I watched

At the movies

My final tally for 2014 was 262 movies, at a total runtime of 28,025 minutes – or 467 hours and 5 minutes, or 19 days, 11 hours and 5 minutes.

Why I did this (watched this much and kept this diary), I’m not entirely sure, and I’m surprised I kept it up all year. First, I wanted to know just how many movies I was watching. Then I wanted to know how much time I was wasting spending watching movies. Then I thought it would be neat to know the medium on which I was doing my movie watching (of the 262 movies I saw in 2014, 99 were on DVD – my own, the library’s, friends’, video-store rentals – and 57 were theatrical releases. I saw 39 movies on Netflix and 67 in “other” ways – mostly these were films that were on TV, or screeners, or movies I watch at other people’s houses, or movies I watched at/for work when I worked for a subtitling company. Side note: I spend way too much money every month on my cable package, but I am making the most of it.)

I hadn’t set a goal for myself when I started this thing, though I was on course for a 400-movie year. In January and February, I’d easily average eight to 11 movies a week. But then I stupidly got myself a full-time job (I was in grad school at the beginning of 2014), then a part-time job, then another. Employment gets in the way of spending 22 hours a week watching movies.

I never went to film school and I’ve always felt like a bit of a fraud keeping up with current releases but not delving deep enough into film history, including the silent era. I’ve become re-acquainted with my library card, which I use almost weekly for my DIY film school. But I’m not done. Not even close. That’s the great thing about cinema: As much as you watch, you’re never, ever done.

My 2015 movie wish list: quality over quantity; that Montreal’s movie theatres’ schedules become double-feature friendly again; go to more film festivals; watch more foreign films; watch more classics; keep a diary, again.

Here’s my 2014 film diary:

The Immigrant, 2014, dir. James Gray; screenplay by James Gray and Ric Menello (120 minutes, DVD); Dec. 29 // Blue Ruin, 2014, dir. James Saulnier; screenplay by James Saulnier (90 minutes, Netflix); Dec. 27 // Get On Up, 2014, dir. Tate Taylor; screenplay by Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth (139 minutes); Dec. 27 // Cold in July, 2014, dir. Jim Mickle; screenplay by Jim Mickle and Nick Damici, based on the novel by Joe R. Lansdale (109 minutes, Netflix); Dec. 26

Foxcatcher, 2014, dir. Bennett Miller; screenplay by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman (129 minutes, in theatres); Dec. 26

Bennett Miller nails mood and ambiance in Foxcatcher, but I found the film distant and cold to a fault, a slow burn that left too much unsaid. Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo and wonderful, though Steve Carrell (whom I love but thought was impersonating his Office character Michael Scott impersonating John E. du Pont) is getting much of the acting praise and awards buzz.

The Double, 2014, dir. Richard Ayoade; screenplay by Richard Ayoade and Avi Korine, based on the novella by Fyodor Dostoevsky (93 minutes); Dec. 23

The One I Love, 2014, dir. Charlie McDowell; screenplay by Justin Lader (91 minutes, Netflix); Dec. 23

I missed it at Fantasia this summer and it easily made it onto my favourite films of the year once I finally got around to watching it. Of the Mad Men cast, I am least worried about Elisabeth Moss finding work. She’s already carved out a great niche for herself in quirky indies. Now just give her an Emmy already!

Ace in the Hole, 1951, dir. Billy Wilder; screenplay by Billy Wilder, Lesser Samuels and Walter Newman (111 minutes, DVD); Dec. 22

Godzilla, 2014, dir. Gareth Edwards; screenplay by Max Borenstein (123 minutes, DVD); Dec. 21

Among the biggest surprises of the year: the Godzilla reboot was moody and tense, with some stunning visual effects (presumably, they splurged on VFX and had nothing left for lighting … Such darkness!)

A Christmas Story, 1983, dir. Bob Clark; screenplay by Jean Shepherd, Leigh Brown and Bob Clark, based on the novel by Jean Shepherd (94 minutes, DVD); Dec. 20 // White Christmas, 1954, dir. Micheal Curtiz; screenplay by Norman Krasna, Norman Panama and Melvin Frank (120 minutes, DVD); Dec. 20 // Mrs. Doubtfire, 1993, dir. Chris Columbus; screenplay by Randi Mayem Singer and Leslie Dixon, based on the novel by Anne Fine (125 minutes, DVD); Dec. 20 // Elf, 2003, dir. Jon Favreau; screenplay by David Berenbaum (97 minutes, DVD); Dec. 20

A quadruple feature I had with some family members at a pre-Christmas get-together. Some rewatches of holiday favs while we baked, chatted and played Monopoly.

The Skeleton Twins, 2014, dir. Craig Johnson; screenplay by Craig Johnson and Mark Heyman (93 minutes, DVD); Dec. 18

I so wanted to like more than just parts of The Skeleton Twins. Bill Hader is wonderful, while Kristen Wiig isn’t given much to work with. This lip-synch scene is killer, though. 

Into the Woods, 2014, dir. Rob Marshall; screenplay by James Lapine, adapted from the musical by James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim (125 minutes, in theatres); Dec. 17

Top Five, 2014, dir. Chris Rock / screenplay by Chris Rock (102 minutes, in theatres) / Dec. 14

Good enough for my Top 30 of 2014, Chris Rock’s Top Five has a lot to say and features some of my favourite scenes of the year – a retelling of Cinderella with Prince, DMX singing “Smile,” Rock’s Andre Allen going back home.

Birth, 2004, dir. Jonathan Glazer; screenplay by Jean-Claude Carrière, Milo Addica and Jonathan Glazer (100 minutes, DVD); Dec. 12

Dismissed this Jonathan Glazer film when it was first released because of tepid reviews and the weird premise (and I was a fool) – adult woman (Nicole Kidman) meets a boy who claims to be her dead husband reborn. Then I saw Under the Skin, then Sexy Beast, and loved Jonathan Glazer’s other features. And a friend mentioned to me during a long lunch that her work in Birth is his favourite Nicole Kidman performance ever. And this close-up scene of Kidman in Birth, after her character realizes that the boy may be telling the truth, is outstanding. 

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, 2014, dir. Peter Jackson; screenplay by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro, based on the novel by J.R.R. Tolkien (144 minutes, in theatres); Dec. 10

Unnecessary and bloated, at least The Battle of the Five Armies signals the end of the needless, extended Hobbit series by Peter Jackson.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, 1971, dir. Mel Stuart; screenplay by Roald Dahl and David Seltzer, based on the book by Roald Dahl (100 minutes); Dec. 8 // The Virgin Suicides, 1999, dir. Sofia Coppola; screenplay by Sofia Coppola, based on the novel by Jeffrey Eugenides (97 minutes, Netflix); Dec. 7 // Bill Cunningham New York, 2010, dir. Richard Press; documentary (84 minutes, Netflix); Dec. 6

Frank, 2014, dir. Lenny Abrahamson / screenplay by Jon Ronson and Peter Straughan (95 minutes, DVD) / Dec. 6

What’s going on in that head inside that head? Frank tells the story of an eccentric musician who wears a big head on his head (Michael Fassbender, allegedly) and is apparently a genius with a small following. His band meets Jon, a wannabe musician with no talent but lots of drive, and they help each other make music. The results are mixed – like Frank the movie – but it’s strangely endearing and surprisingly profound.

Hulk, 2003, dir. Ang Lee; screenplay by John Turman, Michael France and James Schamus (138 minutes); Dec. 6

History of Violence, 2005, dir. David Cronenberg / screenplay by Josh Olson, based on the graphic novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke (96 minutes, Netflix) / Dec. 3

Easily the best Cronenberg film of this new millennium  …

Birdman, 2014, dir. Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu / screenplay by Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris and Armando Bo (119 minutes, in theatres) / Dec. 2

I wasn’t as impressed with Birdman as Birdman was impressed with itself, though I loved watching Emma Stone.

Dumb and Dumber To, 2014, dirs. Bobby and Peter Farrelly / screenplay by Sean Anders, John Morris, Peter Farrelly, Bobby Farrelly, Bennett Yellin and Mike Cerrone (109 minutes, in theatres) / Nov. 26

This one was so bad, it hurt. I went to see this with a half-dozen of my cousins because Dumb and Dumber was our jam as kids. We must have watched it 100 times. The worst movie of the year; ill-intentioned, unfunny, terrible.

Happy Christmas, 2014, dir. Joe Swanberg / screenplay by Joe Swanberg (82 minutes, Netflix) / Nov. 23

What a lovely little film. Things Happy Christmas has going for it: It’s 82 minutes; it stars Anna Kendrick and Melanie Lynskey and a super cute baby. Happy Christmas is a breeze.

For Your Consideration, 2006, dir. Christopher Guest; screenplay by Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy (86 minutes); Nov. 23 // The Way We Were, 1973, dir. Sydney Pollack; screenplay by Arthur Laurents (118 minutes); Nov. 23

A double feature I forced myself to do because I had these two movies on my PVR for months, and was being constantly reminded that I was running out of space. These films are neither director’s best work (actually they probably rank toward the bottom of their respective repertoires) but Catherine O’Hara, Parker Posey (in FYC) and Barbra Streisand turn in commendable performances.

Platoon, 1986, dir. Oliver Stone; screenplay by Oliver Stone (120 minutes, DVD); Nov. 22 // Actress, 2014, dir. Robert Greene; documentary (86 minutes, in theatres); Nov. 22

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I, 2014, dir. Francis Lawrence / screenplay by Peter Craig and Danny Strong, adapted from the Suzanne Collins novel (123 minutes, in theatres) / Nov. 20

A disappointing standalone instalment that’ll undoubtedly be more exciting once it’s, you know, finished. A total tease, and I am a fan of this series. Boo. Needlessly split into two parts.

Old Acquaintance, 1943, dir. Vincent Sherman / screenplay by John Van Druten and Lenore Coffee, based on the play by John Van Druten (110 minutes) / Nov. 16

Edge of Tomorrow, 2014, dir. Doug Liman / screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth, based on the novel by Hiroshi Sakurazaka (113 minutes, DVD) / Nov. 16

Who would have had to star in Edge of Tomorrow to make it a box-office hit? It’s great fun, but I suspect people were put off by the Tom Cruise vehicle. Channing Tatum? Anthony Mackie? Miles Teller? Jamie Foxx? Chris Hemsworth? Or Will Smith 10 years ago?

Postcards from the Edge, 1990, dir. Mike Nichols / screenplay by Carrie Fisher, based on the book by Carrie Fisher (101 minutes) / Nov. 15

Kicking myself for not getting to this on my PVR sooner. Seriously great Meryl Streep performance as an addict/actress before Meryl Streep was an awards-show staple. Also stars Shirley MacLaine as her mom and Dennis Quaid as Streep’s terrible boyfriend.

Interstellar, 2014, dir. Christopher Nolan / screenplay by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan (169 minutes, in theatres) / Nov. 10

If Nolan’s movie was as good as Hans Zimmer’s score for Nolan’s movie, Interstellar may have been more than a frustrating, sappy, over-emotional and overly long mess. Alas …

X-Men: Days of Future Past, 2014, dir. Bryan Singer; screenplay by Simon Kinberg (131 minutes, DVD); Nov. 9 // The Muppets, 2011, dir. James Bobin; screenplay by Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller (103 minutes, DVD); Nov. 8 // Big Hero 6, 2014, dirs. Don Hall and Chris Williams; screenplay by Jordan Roberts, Daniel Gerson and Robert L. Baird (102 minutes, in theatres); Nov. 5

House on Haunted Hill, 1959, dir. Vincent Castle; screenplay by Robb White (75 minutes); Nov. 2 // The Amazing Spider-Man 2, 2014, dir. Marc Webb; screenplay by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Jeff Pinker (142 minutes, DVD); Nov. 2 // An American Werewolf in London, 1981, dir. John Landis; screenplay by John Landis (97 minutes, DVD); Nov. 1 // The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari, 1920, dir. Robert Wiene; story by Carl Mayer and Hans Janowitz (67 minutes, DVD); Nov. 1 // Only Lovers Left Alive, 2014, dir. Jim Jarmusch; screenplay by Jim Jarmusch (123 minutes, DVD); Nov. 1

My Halloween quintuple feature by myself (two sittings) …

Oculus, 2013, dir. Mike Flanagan; screenplay by Mike Flanagan and Jeff Howard (104 minutes) // Ghostbusters, 1984, dir. Ivan Reitman; screenplay by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis (105 minutes); Oct. 31

My Halloween double-feature with family …

Goodfellas, 1990, dir. Martin Scorsese / screenplay by Nicholas Pileggi and Martin Scorsese, based on the book by Nicholas Pileggi (146 minutes) / Oct. 27

It’s law, isn’t it, that if Goodfellas is on TV, you have to watch it? No? It doesn’t need to be, because who can resist?

The Uninvited, 1944, dir. Lewis Allen; screenplay by Dodie Smith and Frank Patros, based on the novel by Dorothy Macardle (99 minutes, DVD); Oct. 26 // Halloween, 1978, dir. John Carpenter; screenplay by John Carpenter and Debra Hill (91 minutes, DVD); Oct. 25 // The Devil’s Backbone, 2001, dir. Guillermo del Toro; screenplay by Guillermo del Toro, Antonio Trashorras and David Muñoz (106 minutes, DVD); Oct. 25 // Carrie, 1976, dir. Brian De Palma; screenplay by Lawrence D. Cohen, based on the novel by Stephen King (98 minutes, Netflix); Oct. 24 // Maps to the Stars, 2014, dir. David Cronenberg; screenplay by Bruce Wagner (111 minutes, in theatres); Oct. 19 // Repulsion, 1965, dir. Roman Polanski; screenplay by Roman Polanski and Gerard Brach, adapted by David Stone (105 minutes, DVD); Oct. 19 // Force majeure, 2014, dir. Ruben Östlund; screenplay by Ruben Östlund (120 minutes, in theatres); Oct. 18 // Wild, 2014, dir. Jean-Marc Vallée; screenplay by Nick Hornby, adapted from the memoirs by Cheryl Strayed (115 minutes, in theatres); Oct. 18 // Locke, 2014, dir. Steven Knight; screenplay by Steven Knight (85 minutes, DVD); Oct. 13 // Adieu au langage, 2014, dir. Jean-Luc Godard; screenplay by Jean-Luc Godard (70 minutes, in theatres); Oct. 13 // Bolt, 2008, dir. Byron Howard and Chris Williams; screenplay by Dan Fogelman and Chris Williams (96 minutes, DVD); Oct. 13

Nightcrawler, 2014, dir. Dan Gilroy / screenplay by Dan Gilroy (117 minutes, in theatres) / Oct. 12

One of the best of the year / Jake Gyllenhall for Best Actor! Dan Gilroy’s is the best debut of the year (followed by Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash

House, 1977, dir. Nobuhiko Ôbayashi / screenplay by Chiho Katsura (88 minutes, DVD) / Oct. 12

The Voices, 2014, dir. Marjane Satrapi / screenplay by Michael R. Perry (103 minutes, in theatres) / Oct. 11

Look out for Marjane Satrapi’s The Voices, slated for a February 2015 theatrical release. I was lucky to catch this weird, darkly funny gem at FNC in the fall. Loved it.

Sleeping Beauty, 1959, dir. Clyde Geronimi / screenplay by Erdman Penner, adapted from the story by Charles Perreault (75 minutes, DVD) / Oct. 6

Sleeping Beauty was re-released in a re-mastered Blu-Ray Diamond Edition. It’s gorgeous, of course, and what we should be showing kids instead of Maleficent

Cannibal Holocaust, 1980, dir. Ruggero Deodato; screenplay by Gianfranco Clerici (95 minutes);  Oct. 4 // Texas Chain Saw Massacre, 1974, dir. Tobe Hooper; screenplay by Kim Henkel and Tobe Hooper (83 minutes); Oct. 4

Gone Girl, 2014, dir. David Fincher / screenplay by Gillian Flynn, adapted from the novel by Gillian Flynn (149 minutes, in theatres) / Oct. 3

One of the best movies of the year. 

Whiplash, 2014, dir. Damien Chazelle / screenplay by Damien Chazelle (106 minutes, in theatres) / Sept. 26

One of the best movies of the year. 

A Gentleman’s Agreement, 1947, dir. Elia Kazan / screenplay by Moss Hart based on the novel by Laura Z. Hobson (118 minutes) / Sept. 24

Pride, 2014, dir. Matthew Warchus / screenplay by Stephen Beresford (120 minutes, in theatres) / Sept. 24

Betrays the seriousness of the subject matter by being just a tad too feel-good, but an enjoyable film with a great UK cast.

For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism, 2009, dir. Gerald Peary / documentary, written by Gerald Peary (80 minutes, Netflix) / Sept. 22; The Guard, 2011, dir. John Michael McDonagh / screenplay by John Michael McDonagh (96 minutes, Netflix) / Sept. 21; The Station Agent, 2003, dir. Tom McCarthy / screenplay by Tom McCarthy (89 minutes, Netflix) / Sept. 20; I Am Divine, 2013, dir. Jeffrey Schwarz (90 minutes, Netflix) / Sept. 20

A Netflix quadruple feature (in three sittings); I had a discussion with a friend about how many titles we had in our “list” and I became embarrassed by my number, which was almost four times his. This was my attempt at decreasing that number. The Guard is a gem. Bless Patricia Clarkson in The Station AgentI Am Divine is a divine documentary, For the Love of Movies feels very dated already …

Meet the Parents, 2000, dir. Jay Roach; screenplay by Jim Herzfeld and John Hamburg, based on the 1992 screenplay and story by Greg Glienna and Mary Ruth Clarke (108 minutes); Sept. 20 // Page One: Inside the New York Times, 2011, dir. Andrew Rossi; documentary, written by Kate Novack and Andrew Rossi (92 minutes, Netflix); Sept. 17

A Night in Casablanca, 1946, dir. Archie Mayo / screenplay by Joseph Fields, Roland Kibbee and Frank Tashlin (85 minutes, Netflix) /

A Night in Casablanca is only the second Marx Bros. film I watch. Earlier this year, I saw Duck Soup, a scathing political satire that might be even more topical today than it was in 1933, and loved it. I thought Night in Casablanca was goofier and just a bit more fun, with the slapstick upped to cartoonish levels. (Sept. 12)

I Know That Voice, 2013, dir. Lawrence Shapiro / written by Brandon Sonnier (90 minutes, Netflix)

Similar in style to That Guy Who Was in that Thing, a documentary about character actors, I Know That Voice features interviews with seldom-seen but often-heard voice actors like Nancy Cartwright, Grey DeLisle, Tom Kane, Kevin Michael Richardson, Hank Azaria, Ed Asner, David Faustino, Seth Green and John DiMaggio, who also narrates the film. Like GuyVoice is only ever as strong as its talking heads. Unfortunately, both films get a little repetitive when the advice and anecdotes doled out are so similar: it’s hard work, no one does it for the money, it’s important to be versatile, and voice actors are like a family. Still, what Voice offers that Guy does not is a behind-the-scenes look at the process and the business. For that alone – and to see live humans do Bart Simpson, Apu, Batman, Porky Pig – I Know That Voice is a worthwhile watch. (Sept. 11)

Croupier, 1998, dir. Mike Hodges / screenplay by Paul Mayersberg (94 minutes, Netflix)

There are many reasons to love Croupier: the 1998 neo-noir film has style and smarts in spades, intrigue and excitement, and a slick performance by Clive Owen, who plays a struggling writer who takes a well-paying job at a London casino and writes a novel in which the protagonist is a thinly veiled version of himself. (Sept. 8)

Underground, 1928, dir. Anthony Asquith / screenplay by Anthony Asquith (84 minutes)

One of Anthony Asquith’s first feature films, the silent Underground is a classic boy-meets-girl story, until she meets another boy and this new boy is a psycho who’ll stop at nothing to be the only boy she knows and loves. (Sept. 8)

Sixty Six, 2006, dir. Paul Weiland / screenplay by Peter Straughan and Bridget O’Connor, story by Paul Weiland (93 minutes)

An ultimately sweet story unfolds in Sixty Six, though the film is unsure if it wants to tell a coming-of-age tale, a family dramedy or a cultural or sports film. Bernie Ruben’s been using his every waking moment to plan a Bar Mitzvah his guests won’t soon forget. It seems he’s thought of every detail, but of course unlucky Bernie’s Bar Mitzvah would fall on July 30, 1966, the day of the World Cup final. England won’t make it, though, will they? His guests’ll still make it, he thinks. Plus, who’d watch a World Cup final game instead of coming to one of the most important events in a young Jewish boy’s life? Not so. I’m not much of a soccer fan, but I wouldn’t wanna go to Bernie’s party either. Sixty Six wants you to get to know the entire Ruben clan, you end up knowing and caring for none of them. (Sept. 8)

Mommy, 2014, dir. Xavier Dolan / screenplay by Xavier Dolan (139 minutes, in theatres)

I missed Cannes, then TIFF, but was invited to a screening of Xavier Dolan’s latest film Mommy in Montreal. The film lives up to the hype and is Dolan’s best and most affective, by far. The performances are on point, the art and cinematography even more stunning than has come to be expected from the Quebec film phenom. You can read my full review here. (Sept. 8)

Following, 1998, dir. Christopher Nolan / screenplay by Christopher Nolan (69 minutes, Netflix)

Notable for its micro budget of $6,000, Christopher Nolan’s directorial feature debut has more intrigue than mystery thrillers with exponentially bigger budgets. It’s not perfect, but it’s also only 69 minutes long, which is enough time for Nolan to craft a noirish film that’s at times stylish. It’s shot in black-and-white and doesn’t waste any time to throw the audiences into the action of a struggling writer who starts to follow random strangers for character studies. (Sept. 7)

That Guy Who Was in that Thing, 2012, dirs. Ian Roumain and Michael Schwartz (79 minutes, Netflix)

The documentary features character actors of varying popularity, including Emmy winner Zeljko Ivanek (Damages), Zach Grenier (The Good Wife), Golden Globe winner and Oscar nominee Bruce Davison, and 13 other guys you may recognize but can’t necessarily name. The doc delves into the misconception that the only people making a living off acting are the Clooneys, Pitts and Damons, but the truth is that most working actors aren’t making millions of dollars a year and most are in between jobs. The talking heads got a little repetitive, especially when the 16 actors were being asked the same questions and offered pretty uniform answers: acting is hard work and if you are doing it for fame or money, you’re in it for the wrong reasons. (Sept. 7)

Jiro Dreams of Sushi, 2011, dir. David Gelb (81 minutes, Netflix)

The David Gelb documentary chronicles the ins of a three-Michelin-starred sushi restaurant in Japan run by Jiro Ono, an 85-year-old master with very specific rules and procedures to be followed when making food. His tiny restaurant seats about a dozen people, only takes reservations once a month for the following month, and serves no appetizers or sides or alcohol: just sushi! It’s a revealing portrait of a man whose level of dedication can easily be described as obsessive, and a flawed hardass who’s also sometimes a jerk. Imagine being Jiro’s offspring, waiting to take over the family business. Jiro Dreams of Sushi also features Jiro’s two sons, the younger one who opened a sushi restaurant of his own that everyone is quick to remind him is not like his father’s, and the elder one who’s poised to take over Jiro’s joint. (Sept. 5)

Baggage Claim, 2013, dir. David E. Talbert / screenplay by David E. Talbert, based on his novel of the same name (96 minutes, Netflix)

The talented and gorgeous Paula Patton has charm for days, but even that can’t save Baggage Claim, a romcom with good intention that never quite takes off, about an unlucky-in-love flight attendant looking for to be engaged by the time her younger sister’s wedding day, in 30 days. Baggage Claim is watchable, though, because Patton is so likeable, but it’s frustrating, especially when it falls for every romcom trope, from the sassy black best friend, to the sassy promiscuous gay friend, to the jerk exes, to the Dream Guy being the one who was right in front of her the whole time. (Sept. 4)

The Pastor’s Wife, 2011, dir. Norma Bailey / screenplay by Robert L. Freedman, based on the book by Diane Fanning (87 minutes)

The Pastor’s Wife is the kind of TV movie that gives TV movies a bad name: acting so wooden, a script so vapid, it’s on TV and only 87 minutes because no one would want it any other way. (Sept. 3)

Waking Ned Devine, 1998, dir. Kirk Jones / screenplay by Kirk Jones (91 minutes, Netflix)

The cute little indie debut from Kirk Jones, who’d go on to direct Nanny McPheeEverybody’s Fine and What to Expect when You’re Expecting, is about a quaint Irish village of 52 people from which one inhabitant has won a lottery drawing. That lucky man is the old Ned Devine, who got so excited when the winning numbers were read out on TV, he literally died. A crafty neighbour and his wife and his friend plan to still collect the winnings, though, if they can just convince everyone in town to play along. (Sept. 2)

Jeff Who Lives at Home, 2011, dirs. Jay and Mark Duplass / screenplay by Jay and Mark Duplass (83 minutes, Netflix)

The Duplass Brothers are indie-film darlings, and with good reason: Jay’s short film The Puffy Chair won the Audience Award at SXSW in 2005 and he and his brother Mark have teamed up to direct and write (and star, occasionally) in some sweet and funny indie flicks, like CyrusBaghead and the Jason Segel vehicle Jeff Who Lives at Home. Segel portrays the titular Jeff, a lonely, purposeless man-child who lives in his mother’s basement. When his mom (Susan Sarandon, who’s sweet in a silly B-story) sends him on an errand, he thinks everything from a wrong-number call to a fellow commuter’s basketball jersey is a sign that’ll lead to his life’s great purpose. Segel shines as Jeff, and his negative, realist brother (Ed Helms) is a good character to counteract Jeff’s optimism, which would be grating in Jeff on its own. (Sept. 1)

The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life, 2013, dir. Malcolm Clarke / written by Malcolm Clarke and Carl Freed (39 minutes, Netflix)

The award-winning short-subject documentary is nothing if not uplifting. It tells the story of 109-year-old Alice Herz, a Holocaust survivor who now lives in London and plays piano every day, much to the joy of her neighbours. The interviews with Herz are the film’s strong point. She’s smiley and happy and optimistic and probably has more reasons than anyone in the world not to be. I had an issue with some of the doc’s editing, but they’re easily forgiven with a subject this interesting and unique. (Sept. 1)

Smashed, 2012, dir. James Ponsoldt / screenplay by Susan Burke and james Ponsoldt (81 minutes, Netflix)

For a movie about alcoholism, Smashed is surprisingly fun, carried and even elevated by a wonderful performance from Mary Elizabeth Winstead. She plays Kate, a woman on the verge of losing it when a co-worker convinces her to go to an AA meeting and meets a woman who shares a story Kate thinks is realistic and inspirational. Smashed is the former, Winstead is the latter. (Aug. 31)

Bottle Rocket, 1996, dir. Wes Anderson / screenplay by Owen Wilson and Wes Anderson (91 minutes, DVD)

I’d never seen Wes Anderson’s debut feature before, and perhaps this made me like it less than I should and would have. I thought it started and ended strongly and was only mildly amusing; the middle bit is unfocused. Of course there are aspects of things to come for the great Anderson: overhead shots, quirkiness, pastels. The cinematography still impresses in Bottle Rocket, but he’s come a long way since 1996 on the narrative end of things. (Aug. 31)

The Hunt, 2012, dir. Thomas Vinterberg / screenplay by Tobias Lindholm and Thomas Vinterberg (115 minutes, Netflix)

Thomas Vinterberg’s Oscar-nominated The Hunt is the haunting tale of an accused pedophile that had me continually guessing where it was headed. Mads Mikkelsen (of NBC’s Hannibal fame) stars as a school teacher whose lonely life starts to improve just as a misunderstanding readies to bring it all crashing down. (Aug. 31)

Lean On Me, 1989, dir. John G. Avildsen / screenplay by Michael Schiffer (108 minutes)

It’s impossible to say that Morgan Freeman’s performance in Lean On Me is terrible, but he was done no favours from director Avildsen. Freeman shouts all of his lines to everybody and nobody in particular. He plays a hard-ass principal in a terrible New Jersey high school that looks more like a prison or gang bar than a place of learning. It’s totally unbelievable that anyone would allow the school to look as bad as it does – there’s graffiti on every wall and locker, fights break out at random, students grope and scream at teachers and fellow students – especially since the plot will have you believe that the state will take over control of the school if Freeman’s “Crazy Joe Clark” doesn’t turn things around. (Aug. 31)

Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me, 2013, dir. Chiemi Karasawa (81 minutes, Netflix)

Karasawa covers a lot of ground in the documentary’s 81-minute runtime, from Elaine Stritch’s theatrical roots to her work on 30 Rock. It’s also deeply personal with the cameras having very intimate access to Stritch who’s all-willing and totally game for everything. This is not reality TV. It’s cinéma vérité. (Aug. 30)

Broken Flowers, 2005, dir. Jim Jarmusch / screenplay by Jim Jarmusch, inspired by an idea from Bill Raden and Sara Driver (106 minutes, Netflix)

I wanted to like Broken Flowers more than I did. It had elements that worked well together but never blew me away. Bill Murray plays Don Johnston, a man who receives an anonymous letter that he fathered a now-19-year-old son. Johnston’s neighbour Winston, the scene-stealing and underrated Jeffrey Wright, is an amateur sleuth and wants to help Johnston find the boy and his mom. The duo comes up with a list of the woman who Johnston dates 20 years ago, and Johnston hits the road: Sharon Stone, Frances Conroy, Jessica Lange and Tilda Swinton. Seriously, Jarmusch knows how to cast. (Aug. 30)

Drinking Buddies, 2013, dir. Joe Swanberg / screenplay by Joe Swanberg (90 minutes, Netflix)

The Joe Swanberg movie’s been sitting on my Netflix Queue for months and I finally got around to watching it. Drinking Buddies was the first Swanberg movie I saw. It won’t be the last, but I thought Drinking Buddies could have been stronger. It’s best when Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson share the screen, and almost everything else was unnecessary.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, 2014, dir. Miguel Arteta / screenplay by Rob Lieber, based on the series of books by Judith Viost (81 minutes)

I’ll save my thoughts (though I don’t have many) on the film for when it comes out, but I will say that basing a movie on a popular series of children’s book is good marketing. It’s just not good filmmaking. Especially when your story revolves around a white suburban family having a day full of first-world problems.

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, 1988, dir. Terry Gilliam / screenplay by Charles McKeown and Terry Gilliam, based on the novel by Gottfried August Burger and Rudolph Erich Raspe (126 minutes)

The Terry Gilliam adventure film is most times fun but at times grating, with some sequences in the multi-world journey of the famous Baron Munchausen not gelling perfectly for me. But the film is always visually stunning and inventive, with fun performances by John Neville and Robin Williams, who plays the king of the moon. Adventures also features a wee Sarah Polley, who is a joy to watch. (Aug. 27)

30 Days of Night, 2007, dir. David Slade / screenplay by Steve Niles, Stuart Beattie and Brian Nelson, based on the comic by Steve Nils and Ben Templesmith (113 minutes)

This was my second viewing of 30 Days of Night, and I remember liking it a lot more than I did this time. For one, I thought it was shorter and, even now, the unwarranted 113-minute runtime is a bit shocking to me. Of course, 2007 was a different time, and the proliferation of vampire movies might have not happened just yet, but watching it again for work, I was struck by how draggy it was in some portions, though still thought the premise was great (the story follows a small Alaskan village as it’s overrun by bloodthirsty vampires). It does start off very strongly, too, with relationships and characters presented somewhat compellingly. (Aug. 26)

The Normal Heart, 2014, dir. Ryan Murphy / screenplay by Larry Kramer, based on his play (132 minutes)

My Emmy catch-up weekend led me to finally watch the True Detective finale I’d never gotten around to watch and HBO’s Ryan Murphy film, The Normal Heart. It’s a very important story about the onset of AIDS in New York in the early-80’s, and The Normal Heart is nothing if not passionate and acted with fervor.  (Aug. 24)

Chacun son cinéma, 2007, multiple directors / multiple screenwriters (100 minutes) / Aug. 23;  The Lego Movie, 2014, dirs. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller / screenplay by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (100 minutes) / Aug. 23; Red Hollywood, 1996, dirs. Thom Andersen and Noël Burch (118 minutes) / Aug. 21; Breakfast at Tiffany’s, 1961, dir. Blake Edwards / screenplay by George Axelrod, based on the novella by Truman Capote (115 minutes) / Aug. 20;  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, 2014, dir. Jonathan Liebesman / screenplay by Josh Appelbaum, André Nemec and Evan Daugherty (101 minutes) / Aug. 19; Thor: The Dark World, 2013, dir. Alan Taylor / screenplay by Christopher L. Yost, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (112 minutes) / Aug. 17.

Under the Skin, 2014, dir. Jonathan Glazer / screenplay by Jonathan Glazer and Walter Campbell, based on the novel by Michel Faber (108 minutes) / Aug. 17

My favourite movie of the year. 

Sexy Beast, 2000, dir. Jonathan Glazer; screenplay by Louis Mellis and David Scinto (89 minutes); Aug. 16 // Chocolat, 2000, dir. Lasse Hallström; screenplay by Robert Nelson Jacobs, adapted from the novel by Joanne Harris (121 minutes); Aug. 16) // Dear White People, 2014, dir. Justin Simien; screenplay by Justin Simien (100 minutes); Aug. 12 //  The Trip, 2010, dir. Michael Winterbottom (107 minutes, Netflix); Aug. 11 // Casino Royale, 2006, dir. Martin Campbell; screenplay by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Paul Haggis, based on the novel by Ian Fleming (144 minutes); Aug. 9

The Hundred-Foot Journey, 2014, dir. Lasse Hallström / screenplay by Steven Knight, based on the book by Richard C. Morais (122 minutes, in theatres)

You can read my full review of the film (which I had to watch twice for work) here: FILM REVIEW: THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY (Aug. 6)

Lucy, 2014, dir. Luc Besson; screenplay by Luc Besson (89 minutes, in theatres); Aug. 6 // La Haine, 1995, dir. Mathieu Kassovitz; screenplay by Mathieu Kassovitz (98 minutes); Aug. 3

Guardians of the Galaxy, 2014, dir. James Gunn / screenplay by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman (121 minutes, in theatres)

Fun, and lots of it. FILM REVIEW: GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (July 30)

Stardom 2000, dir. Denys Arcand; screenplay by Denys Arcand and Jacob Potashnik (100 minutes) (July 29) // Sex and the Single Girl, 1964, dir. Richard Quine; screenplay by Joseph Heller and David R. Schwartz, based on the book by Helen Gurley Brown (110 minutes); July 27 // Kisses for My President, 1964, dir. Curtis Bernhardt; screenplay by Claude Binyon and Robert G. Kane (113 minutes); July 26 // Waiting to Exhale, 1995, dir. Forest Whitaker; screenplay by Terry McMillan and Ronald Bass, based on the novel by McMillan (124 minutes) (July 25)

The Hundred-Foot Journey, 2014, dir. Lasse Hallström / screenplay by Steven Knight, based on the book by Richard C. Morais (122 minutes, in theatres)

FILM REVIEW: THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY (July 24)

The Princess and the Frog, 2009, dirs. Ron Clements and John Musker; screenplay by Ron Clements, John Musker and Rod Edwards, based on the story “The Frog Princess” by E.D. Baker (97 minutes); July 20 // All About My Mother, 1999, dir. Pedro Almodovar; screenplay by Pedro Almodovar (101 minutes); July 20 //  101 Dalmatians, 1961, dirs. Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton Luske and Wolfgang Reitherman; story by Bill Peet, based on the novel by Dottie Smith (79 minutes, DVD); July 19

Snowpiercer, 2013, dir. Joon-ho Bong / screenplay by Joon-ho Bong and Kelly Masterson, based on the graphic novel Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette (126 minutes, in theatres)

FILM REVIEW: TILDA SWINTON STEALS THE SHOW IN SNOWPIERCER (July 16)

Boyhood, 2014, dir. Richard Linklater / screenplay by Richard Linklater (166 minutes, in theatres)

FILM REVIEW: RICHARD LINKLATER’S BOYHOOD (July 15)

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, 1982, dir. Colin Higgins; screenplay by Larry L. King, Peter Masterson and Colin Higgins, based on the play by King and Masterson (114 minutes); July 14

Life Itself, 2014, dir. Steve James (115 minutes, in theatres)

A documentary about the man who helped me and millions of others find their love of cinema. You can read my rave of the Steve James documentary here, in which I write the seven most important reasons to watch the film. (July 12)

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, 2014, dir. Matt Reeves / screenplay by Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, based on the novel by Pierre Boulle (130 minutes, in theatres)

The perfect summer movie: it’s more exciting and grand than Rise and is a step in the perfect direction for the series. READ MY FULL REVIEW OF DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. (July 11)

K-9, 1989, dir. Rod Daniel; screenplay by Steven Siegel and Scott Myers (101 minutes); July 11 //  The Bastard Sings the Sweetest Song, 2012, dir. Christy Garland (71 minutes); July 9 // Obvious Child, 2014, dir. Gillian Robespierre; screenplay by Gillian Robespierre, with a story by Karen Maine and Elisabeth Holm (84 minutes, in theatres); July 8

Begin Again, 2013, dir. John Carney / screenplay by John Carney (104 minutes, in theatres)

Click here to read my full review of Begin Again. (July 8)

Bicycle Thieves, 1948, dir. Vittorio de Sica; screenplay by Cesare Zavattini, Suso Cecchi D’Amico, Vittorio De Sica, Oreste Biancoli, Adolfo Franci and Gerardo Gerrieri, based on the nobel by Luigi Bartolini (93 minutes, Netflix); July 7 // Run Lola Run, 1998, dir. Tom Tykwer; screenplay by Tom Tykwer (80 minutes); July 6 // Bridesmaids, 2o11, dir. Paul Feig; screenplay by Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo (125 minutes, DVD); July 6 // School of Rock, 2003, dir. Richard Linklater; screenplay by Mike White (108 minutes); July 5

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, 2013, dir. Peter Jackson / screenplay by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro, based on the novel by J.R.R. Tolkien (161 minutes)

My second viewing of The Hobbit made me realize even more how bloated this second Peter Jackson-helmed Tolkien adaptation has become. With a 161-minute runtime, there is still plenty to look at and admire. The sets are grandiose, the CGI – especially on Smaug – is eye-popping. But that’s it. We’ve been there, seen that, and while I’m hopeful Jackson will redeem himself when the final chapters of the series comes out later this year, I’ve stopped caring. You can read my original review of the film here. (July 4)

Twenty Feet from Stardom, 2013, dir. Morgan Neville / written by Morgan Neville (91 minutes, Netflix)

The Oscar-winning documentary by Morgan Neville about back-up singers is undoubtedly a great time, with some even better music and wonderful, insightful interviews with big names and littler ones – Mick Jagger, Bruce Springsteen, Darlene Love, Merry Clayton. It beat out The Act of Killing for the top doc prize; I can definitely see that Stardom is a much more appealing film than Killing, but  Joshua Oppenheimer film was chilling, important and brave filmmaking. (July 2)

Undefeated, 2011, dirs. Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin / documentary (113 minutes)

A project I was assigned at work: Undefeated is the 2012 Oscar winner for best documentary feature. It beat out Paradise Lost 3, the third film in the documentary series about the West Memphis Three, and Wim Wenders’ PinaUndefeated is great, though maybe not as important as the other documentaries mentioned above. I’d describe it as a real-life Friday Night Lights, which is not a bad thing at all. It’s inspirational and dramatic, and was distributed by the Weinstein Company, all things that would explain its win on Oscar Night 2012. (June 30)

Mystery Train, 1989, dir. Jim Jarmusch / screenplay by Jim Jarmusch (110 minutes, DVD)

The more Jarmusch I watch, the more Jarmusch I love. Mystery Train is my third of his films this year (I saw Stranger than Paradise and the great Night on Earth last month) and it was a total joy. Three stories overlap as a Japanese couple, Italian widow and a trio of American criminals converge at a Memphis hotel. As with all Jarmusch, the draw here isn’t so much what happens (though that’s a hoot, too, most times) but how. Jarmusch has a way with words and dialogue that is so light and quick. There’s no mistaking a Jarmusch film: sharp writing, kooky characters and uproarious banter. (June 29)

The 40-Year-Old Virgin, 2005, dir. Judd Apatow / screenplay by Judd Apatow and Steve Carrell (116 minutes)

(June 26)

The Italian Job, 1969, dir. Peter Collinson / screenplay by Troy Kennedy-Martin (99 minutes, DVD)

Movie nights with my dad are among my most anxiety-inducing activities: the man isn’t picky so much as he is particular. He doesn’t go to movie theatres anymore and doesn’t use Netflix. He also prefers movie in which he recognizes the actors, which eliminates a lot of contenders: my dad doesn’t keep up with movies since he stopped going to the movies (some time in my teen years, when I started going alone and didn’t need or want him to come along. Sorry, pops!). Add to all this another caveat: he works super early the next morning, so the movie we are starting at 10 p.m. needs to be under two hours. I selected seven movies I had on DVD and let him decide which would have the honour of being watched by us tonight.: The Great EscapeArgoThe HurricaneBefore the Devil Knows You’re DeadThe Italian JobRush and Unforgiven. And by process of elimination, The Italian Job, with the supremely cool Michael Caine and a runtime of 99 minutes, reigned supreme. It’s fun and breezy, and Caine’s swagger is the big draw, ahead even of the final car chase scene. (June 24)

The Godfather, 1972, dir. Francis Ford Coppola / screenplay by Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola, based on the novel by Mario Puzo (175 minutes)

It’s a crime punishable by life in prison, isn’t it, to catch The Godfather on TV and not sit through the whole thing? Often imitated, never duplicated, The Godfather is the ultimate mafia drama, having ushered in the genre into the mainstream, as well as set an impossible high bar that few films since its release more than 40 years ago have even been close to reaching. It’s infinitely rewatchable, even when you know whose gruesome death is coming up next, or what sick twist is going to befall the Corleones. AFI has The Godfather at No. 2 on its list of the 100 greatest American films (behind Citizen Kane, unjustly, in my opinion) and with great reason: it’s a total masterpiece, the odd classic that ages incredibly well and lives up to the hype, and then some.  (June 24)

22 Jump Street, 2014, dirs. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller / screenplay by Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel, Rodney Rothman, story by Michael Bacall and Jonah Hill (112 minutes, in theatres)

22 Jump Street is a near-perfect buddy action-comedy sequel that reunites what might become the foremost duo in R-rated comedy. Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum return to more or less the same plot as 2012’s 21 Jump Street, a point of many a-jokes in the film. This time, though, they go to college, and they still look too old to be college students. If you are not watching Comedy Central’s Workaholics, you may not be familiar with Jillian Bell, a riotous comedic actress who delivers some of the best zingers in the film as the roommate of one of Hill’s character’s new friend. The filmmakers wink at the audience throughout the film and they know exactly what they’re doing: a sequel to a reboot that was written off before it was even released ends up being even better the second time around. Among my favourite moments: a Golden Girls reference about Blanche doing heroin, Jonah Hill trying to convince himself he is Beyoncé post-Destiny’s Child, and an end-credits sequence for the ages. (June 25)

Cars, 2006, dirs. John Lasseter and Joe Ranft / screenplay by Dan Fogelman, John Lasseter, Joe Ranft, Kiel Murray, Phil Lorin and Jorgen Krubien (117 minutes, DVD)

It was the worst of the Pixar films when it came out, and now Cars is only second worst to its own sequel, the empty, soulless Cars 2; merchandising was clearly on Pixar’s mind when it came time to plan its projects. I can’t even say the film is bad now because it’s dated: Pixar had enormous success – critically and commercially – before Cars. This was just an unfortunate slip for the studio behind Toy StoryA Bug’s Life, Up and Wall-E. (June 14)

Who’s That Knocking at My Door, 1967, dir. Martin Scorsese / screenplay by Martin Scorsese with additional dialogue by Betzi Manoogian (90 minutes, DVD)

It’s no secret that Martin Scorsese is one of my favourite filmmakers. There is something to be said about his ability to create sweet, tender moments (sometimes even laugh-out-loud ones) in the midst of the violence, horror and ruggedness of crime. In Who’s That Knocking at My Door, Harvey Keitel, in his first feature film role, becomes infatuated with a girl (Zina Bethune) he meets on the ferry. It’s Scorsese’s first film, and already his love of New York is undeniable. Keitel’s J.R. takes his new belle on dates and they have cute chats about John Wayne. Were you born in America, he asks her. How has she not seen every John Wayne picture, then? But things become a bit more complicated when his girlfriend painfully tells him about the night her ex-boyfriend raped her. (June 14)

Jersey Boys, 2014, dir. Clint Eastwood / screenplay by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice (134 minutes, in theatres)

Hollywood is cyclical. With Jersey Boys out this June, and Get On Up, the James Brown biopic due out in August from Tate Taylor, director of The Help, could 2014 mark the rebirth of the music biopic? Jersey Boys tells the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Jersey Boys wasn’t a badly made film, just a tad too long and generic. The photography was great, the sets beautiful, and the performances from near-unknowns like John Lloyd Young, Vincent Piazza, Michael Lomenda and Erich Bergen were commendable. Still, I can’t help but think how the musical/biopic (really, the film was never quite sure what it wanted to be) would have turned out in the hands of a director better suited for the genre than Clint Eastwood. He’s great, of course, but maybe a bit out of his element directing singers and dancers. (June 11)

Chef, 2014, dir. Jon Favreau / screenplay by Jon Favreau (114 minutes, in theatres)

I will say that the trailer for Chef gives away far too much, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the hell out of it. Chef easily ranks among my favourite films of the year so far. It also boasts some of the best food photography ever, with no shortage of great performances, including writer-director Jon Favreau, Scarlett Johansson, John Leguizamo, Bobby Cannavale, and new-ish comer Emjay Anthony. Modern Family‘s Sofia Vergara does her best work to date as Favreau’s Carl Casper’s ex-wife; it’s great to see her in something totally different, being showcased for more than her accent. Chef is the unlikely most honest film about journalism since lasy year’s as-unlikely Philomena: Casper, a chef at an upscale albeit vanilla restaurant, must impress the city’s most important food critic, a food blogger who sold his website to AOL for $10 million. After a harsh review, Casper takes to Twitter – but not before a quick lesson on social media from his son Percy (Anthony) – and feeds the trolls. “Can we Twitter each other when we’re not in the same place?” Casper asks Percy. “Is it for sex?” he continues. He’s a quick study, but he doesn’t adapt quite as quickly at how widespread his Tweets become. “You wouldn’t know a good meal if it sat on your face,” he tweets the critic (Oliver Platt). Casper’s boss Riva (Dustin Hoffman) demands Carl apologize for his Twitter rant. The shit hits the fan, then it goes viral, unravelling Casper’s career and personal life. Meanwhile, Favreau makes a hell of a case for himself as leading man (this is the post-Louis C.K. era we are living in, after all) and as a very versatile American director. (June 10)

The Fault in Our Stars, 2014, dir. Josh Boone / screenplay by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, based on the novel by John Green (125 minutes, in theatres)

The Josh Boone film is a great and faithful adaptation of the behemoth John Green YA novel of the same name. Starring Shailene Woodley as cancer-stricken teen Hazel Grace Lancaster, and Ansel Elgort as her love interest Augustus Waters. It’s a tear-jerker, for sure, and the performances across the board are stellar (I just like to see Laura Dern in *anything*), but it didn’t feel quite as cinematic as it could have. Perhaps it was too cautious in adapting the book, but there were things that I can’t imagine resonated with viewers who hadn’t read the book. (June 8)

Funny Girl, 1968, dir. William Wyler / screenplay by Isobel Lennart (151 minutes, on TCM) (June 7)

Neighbours, 2014, dir. Nicholas Stoller / screenplay by Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien (96 minutes, in theatres)

The first in what is likely to be a great line-up of R-rated comedies this summer (22 Jump Street and This Is Where I Leave You come out in June and September, respectively), Neighbours is a riot, both filthy and sweet, and always funny, and giving a platform for Rose Byrne (Bridesmaids, Damages) to bust out her comedic chops. (June 3)

Sunrise, 1927, dir. F.W. Murnau / screenplay by Carl Meyer (94 minutes, DVD)

A three-time winner at the first-ever Academy Awards, Sunrise is only the second Murnau film I watch. Nosferatu, which I saw earlier this year, was a haunting adaptation (ish) of DraculaSunrise gets quite dark, then ultimately sweet and redemptive. A man’s mistress convinces him to drown his wife and run away to her city. (June 1)

Maleficent, 2014, dir. Robert Stromberg (97 minutes, in theatres)

I expected (and hoped for) a darker film, but Disney’s Maleficent, the would-be prequel/back-story to the Sleeping Beauty villain, boasts a great performance from Angelina Jolie, her first live-action film role since 2010’s The Tourist. The film is CGI and effects-heavy, too, and you can tell Disney’s geeks are showing off in almost every frame of the film. Ultimately, Maleficent could have been much more memorable than it was. (May 28)

Night on Earth, 1991, dir. Jim Jarmusch / screenplay by Jim Jarmusch (129 minutes, DVD)

I hate myself on a weekly basis when I realize Only Lovers Left Alive has been out in Montreal for weeks and I haven’t been to the theatre to watch it yet. Consolation prizes (and they’re pretty good ones!): Go into Jarmusch’s back catalog of films, and watch those! The latest was Night on Earth, the five-part film about five very different taxi rides in five different time zones. With all films like this, there are stronger portions and weaker ones. I would rank them thusly: Los Angeles, with Gena Rowlands and Winona Ryder, Paris, Rome, New York and Helsinki. Of course, it’s all relative. The worst stories are still very great. For a long time, the film was my favourite Jarmush film by default – it was the only one I’d seen. It remains up there, its sharp wit and dialogue as hilarious as I remember them. (May 25)

Heart and Souls, 1993, dir. Ron Underwood (104 minutes)

A sweet little comedy that verges on oversentimentality, but saves itself thanks in large part to Robert Downey Jr. and the film’s fast pace. Downey Jr.’s Thomas is haunted by four lost souls who ask him for one last favour before they’re able to officially join the afterlife. The film also stars Alfre Woodward, Kyra Sedgwick and Elisabeth Shue. (May 24)

Inspector Gadget, 1999, dir. David Kellogg (78 minutes)

This was a work project, believe it or not, and I watched the film twice, back-to-back, and found it juvenile, silly and harmless the first time around, and absolutely obnoxious the second time. (May 22)

The Man Who Knew Too Much, 1934, dir. Alfred Hitchcock (75 minutes, DVD)

An early entry in the master of suspense’s repertoire, Alfred Hitchcock’s first stab at The Man Who Knew Too Much (he would remake it in 1956 with James Stewart and Doris Day) was hit-and-miss for me, with Peter Lorre’s turn as villain Abbott the only one really exciting me. A vacationing couple’s daughter is kidnapped in an attempt to keep the family quiet about an imminent assassination about which they’ve received a clue. There are shots in the film and close-ups that would turn out to be Hitchcock’s M.O., but he hadn’t mastered tone, pacing and cohesiveness just yet. (May 18)

Million Dollar Arm, 2014, dir. Craig Gillespie / screenplay by Tom McCarthy (124 minutes, in theatres)

I hope Jon Hamm secures his post-Mad Men career with better projects than this generic culture-shock/sports dramedy about a jaded sports agent who goes to India to find the next great baseball pitcher among cricket players. When the movie isn’t being all “White people be like: India’s weird!” it’s spending way too much time focusing on the least interesting character of the film, Hamm’s JB, when literally every other character, white or Indian, is funnier, more likeable and relatable. Lake Bell, Suraj Sharma and Madhur Mittal stand out, with Alan Arkin providing comic relief playing his signature wise-cracking confused old man. (May 14)

Dreamgirls, 2006, dir. Bill Condon / screenplay by Bill Condon, based on the book by  Tom Eyen (130 minutes)

Dreamgirls was on TV Saturday night, making me miss/forget Saturday Night Live (I’ve since watched the Andrew Garfield episode and am surprise to say that it was one of the best episodes of the season!) Much was made of Jennifer Hudson’s performance in Dreamgirls when the film first came out, and it’s still pretty much the main draw. It wouldn’t be fair if Beyoncé were ***Flawless at everything, so that even her star is dimmed next to the mighty Hudson should come as no surprise. There is some great music and the film features some dazzling sets and costumes. (May 4)

Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, 1964, dir. Jacques Demy / screenplay by Jacques Demy (91 minutes, DVD)

A wonderful French musical starring the ravishing Catherine Deneuve and Nino Castelnuovo. This was my first time watching the film, after years of meaning to. I adored it. It was sweet and lovely and heartbreaking and one I’ll have to pick up again soon. (May 4)

Stranger than Paradise,  1984, dir. Jim Jarmusch / screenplay by Jim Jarmusch (89 minutes, DVD)

I wanted to see more Jarmusch before heading out to see Only Lovers Left Alive: I’d seen Night on Earth and Coffee and Cigarettes, and Stranger than Paradise is just as fun as those two. (May 4)

The Other Woman, 2014, dir. Nick Cassavetes / screenplay by Melissa Stack (109 minutes, in theatres)

Definitely not as bad as it could have been, but also definitely a missed opportunity for a First Wives Club-type film for a new generation. Cameron Diaz, Leslie Mann and Kate Upton are all being duped by a really lame, charmless, dull man named Mark. He’s married to Mann’s character: Mann does her best with the material she’s given, but she often comes across as whiny. There are few moments for her to shine. Diaz and Upton are charming, but the cast isn’t at fault here. There’s no meat in these roles! A supporting turn by Nicki Minaj was forgettable, regrettably, as stronger writing could have made her Lydia at least a feisty, funny sidekick. No dice. (April 24)

Boxcar Bertha, 1972, dir. Martin Scorsese / screenplay by Joyce H. Corrington and John William Corrington, based on the book Sisters of the Road by Ben L. Reitman (88 minutes, DVD)

My 100th movie of 2014: Scorsese’s second feature film is a gritty, violent and graphic Bonnie and Clyde-esque drama about a young woman (Barbara Hershey) and a union leader (David Carradine) robbing trains to stick it to The Man, in this case the owner of the railroads, for whom Carradine’s character works. (April 22)

The Housemaid, 1960, dir. Ki-young Kim / screenplay by Ki-young Kim (111 minutes, DVD)

The second film I watched from the Martin Scorsese World Cinema Project collection, the Korean The Housemaid is a thrilling drama that is magnificently restored and perfectly paced. It’s the story of a man who impregnates his housemaid and the lengths to which they will both go to protect their lives as they currently are. (April 21)

The Last Temptation of Christ, 1988, dir. Martin Scorsese / screenplay by Paul Schrader adapted from the Nikos Kazantzakis novel (164 minutes, DVD)

A movie that challenges and questions viewers, and pushes the boundaries of filmmaking. Scorsese, of course, is a master, and my first viewing of his Last Temptation of Christ was long overdue. I loved it all and will be watching it again eventually. It’s worth noting: the film is not based on The Gospels, but Nikos Kazantzakis’ novel of the same name.  (April 20)

Shadow of the Vampire, 2000, dir. E. Elias Merhige / screenplay by Steven Katz (92 minutes, DVD)

After watching F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu for the first time earlier this year, and quickly following it up with Werner Herzog’s remake days later, I was enthralled by the performance of the actor portraying the seldom seen villain. Max Shreck is truly creepy as Count Olaf, and Merhige’s Shadow of the Vampire was an attempt at trying to place viewers on the set of the silent film from the ’20s. It’s entirely fictional and imagined, and Willem Defoe’s performance is great. He embodied Max Shreck embodying a vampire. The film leaves a bit to be desired, though: it plays more like snippets from a behind-the-scenes featurette than a feature-length film, and it was a bit of a disappointment. (April 20)

Dry Summer, 1963, dir. Metin Erksan / screenplay by Metin Erksan, Kemal Inci and Ismet Soydan, story by Necati Cumali (90 minutes, DVD)

How often do you get movie recommendations from Martin Scorsese? I picked up his World Cinema Project collection from the library and watched two of the six films included. Dry Summer is the Turkish entry, and I liked it quite a bit. I think it was very soapy in its methods, and the performances, especially from villain Erol Tas, were silent-era exaggerated. (April 16)

Dead Ringers, 1988, dir. David Cronenberg / screenplay by David Cronenberg and Norman Snider based on the book Twins by Bari Wood and Jack Geasland (116 minutes, DVD)

Cronenberg is one of my director projects. Dead Ringers is regarded as the Canadian director’s masterpiece by some (one book I am reading calls it his best, and a turning point in Cronenberg’s career): I still need to see a bunch of Cronenberg, so I can’t quite make that call yet, but it’s hard to argue when Jeremy Irons’ performance, as twin gynecologists, is what it is in Dead Ringers. (April 13)

Fargo, 1996, dirs. Ethan and Joel Coen / screenplay by Ethan and Joel Coen (98 minutes, DVD)

I wanted to watch Fargo again before the FX series debuted on April 15. It never disappoints. This did mess with my plan to watch all of the Coens’ films in reverse chronological order (I was supposed to watch their Serious Man next, but jumped more than 10 years to Fargo). The series is quite strong: I like it and the cast, which includes Martin Freeman, Bob Odenkirk and Billy Bob Thornton, and it’s dark enough in tone to at least resemble the Coen Brothers film, but without Frances McDormand and this scene, how could the series ever top the movie? (April 12)

In the Mood for Love, 2000, dir. Kar Wai Wong / screenplay by Kar Wai Wong (98 minutes, DVD)

First viewing, and I’m kicking myself for not getting around to this earlier. About a man and woman who find out their respective spouses are having an affair together: love the story, the art, the costumes, the direction, the performances, the score and the cinematography. Love that you never see the two cheating spouses. Love it all. (April 12)

Vampyr, 1932, dir. Carl Th. Dreyer / screenplay by Carl Th. Dreyer and Christen Jul based on the book by J. Sheridan Le Fanu (75 minutes)

I liked Vampyr but have read that it’s not the ideal introduction to Dreyer. I’ll be picking up The Passion of Joan of Arc next, but still thought Vampyr was spooky and technically very elaborate and impressive. Check out this clip from the film featuring some really cool work with shadows. (April 4)

Ministry of Fear, 1944, dir. Fritz Lang / screenplay by Seton I. Miller based on the novel by Graham Greene (86 minutes, DVD)

Because the time I would usually spend watching movies is now spent at a place of employment, I have no choice but to make the time count: I never went to film school and have always felt like I missed out on learning about influential directors and their film. My local libraries (I’m lucky to live at about 15 minutes from three!) have loads of films that have been on my to-watch list for years. Fritz Lang was a director whose films I wanted to discover. I saw Metropolis a few weeks ago and loved it, so I pressed on and looked for more Lang films: the next one I would watch would be Ministry of Fear, a “lesser” Lang film, according to film scholar Joe McElhaney, who discusses the film on the Criterion edition special features. Still, it’s one of three Lang films available on Criterion, and I thought it was a good and suspenseful thriller. My next Lang film: Cloak and Dagger.  (April 4)

Captain America: The Winter Soldier, 2014, dir. Anthony and Joe Russo / screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (136 minutes, in theatres)

You can read my full review of the latest Marvel film here. I thought it was good, and was sometimes great fun, but also found Captain America to be the least interesting character in the film. Scarlett Johansson stole the show. (April 2)

The Grand Budapest Hotel, 2014, dir. Wes Anderson / screenplay by Wes Anderson, story by Anderson and Hugo Guinness, inspired by the works of Stefan Zweig (100 minutes, in theatres)

Wes Anderson’s latest film is his most visually stunning and stars Ralph Fiennes in my favourite role for the actor yet. It tells the story of a hotelier and how he came to own the once-grand Grand Budapest Hotel. It’s Anderson at his silliest and most slapstick: the wonderful Radina Papukchieva has a full review over at The Café Phenomenon. (April 1)

Invasion of the Body Snatchers, 1956, dir. Don Siegel / screenplay by Daniel Mainwaring, based on Jack Finney’s Collier’s magazine serial (80 minutes, DVD)

The film’s been remade three times (and has inspired countless of other sci-fi and horror films), each time with a longer runtime. At 80 minutes, the 1956 Invasion is perfect. The pacing and editing and score combine to make a very tense and fun thriller about a man who suspects the people in his town are being replaced by some other life form – they look and sound the same, but something’s amiss. (March 31)

Maelstrom, 2000, dir. Denis Villeneuve / screenplay by Denis Villeneuve (87 minutes, DVD)

Denis Villeneuve’s second feature film is strong, and it’s a testament to the filmmaker’s talent that as good as Maelstrom is, it’s probably only his fourth best film (Incendies tops my list, followed by the haunting Prisoners and his latest, Enemy). Narrated by a fish about to be butchered, Maelstrom takes us through Bibiane’s (Marie-Josée Croze) crisis of conscience after she accidentally hits a man with her car. (March 30)

Broadcast News, 1987, dir. James L. Brooks / screenplay by James L. Brooks (133 minutes, DVD)

Not the best journalism movie, not even the best movie about television news (the latter is Network; the former may very well also be Network.) Still, Broadcast News is lauded, even having been released on Criterion Collection. I picked it up at the library, not having seen it since my first year in journalism school (year redacted). I remember liking it, and I did again, but this time more than last I thought it was far too long – maybe 10 minutes too long, but probably closer to 15 or 20. The film is given life, heart and humour by Holly Hunter, a producer at a news program in Washington, D.C., and Albert Brooks, a reporter at the same station and friend of Hunter’s character. It’s sitcommy and sometimes cheesily so, written and directed by James L. Brooks, who also directed Terms of Endearment, As Good As It Gets and Spanglish, and created and executive-produced Rhoda and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, among many other shows not considered classics. Broadcast News is dated but still enjoyable. (March 29)

Scarface, 1932, dir. Howard Hawks (93 minutes, DVD)

The most I knew about this version of Scarface is what was shown in Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator: outrage about violence and producer Howard Hughes battle with the censors about the film. Howard Hawks’ Scarface is similar to Brian de Palma’s 1983 in only two ways: the main character has a scar on his face and his first name is Tony. While Hawks’ Scarface is violent, de Palma’s is that – and then some – and graphically so. Tony Camonte’s story takes place in Prohibition Era Chicago and while Paul Muni’s portrayal of the gangster didn’t lend itself to a catchphrase quite as famous as “Say hello to my little friend,” I found Muni’s Tony much more charismatic than Pacino’s. (March 26)

eXistenZ, 1999, dir. David Cronenberg / screenplay by David Cronenberg (97 minutes, DVD)

I’m in awe of David Cronenberg’s ability to create fully fledged worlds that look and feel realistic. In eXistenZ, a game designer’s life is in danger after a radical conservative group tries to assassinate her for creating the newest virtual-reality game. The group is pro-reality, anti-game, and eXistenZ is a fun movie with an Inception-like ending that’ll have you looking for clues and tells about what’s real and what’s not. Jennifer Jason Leigh, perfect here, and Jude Law star. (March 25)

Delivery Man, 2013, dir. Ken Scott / screenplay by Ken Scott, adapted from Starbuck by Scott and Martin Petit (105 minutes, DVD)

Ken Scott is on a short list of directors who’ve made English versions of their non-English films. Delivery Man isn’t quite as good as Starbuck and it has almost all to do with the Dreamworks film’s PG-13 rating. Starbuck was rated R, giving it a bit more freedom to push the envelope. Delivery Man is out on DVD and Blu-Ray. You can read my review here. (March 25)

Bad Words, 2013, dir. Jason Bateman / screenplay by Andrew Dodge (89 minutes, in theatres)

A disappointing feature directorial debut from Jason Bateman, best known for Arrested Development and Horrible Bosses. You can read my full review here. (March 25)

Duck Soup, 1933, dir. Leo McCarey / screenplay by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby (68 minutes, DVD)

This was the first Marx Brothers movie I watch, and it’s been on my radar since I printed out AFI’s 100 Years 100 Films list years ago. I think it works well as a political parody and there are some things I loved about it (Groucho Marx’s character and a really neat mirror routine stand out), but I didn’t love the film as a whole. (March 23)

Nosferatu the Vampyre, 1979, dir. Werner Herzog / screenplay by Werner Herzog (107 minutes, DVD)

Great remake or greatest ever? Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre is everything a remake should be: improving on the original in every way imaginable. The 1922 original is silent, with some footage and scenes especially difficult to achieve technically. In 1979, Herzog was able to film at night (in 1922, many night scenes were filmed in daytime and the film was tinted blue) and use names of characters from Bram Stoker’s Dracula, something F. W. Murnau could not do due to copyright laws. I recommend seeing both versions, maybe even in the same day. (March 21)

Muppets Most Wanted, 2014 dir. James Bobin / screenplay by James Bobin and Nicholas Stoller (112 minutes, in theatres)

The eighth feature film starring Kermit and the gang is fun, albeit not as fun as the near-perfect 2011 reboot starring Jason Segel and Amy Adams. The fact that there were three human characters in Most Wanted made it inevitable that they would each get a song or two, and it took away valuable Muppets time. You can read my full review here. (March 19)

Divergent, 2014, dir. Neil Burger / screenplay by Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor, based on the novel by Veronica Roth (139 minutes, in theatres)

(March 18)

REVIEW OF DIVERGENT

Frozen, 2013, dirs. Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee / screenplay by Jennifer Lee, story by Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee and Shane Morris, inspired by The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen (102 minutes, DVD)

(March 17)

FROZEN AND SAVING MR. BANKS NOW AVAILABLE ON DVD AND BLU-RAY

Tom à la ferme, 2013, dir. Xavier Dolan / screenplay by Xavier Dolan, based on the play by Michel Marc Bouchard (105 minutes, in theatres)

I’ll have a full review of Xavier Dolan’s latest, and his fourth feature film, Tom à la ferme, closer to its release date March 28. I thought it was a fine thriller with some great cinematography. The seduction and danger aspects of the plot reminded me of L’Inconnu du lac, which is not a bad thing at all. (March 17)

REVIEW: XAVIER DOLAN’S TOM À LA FERME

Nosferatu, 1922, dir. F. W. Murnau / screenplay by Henrik Galeen (94 minutes, DVD)

Per IMDb, the villain in F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu is on screen for a total of nine minutes. An early example of less-is-more: you create more fear with the audience with what you don’t show. An early, unauthorized take on the Dracula story, Nosferatu is the reason for which vampires die when exposed to sunlight in films that came after it. Murnau needed an ending that was different from Bram Stoker’s novel. (March 16)

Metropolis, 1927, dir. Fritz Lang / screenplay by Thea von Harbou (118 minutes, DVD)

The first feature-length sci-fi film: I watched an old DVD release of Metropolis (I think from 2002). Prints of the film have since been found and a newer, more complete version of the film is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray. I’ll have to check that one out some day. Metropolis is by director Fritz Lang, the German-Austrian director who also did M, Ministry of Fear and You Only Live Once. (March 16)

Enemy, 2013, dir. Denis Villeneuve / screenplay by Javier Gullòn, based on the novel by José Saramago (90 minutes, in theatres)

What a ride. Denis Villeneuve’s crafted a near-perfect thriller that is exciting and fresh and mindfucky in the best way imaginable: the ending is a total shocker that begs viewers to watch Enemy again and again for clues. (March 16)

Veronica Mars, 2014, dir. Rob Thomas / screenplay by Rob Thomas and Diane Ruggiero (107 minutes, in theatres) (March 13)

REVIEW OF THE VERONICA MARS MOVIE

Need for Speed, 2014, dir. Scott Waugh / screenplay by George Gatins, story by George Gatins and John Gatins (132 minutes, in theatres) (March 12)

NEED FOR SPEED REVIEW

Nymphomaniac, 2013, dir. Lars von Trier / screenplay by Lars von Trier (241 minutes, in theatres) (March 12)

REVIEW OF NYMPHOMANIAC VOLS. I AND II

The Lorax, 2012, dirs. Chris Renaud and Kyle Balda / screenplay by Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio, based on the book by Dr. Seuss (86 minutes, Netflix)

I’m in favour of Netflix as babysitter; my nephew and I (read: I) watched The Lorax but I was mostly bored – my nephew wasn’t paying too much attention. I got the feeling that it tried to be a lot of things (musical, comedy, lesson) and ended up being barely OK at everything. (March 11)

Blue Jasmine, 2013, dir. Woody Allen / screenplay by Woody Allen (98 minutes)

My second time watching it this year and third overall, I had to rewatch Blue Jasmine after Cate Blanchett’s Oscar win to see if it held up. It does. Many regarded Midnight in Paris as neo-Woody perfection (it was a best-picture Oscar nominee in 2012 and took home the original screenplay award), but Blue Jasmine is it for me. (March 9)

Inland Empire, 2006, dir. David Lynch / screenplay by David Lynch (180 minutes, DVD)

At one point in Inland Empire, Laura Dern’s character, struggling to make sense of what parts of her life are hers and which belong to the character she is playing in a movie, says: “It’s kinda laid a mindfuck on me.” Inland Empire is a visual mindfuck. Shot on a home camera, it features some dizzying visuals and near-hypnotizing sounds. It’s all barely decipherable, which is sometimes fun but at times frustrating to watch, especially during the film’s second hour. (March 9)

Tootsie, 1982, dir. Sydney Pollack / screenplay by Larry Gelbart and Murray Schisgal, story by Don McGuire and Gelbart (116 minutes, DVD)

Tootsie is used in the screenwriting book I am reading (Syd Field’s Screenplay) as an example of perfect structure, so this fifth viewing of the film was half-recreational and half-educational. (March 9)

Mulholland Drive, 2001, dir. David Lynch / screenplay by David Lynch (147 minutes, DVD)

Watching Mulholland Drive was part of my director projects. I had seen it years ago, but barely remembered it – I knew Naomi Watts was in it, and it was trippy in parts, and crazy in others. I stand by those things, but I’ve of course picked up much more than that about Mulholland Drive, having watched it now in my wiser years. I picked it up again to go through the work of David Lynch, often regarded as one of the greatest American directors alive. (March 8)

Les Voleurs d’enfance, 2005, dir. Paul Arcand / written by Paul Arcand (90 minutes, DVD)

Paul Arcand’s documentary on Quebec’s Youth Services broaches an important subject, but it’s not handled as well as it should have been. Arcand goes for shocking revelations: most egregiously, on two occasions, an adult voice actors reenacts in a childlike tone, court proceedings in which a child talks about being “tickled by a penis” by her aggressor. (March 8)

Vicky Cristina Barcelona, 2008, dir. Woody Allen / screenplay by Woody Allen (96 minutes, DVD)

It’s hard to say how memorable Vicky Cristina Barcelona would have been without Penelope Cruz and her volatile Maria Elena. Frankly, I’m glad to never have to find out or play that hypothetical game. From her first scene which, it must be noted, comes about 50 minutes into the 96-minute film, Cruz steals every scene she’s in and, soon enough, the film from her co-stars, Javier Bardem, Scarlett Johansson and Rebecca Hall. (March 8)

Caddyshack, 1980, dir. Harold Ramis / screenplay by Brian Doyle-Murray, Harold Ramis and Douglas Kenney (98 minutes, DVD)

Directed by Harold Ramis, the famed comedy director who died just before the Oscars, Caddyshack is a classic for a reason. It was my first time watching it in more than a decade and I’d forgotten just how influential the film is. There’s a cynicism and sarcasm in it and its dialogue that is the bread-and-butter of so many comedians today, not to mention it starred Chevy Chase and Bill Murray, who were best known for Saturday Night Live at that point. Caddyshack also stars Rodney Dangerfield, Michael O’Keefe and Ted Knight. (March 7)

The Sea Inside, 2004, dir. Alejandro Amenabar / screenplay by Alejandro Amenabar and Mateo Gil (125 minutes, DVD)

A soapy but important biopic of Ramon Sampedro, the Spanish man who fought for his own right to die for 30 years after a diving accident left him bedridden. An Oscar winner for best foreign-language film, it’s anchored by a great performance from Javier Bardem, who’d soon blow up in Hollywood. (March 7)

Pariah, 2011, dir. Dee Rees / screenplay by Dee Rees (86 minutes, DVD)

A sweet coming-of-age story that doesn’t get told nearly enough featuring a great performance by lead Adepero Oduye as a teenage girl in Brooklyn navigating her sexual identity. (March 6)

Non-Stop, 2014, dir. Jaume Collet-Serra / screenplay by John W. Richardson, Chris Roach and Ryan Engle (106 minutes, in theatres)

I enjoyed this way more than I thought I would even though I guffawed at the denouement (as a whodunnit, the film isn’t clever with a shocking revelation if it is continually and consistently leading viewers astray). Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o plays a flight attendant but gets, at most, three minutes of screen time (to be fair, she was cast pre-Oscar win). There are two things I was thinking about when watching Non-Stop. First, that it would work so much better as a comedy: Julianne Moore even has a charming bit about Liam Neeson calling her “ma’am.” Second, that I want to write Taken 3 and have Liam Neeson’s character be the one who gets kidnapped. (March 4)

Hunger, 2008, dir. Steve McQueen / screenplay by Enda Walsh and Steve McQueen (96 minutes, DVD)

Steve McQueen’s first directorial feature-length film is Hunger, a gorgeous political and prison drama about Bobby Sands, who led a hunger strike in a Northern Ireland prison in 1981. Narratively, I’m not as enthused about Hunger, but there is no doubt that it is a great piece of filmmaking visually, thanks to cinematographer Sean Bobbitt, who’s worked with McQueen on Shame and the Oscar-winning 12 Years a Slave. (March 3)

The Talented Mr. Ripley, 1999, dir. Anthony Minghella / screenplay by Anthony Minghella based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith (139 minutes, DVD)

A very intense thriller that’s creepy and smart. It’s Single White Female but a little more erotic and spooky. Stars Matt Damon, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Cate Blanchett and Philip Seymour Hoffman. (March 1)

300: Rise of an Empire, 2014, dir. Noam Murro / screenplay by Zack Snyder and Kurt Johnstad based on the graphic novel Xerxes by Frank Miller (102 minutes, in theatres)

Visually exciting but narratively inept, this second entry in the 300 franchise isn’t a sequel or a prequel, but what was going on in other parts of Greece (you know, the less awesome parts with the non-legendary fighters) while the Spartans fought Xerxes’ army of Persians. This second instalment ups the stakes – it’s more violent (though the blood is cartoonishly exaggerated) and continually attempts, and fails, to coin the next great cheesy action-movie catch phrase (a-la “Tonight we dine in hell” and “This! Is! Sparta!” from the 2006 predecessor and Gerard Butler vehicle). Strangely, Butler, or at least an actor with charisma that would make it believable that hundreds of men follow him into almost certain death, is sorely missing. Eva Green steals the show, but it’s not one worth stealing. (Feb. 26)

Oscar-nominated shorts (animation/live-action), various directors/screenwriters (approx. 190 minutes)

The 10 shorts nominated in the animation and live-action categories screened at Cinema du Parc in the lead-up to Sunday’s Academy Awards. It’s a mish-mash in terms of quality, storylines and themes with a few standouts, particularly in the live-action category. On the animated side, I was hoping for stronger shorts than feature-length films (2013 was one of the weakest years in animation in this new millennium, in my opinion) but was a little disappointed. Without a doubt, there is craftsmanship, art and heart on display here, but nothing ultra memorable. My favourite was the UK-produced fable Room on the Broom, followed by the Japanese Possessions and American Feral, the most visually striking short of the bunch. Disney’s Get a Horse! is the one I am predicting to win, though it doesn’t seem fair, given the short’s major studio backing. It does combine hand-drawn animation and CGI, as well as black-and-white sequences and colour ones, sometimes at the same time. On the live-action front, Denmark’s Helium, France’s Just Before Losing Everything and the UK’s Voorman Problem were particularly strong, followed by the fun Do I Have to Take Care of Everything? out of Finland, which at seven minutes in the shortest short. Spain’s That Wasn’t Me was a brutal depiction of child soldiers in an unnamed African country. I think Finland’s entry is a crowd-pleaser, and Helium was very sweet. My favourite was France’s, about a woman gathering her kids and things to leave her abusive husband. It was emotional and thrilling and very well constructed, but The Voorman Problem is the film I am predicting will win, starring Martin Freeman as a psychologist whose patient believes he is God. (Feb. 25)

The Great Beauty, 2013, Paolo Sorrentino / screenplay by Paolo Sorrentino and Umberto Contarello (142 minutes, in theatres)

I doubt there was a more beautiful film than The Great Beauty in 2013. With gorgeous shots of Rome, Beauty tells the story of Jep, a 65-year-old writer who wonders if there is more to life than parties and one-night stands. Rome giveth, but she also taketh; the city that made him is also destroying him emotionally, but he continues to be drawn to her. Where else would he go and what else would he do? A Golden Globe winner for best foreign film and Oscar nominee in the same category, The Great Beauty isn’t guaranteed a win but it was just so lovely, lush and beautiful, I am going to speed through my Duolingo Italian lessons and visit Rome. (Feb. 25)

Alien, 1979, dir. Ridley Scott / screenplay by Dan O’Bannon, story by O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett (117 minutes, DVD)

If there is a better horror movie set in space, please let me know so I can watch it and love it like I did Alien. (Feb. 24)

Princess Mononoke, , 1997, dir. Hayao Miyazaki / screenplay by Hayao Miyazaki (134 minutes, DVD)

IndieWire placed Princess Mononoke at the top of its best-of-Miyazaki list. I don’t disagree that it is the famed animator’s most epic and ambitious, but I was never as fond of it as I felt I should have been or as others were. I watched it again this week and still thought it was just a tad too long, but it has an opening scene that is more exciting than most of today’s live-action action flicks. (Feb. 24)

Ponyo, 2008, dir. Hayao Miyazaki / screenplay by Hayao Miyazaki (101 minutes, DVD)

Possibly Miyazaki’s sweetest film ever – yes, even surpassing the great My Neighbour Totoro – Ponyo is about a boy, Sosuke (voiced by Frankie Jonas in the English-dubbed version) who finds a magical goldfish who wants to be human. Her wish comes true when she gets a taste of human blood from an injured Sosuke, who cuts himself on a bottle Ponyo is trapped in. The rest of the English voice cast includes Tina Fey, Cate Blanchett, Betty White and Liam Neeson. (Feb. 24)

Battle Royale, 2000, dir. Kinji Fukasaku / screenplay by Kenta Fukasaku based on the novel by Koushun Takami (114 minutes, DVD)

The Hunger Games before that was a thing, Battle Royale is an ultraviolent movie about a dystopian Japan in which one ninth-grade class fights to the death every year. But here’s the thing: unlike The Hunger Games, they don’t know it’s coming, they’re not televised and there is no training. Just 40-or-so teens who have to off each other within three days or they *all* die. (Feb. 22)

Damsels in Distress, 2011, dir. Whit Stillman / screenplay by Whit Stillman (99 minutes, DVD)

There are elements of a good movie in Damsels in Distress: likeable co-leads Greta Gerwig and Analeigh Tipton, quirky dialogue and a cooky plot about members of a suicide prevention group who want to help the young men at their university reach their full potential. But when their leader’s boyfriend leaves her and she’s no longer the well put-together young lady doling out advice, Damsels gets a bit too twee, a bit too cutesy, and a bit too confused with where it thinks it wants to go. (Feb. 20)

Lola Versus, 2012, dir. Daryl Wein / screenplay by Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister Jones (87 minutes, DVD)

The charming Greta Gerwig has her work cut out for her in Lola Versus, a lame romantic comedy that’s generic, implausible and rarely funny. It starts out promising, though, with an opening scene that sets up her love life with Luke (Joel Kinnaman) and their breakup just weeks before the wedding they had started to plan. It’s sharp and quick and beautiful, but it’s all downhill from there. Gerwig’s character makes a number of questionable decisions that her friends are all to eager to encourage, because they are doing the same in their own lives. The supporting cast includes Hamish Linklater and Zoe Lister Jones, who also co-wrote the script. (Feb. 19)

The Game, 1997, dir. David Fincher / screenplay by John D. Brancato and Michael Ferris (129 minutes, Criterion DVD)

The Game isn’t so much thrilling psychologically as it is torturous. At no point in The Game does the viewer ever know more than the main character, Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas), a man who received an unusual 48th birthday gift from his brother Conrad (Sean Penn). (Feb. 18)

Encounters at the End of the World, 2007, dir. Werner Herzog / written by Herzog (99 minutes, DVD)

Capturing awe-inspiring footage, filmmaker Werner Herzog goes to the McMurdo Station in Antarctica where he meets the sometimes kooky characters and researchers who’ve called the continent home for some time. The fun-ness of the vignettes varies, but the work of cinematographer Peter Zeitlinger, a repeat Herzog collaborator, is always amazing. (Feb. 16)

Man on Wire, 2008, dir. James Marsh / written by Philippe Petit, based on Petit’s book (94 minutes, DVD)

An Oscar-winning documentary (beating out Encounters at the End of the World at the 2009 ceremony) about Philippe Petit, the high-wire walker who committed “the artistic crime of the century:” a daring, death-defying, beautiful, hopeful and very illegal high-wire routine between the World Trade Center’s twin towers in 1974. Great interviews, including with Petit who is such a lively character, archival footage and reenactments. Man on Wire felt like a heist movie. (Feb. 16)

Grizzly Man, 2005, dir. Werner Herzog / written by Herzog (103 minutes, DVD)

Famously not nominated for an Oscar for having too much unoriginal content, Grizzly Man is a compelling documentary about the life and death of Timothy Treadwell and his partner Amie Huguenard, killed by the grizzly bears they were living among in Alaska in 2003. Herzog uses Treadwell’s video diaries to retrace his final days and interviews people who knew him, including Treadwell’s parents and former lovers. A must-see for anyone interested in storytelling, Grizzly Man is as heartbreaking as it is eye-opening. (Feb. 16)

Philomena, 2013, dir. Stephen Frears / screenplay by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope, based on the book by Martin Sixsmith (98 minutes, in theatres)

The infinitely sweet and always-forgiving Philomena Lee is portrayed by the venerable Judi Dench. Philomena is a woman on the search for the son the Catholic Church made her give up 50 years ago. She enlists the help of jaded journalist Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) on a trip of self-discovery to Washington, D.C. Nominated for four Oscars (best picture, actress, screenplay and score for Alexandre Desplat), Philomena is a fine film that might also be the best one about journalism in years. (Feb. 13)

Odd Thomas, 2013, dir. Stephen Sommers / screenplay by Stephen Sommers, based on the novel by Dean Koontz (100 minutes)

You can read my review of Odd Thomas here. It screened at Cineplex theatres across Canada as part of the chain’s Sinister Cinema series. It’s a fun movie and Anton Yelchin certainly makes a great case for himself as leading man. (Feb. 12)

RELATED: REVIEW ODD THOMAS

Omar, 2013, dir. Hany Abu-Assad / screenplay by Hany Abu-Assad (96 minutes, in theatres)

A brisk and compelling thriller that’s often tense, with a superb lead performance from newcomer Adam Bakri and tight direction by Hany Abu-Assad. Omar is an Oscar nominee in the best foreign language film category. You can read my full review of Hany Abu-Assad’s Omar here. (Feb. 12)

REVIEW OMAR

Ernest et Célestine, 2012, dirs. Stéphane Auber, Vincent Patar and Benjamin Renner / screenplay by Daniel Pennac, based on the book by Gabrielle Vincent (80 minutes)

It’s so great that a movie like Ernest et Célestine, a minimalist, hand-drawn French fable, can be nominated in the animated feature category against a behemoth like Disney’s Frozen, a computer-animated box-office champ with big, soaring songs from the biggest animation studio ever. Ernest et Célestine is infinitely cute and sweet, and I can’t stress that enough. It tells the story of a bear, Ernest, and a mouse, Célestine, and their improbable friendship. Célestine has been taught to fear bears; they eat little mice like her raw, she’s told again and again. She’s also being groomed to be a dentist, an apparently booming industry in mouse land as everyone grows up to practise dentistry. Ernest is an ostracized bear living in the woods, far away from his peers. When he goes into town to look for food, he runs into Célestine and she convinces him not to eat her. The two trade favours (she shows him where he can find sweets to eat and he helps her steal bear teeth, which make great replacement incisors for mice) and become quick friends, much to the chagrin of both of their communities. (Feb. 9)

Ocean’s Eleven, 2001, dir. Steven Soderbergh / screenplay by Ted Griffin, adapted from the 1960 screenplay by Harry Brown and Charles Lederer which was based on the story by George Clayton Johnson and Jack Golden Russell (116 minutes)

Ocean’s Eleven aired on CTV on Sunday and I sat through the whole thing, but damn it all if cutting to a commercial every 15 minutes doesn’t take you right out of the film. Soderbergh’s Ocean’s remake and sequels are loads of fun with an unbelievable ensemble cast. I have them on DVD, but if a Soderbergh’s on TV, I will watch it. Of course. (Feb. 9)

Ratatouille, 2007, dirs. Brad Bird and Jan Pinkava (co-director) / screenplay by Brad Bird, story by Jan Pinkava, Jim Capobianco and Brad Bird, with additional story material by Emily Cook, Kathy Greenberg and Bob Peterson (111 minutes, DVD)

Did this movie create all these annoying faux foodies on the Internet? Anchored by four superb voice-over performances (Patton Oswalt as Remy, Lou Romano as Linguini, Janene Garofalo as Colette and Peter O’Toole as food critic Anton Ego, easily one of the best Pixar characters ever) Ratatouille is still one of Pixar’s most intricately animated film – the hair and fur on the characters is insane. (Feb. 8)

The Croods, 2013, dirs. Kirk DeMicco and Chris Sanders / screenplay by DeMicco and Sanders, story by DeMicco, Sanders and John Cleese (98 minutes, Netflix)

Another Oscar nominee in the animated feature category, and one of only four 2014 Oscar nominees that are available on Netflix Canada (Before Midnight, The Square and Dirty Wars are the other three), The Croods is the latest entry in the Dreamworks animated repertoire. It starts off with so much promise – a hand-drawn and cheeky intro about the last family of cave people narrated by Emma Stone, who plays teen-angsted Eep, sets up the story perfectly, but the first act is an unnecessary repetition of the struggle to find food and not be eaten. The Croods are apparently excellent at Parkour, too, jumping, leaping and soaring from caves to mountains to trees to land with much ease. It is gorgeously animated and sometimes funny, but The Croods is more style than substance. A sequel is in the works, slated for 2017. (Feb. 6)

The Jungle Book, 1967, dir. Wolfgang Reitherman / screenplay by Larry Clemmons, Ralph Wright, Ken Anderson and Vance Gerry, inspired by the Mowgli stories by Rudyard Kipling (78 minutes, DVD)

You can check out my full review of Disney’s Diamond Edition set of The Jungle Book. It’s more a series of vignettes with some memorable characters and songs, and two great villains who don’t get enough screen time. (Feb. 6)

RELATED: THE JUNGLE BOOK DIAMOND EDITION REVIEW

The Wind Rises, 2013, dir. Hayao Miyazaki / screenplay by Hayao Miyazaki (126 minutes, in theatres)

Japanese animation legend Hayao Miyazaki’s latest is an Oscar nominee in the animated feature category. I saw this at a press screening and was very impressed, but wouldn’t rank it among Miyazaki’s best – though it could be his most dramatic. Stay tuned for a full review of the film when it’s released in Montreal on Feb. 28. (Feb. 6)

Toy Story 3, 2010, dir. Lee Unkrich / screenplay by Michael Arndt, original story by John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich (103 minutes, DVD)

The rare three-quel that puts its predecessors to shame, Toy Story 3 ups the emotional ante in this chapter of the tale of Andy’s toys. The little boy from 1995’s Toy Story is now college-bound and the question of what to do with his toys lingers. Store them in the attic? Throw them out? Donate them? (Feb. 5)

Toy Story 2, 1999, dirs. John Lasseter, Ash Brannon, Lee Unkrich / screenplay by Andrew Stanton, Rita Hsiao, Doug Chamberlin and Chris Webb, original story by Lasseter, Pete Docter, Brannon and Stanton (92 minutes, DVD)

Just four years after the monstrous success of Toy Story, John Lasseter and co.’s Toy Story 2 was released. While the first movie was about the toys getting lost and the third, released in 2010, was about them being abandoned, Toy Story 2 is about Woody being kidnapped by a toy collector. The other toys team up to rescue him, but maybe Woody doesn’t want to be rescued. It’s the weakest of the trilogy, but only because the other two films are pretty much perfect. Joan Cusack and Kelsey Grammer lend their voices to new characters in this chapter of the film. (Feb. 4)

Toy Story, 1995, dir. John Lasseter / screenplay by Joss Whedon, Andrew Stanton, Joel Cohen and Alec Sokolow, original story by Lasseter, Pete Docter, Stanton and Joe Ranft (81 minutes, DVD)

Changing gears. Toy Story is easily the most influential animated movie of the last 20 years and it marked a real turning point in the genre, and it’s not just because it was the first feature-length film that was entirely computer animated. All that would be for naught, though, if Toy Story didn’t also feature superb voice work (Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Don Rickles, among many others), compelling characters (yes, compelling talking toys!) and an exciting and well executed story. Toy Story is also hella funny, and probably one reason Pixar gets a pass for the occasional clunker it produces. In Toy Story, Woody, a toy cowboy, is worried a new space ranger toy, Buzz Lightyear, is going to replace him as human boy Andy’s favourite toy. (Feb. 3)

Jack Goes Boating, 2010, dir. Philip Seymour Hoffman / screenplay by Robert Glaudini, based on his play (89 minutes, DVD)

This movie was on my to-watch list for months, and when the terrible news broke that Philip Seymour Hoffman had passed on Sunday, Feb. 2, I went to a video store to pick it up. It’s on Netflix Canada, but I’m glad I forgot to check before heading out. I picked it up in a bargain bin and blind bought it. Jack Goes Boating is about a lonely limo driver named Jack (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who is set up on a blind date with an equally shy and lonely and maybe a little damaged woman named Connie (Amy Ryan) by his two friends Clyde and Lucy. The four double date and it’s awkward but ultimately great for Jack and Connie; Clyde and Lucy are left mending whatever is left of their relationship, which you find out hasn’t been strong for years. The performances are great all around, particularly Hoffman who, we know, is always perfect, and Ryan, and John Ortiz and Daphne Rubin-Vega, who play Clyde and Lucy. It’s a movie that’s at times heartbreaking, at times funny. It’s a solid directorial debut to which we’ll never see a follow up. (Feb. 2)

Three Night Stand, 2014, dir. Pat Kiely / screenplay by Pat Kiely (86 minutes)

Pat Kiely’s second film (but first he directs and writes solo) is Three Night Stand, a sweet but unromantic rom-com that stars Sam Huntington, Meaghan Rath and Emmanuelle Chriqui. Carl (Huntington) takes his wife Sue (Rath) on a ski getaway to a resort he visited with his ex that got away Robyn (Chriqui). Serendipitous that Robyn owns the resort: it’s an awkward weekend and a debacle you’re glad to be watching and taking no part in. I spoke to Kiely about Three Night Stand and Canadian film in general. Check out my full review of Three Night Stand and Q&A with Kiely. (Jan. 30)

Blue Jasmine, 2013, dir. Woody Allen, screenplay by Woody Allen (98 minutes)

A perfectly put together dramedy is Allen’s latest, anchored by a transfixing performance by Cate Blanchett. She plays Jasmine (née Jeanette, she changed it because it didn’t have any panache), a woman who’s tapped out, but still lugs around  Louis Vuitton luggage and a Birkin bag – and she flies from New York to San Francisco, where she reconnects with her sister, first class. Blue Jasmine was no. 3 on my best-of-2013 list. Sally Hawkins, Bobby Cannavale, Louis C.K., Alec Baldwin, Andrew Dice Clay and Peter Sarsgaard round out the cast. (Jan. 25)

Match Point, 2005, dir. Woody Allen, screenplay by Woody Allen (124 minutes, DVD)

The first of three films Woody Allen would make with Scarlett Johansson; the first of Allen shot entirely outside the United States (Match Point is set in England); commercially, it was Allen’s most successful film since Hannah and Her Sisters, which had come out almost 20 years before. Match Point was among the first of Woody Allen’s films that I’d seen and while I remember liking it then, I didn’t realize just how well crafted a thriller it was until watching it again this week. Stars Johansson, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Matthew Goode, Emily Mortimer, Brian Cox and Penelope Wilton. (Jan. 24)

Super, 2010, dir. James Gunn, screenplay by James Gunn (96 minutes, DVD)

The Rainn Wilson vehicle is Kick Ass‘s weirder, darker, indie little brother – but it’s got to more to prove so it ups the weirdness and violence by about 100. It’s fun, though, and it parodies the genre a little bit with the Nathan Fillion character. After Frank’s (Wilson) wife (Liv Tyler) leaves him/gets kidnapped by Jacques (Kevin Bacon), the short-order cook is on a mission to get her back and rescue her. He tries fighting Jacques and his crew but fails terribly. After seeing an episode of The Holy Avenger (Fillion, a superhero of the church), a hallucination convinces him he’s been “chosen,” so he takes this, dons a tight red suit and becomes a vigilante superhero called the Crimson Bolt. Things get especially messy when his sidekick (a charming Ellen Page) is a bit too enthusiastic about cracking skulls. (Jan. 22)

In A World…, 2013, dir. Lake Bell, screenplay by Lake Bell (93 minutes)

Lake Bell’s feature-length directorial debut is a charming, original and damn-funny comedy about the boys’ club that is the trailer-voice-over business. I wrote a whole thing (here) lamenting that this was the first non-documentary I watch this year directed by a woman. Bell also stars in In A World… making her a veritable triple threat. I’m really excited to see what she’ll do next, now that she’s no longer playing the best friend of the leading ladies whose shadows she was in. (Jan. 22)

Lone Survivor, 2013, dir. Peter Berg / screenplay by Peter Berg, based on the book by Marcus Luttrell and Patrick Robinson (121 minutes, theatres)

Peter Berg is an expert at combining genres. Friday Night Lights (the show and the movie) was about much more than football; it was a family drama, at times an after-school special, sports drama, romantic comedy. Lone Survivor is way more than a war film, but as far as war films are concerned, it’s the best since Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker. In Hurt and Lone, the non-war, non-violent scenes are important. Indeed in all war movies, the non-war scenes are essential to building and establishing relationships between characters and with the audience. Who are these people? Why do we care about them? Where do they fit in? The relationships between the characters in Lone Survivor and what make the film moving, and the impressive battle footage alone wouldn’t have cut it. The cast includes Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster, Emile Hirsch and Taylor Kitsch, a Friday Night Lights alum, as four Navy SEALs on the Operation Red Wings mission in Afghanistan. Berg’s build-up to Act II is superb, and the film barely lets up after that. Though it verges on army-recruitment video at times, and the ease with which Berg shows anonymous turbaned men being shot in the head is unsettling, Lone Survivor features some fantastic camera work and great performances by Wahlberg and Kitsch in particular. Eric Bana also stars. (Jan. 21)

L.A. Confidential, 1997, Curtis Hanson / screenplay by Brian Helgeland and Curtis Hanson, based on the novel by James Ellroy (138 minutes, DVD)

Curtis Hanson’s neonoir L.A. Confidential stars Guy Pearce, Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, James Cromwell, Danny DeVito and David Strathairn, with Kim Basinger in the role of the femme fatale. The film follows three different cops (Pearce, Spacey and Crowe) investigating three different crimes that are seemingly unrelated, but all link back to one of millionaire Pierce Morehouse Patchett’s questionable businesses, an escort service where men and women are cut to look like movie stars. Basinger’s Lynn Bracken is Veronica Lake, and Bracken insists the only thing unnatural about her is blonde hair – she’s a natural brunette. L.A. Confidential is a nine-time Oscar nominee and two-time winner: Basinger took home the best supporting actress award and Brian Helgeland and Curtis Hanson’s screenplay won the adapted screenplay Oscar. It would have and should have won more, but the Academy was gaga over Titanic that year. (Jan. 20)

High Fidelity, 2000, dir. Stephen Frears / screenplay by D.V. DeVincentis, Steve Pink, John Cusack and Scott Rosenberg, based on the novel by Nick Hornby (113 minutes, DVD)

I had to revisit High Fidelity after my friend told me she recently rewatched it. Rob Gordon (John Cusack) loves music and top-five lists. He makes lists for everything (he’s BuzzFeed, but charming, and before it existed): top-five dream jobs (his current job, record store owner, isn’t even on his list), top-five songs about death, top-five side one track ones, and top-five break-ups, the list that torments him in High Fidelity. He doesn’t know it yet, but his latest ex Laura is about to crack the top five. A great romantic comedy that also stars Joan Cusack, Jack Black and Catherine Zeta-Jones. (Jan. 20)

True Grit, 2010, dirs. Joel and Ethan Coen / screenplay by Joel and Ethan Coen, based on the book by Charles Portis (110 minutes, DVD)

I’m working my way through the Coen Brothers’ films in reverse chronological order. Inside Llewyn Davis was my number-two favourite movie of 2013, and True Grit, the Coens’ fun western from 2010, was a 10-time Oscar nominee (and 0-time winner) that was also Hailee Steinfeld’s feature-film debut. Remember her and the promise she showed? (Her IMDb page says she’ll be in five 2014 features) When her father is murdered, Mattie Ross (Steinfeld) enlists the help of U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to track down his killer Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin). Chaney’s also wanted in Texas for crimes he committed there, and Texas Ranger LeBoeuf (Matt Damon) is set on finding Chaney and trying him in his state. But Mattie needs Chaney to know he is being punished for killing her father, a man who helped Chaney. Steinfeld is great here, and it’s a shame that she is playing second fiddle to Jeff Bridges’ character (Bridges is a fine actor, but I thought he was overdoing it in True Grit.) The cinematography by Roger Deakins is great, too. Deakins is one of the best in the biz. The brown, beige and dark-green palettes he used are especially effective in conveying the barrenness of the South. Next up: A Serious Man, which is streaming on Netflix Canada. (Jan. 19)

Incendies, 2010, dir. Denis Villeneuve / screenplay by Denis Villeneuve with Valérie Beaugrand-Champagne, based on the play by Wajdi Mouawad (130 minutes, DVD)

“La mort, c’est jamais la fin d’une histoire.” Death, Jeanne and Simon Marwan’s notary Jean Lebel (Rémy Girard) tells the twins of recently deceased Nawal, is never the end of a story. And what a story Incendies tells. Villeneuve crafted a family drama that is at once thriller, mystery and political war film. It’s nothing short of a masterpiece, a puzzle so perfectly put together of a woman’s extraordinary life. Nawal (Lubna Azabal) leaves a complicated will for her children Jeanne and Simon (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin and Maxim Gaudette). Her physical belongings can be split up between the twins as they see fit, but she has written a letter to them that their notary will only give them once they’ve delivered two letters to their father, who they believed was dead, and their brother, who they did not know existed. They’re off to Lebanon on a journey that will give them a deeper understanding and appreciation for their mother’s life. (Jan. 19)

Bernie, 2011, dir. Richard Linklater / screenplay by Richard Linklater and Skip Hollandsworth, based on the article in Texas Monthly by Hollandsworth (104 minutes, Netflix)

The first of two Jack Black movies I saw this week, and what different Blacks they featured. In Bernie, Black leaves everything you know about him in his dressing room. His performance is subtle, understated, quiet, even though his character is colourful, flamboyant even. Based on a true story, Richard Linklater’s Bernie tells the true story of Bernie Tiede, the affable small-town mortician who even befriends the nastiest – and wealthiest – woman in town, Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine). But she quickly turns against him, too, and Bernie kills her. The movie is set up like a semi-documentary, with some of the townspeople interviewed about the relationship between Bernie and Marjorie. It’s the darkest of true-crime comedies that’s set up like a mystery. He killed her, but how and why and what happened next? (Jan. 18)

Matchstick Men, 2003, dir. Ridley Scott / screenplay by Nick Griffin and Ted Griffin, adapted from the book by Eric Garcia (116 minutes, DVD)

Roy Waller (Nicolas Cage) isn’t a con man, he corrects his 14-year-old daughter (Alison Lohman) he’s just met. He’s a con *artist*. If only Roy were as slick at home as he is when scamming people out of their live savings with his partner and protege Frank (Sam Rockwell, great as usual). Roy is a self-diagnosed agoraphobe. He’s a germophobe and is no stranger to anxiety and panic attacks – he may even have Tourette’s. When he loses the medication that helps him function and his doctor isn’t available to refill his prescription, Roy needs to find new ways to treat his tics and anxieties or risk losing it all during his next job – his biggest ever. Ridley Scott is a versatile director, and while he’s best known for his epics (Gladiator, Alien, Blade Runner), Matchstick Men is great fun. (Jan. 17)

Annie Hall, 1977, dir. Woody Allen / screenplay by Woody Allen and Marshall Brickman (93 minutes, DVD)

Anatomy of a break up. From the iconic opening monologue by Allen, to the dynamic between him and Diane Keaton, to the closing scene, Annie Hall is Woody Allen in top form. And that balcony scene …  I’m always torn between which ’70s Allen movie is my favourite, Annie Hall or Manhattan, and I always end up going with the one I watched most recently. (Jan. 17)

The Square, 2013, dir. Jehane Noujaim (95 minutes, Netflix)

If you weren’t there, Jehane Noujaim’s Oscar-nominated documentary The Square is about as close as you’ll get to being in Egypt’s Tahrir Square during the revolution that swept the country in 2011. The doc feels unfinished, because so much about the revolution and conflict is unresolved, but the footage in The Square is harrowing. Noujaim follows a cast of revolutionaries from different walks of life. As time goes by, their views on the revolution and the direction their country should go in change, along with their relationships. It’s neat, respectful and hopeful. Ultimately, it offers no solutions to the conflict because the participants aren’t sure themselves, and that’s OK. The Square brings you along for the ride. (Jan. 17)

Short Term 12, 2013, dir. Destin Cretton / screenplay by Destin Cretton (96 minutes)

Destin Cretton’s drama stars Brie Larson as a stressed out foster-care facility supervisor as some of the teens under her care go through turning points in their lives. Some great performances all around, but especially from Larson and Keith Standfield who plays Marcus, a kid who’s turning 18 soon and coming to terms with his departure from Short Term 12, the facility that is the movie’s namesake. (Jan. 13)

Hannah and Her Sisters, 1986, dir. Woody Allen / screenplay by Woody Allen (103 minutes, DVD)

Though not my favourite Woody Allen movie from the ’80s (that honour goes to The Purple Rose of Cairo), I would be hard-pressed to find a better cast in an Allen picture than the one assembled for Hannah and Her Sisters:Michael Caine, Mia Farrow, Dianne Wiest, Barbara Hershey, Max von Sydow, Lewis Black, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, John Turtorro, Maureen O’Sullivan, Lloyd Nolan and Allen himself. (Jan. 12)

August: Osage County, 2013, dir. John Wells / screenplay by Tracy Letts, adapted from the Broadway play by Letts (121 minutes, in theatres)

It’s the Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts show, and the movie never pretends to be anything else. They get the best storylines, the best lines and the only opportunities to shine. They don’t really steal the show because no one else ever had it. (Jan. 12)

RELATED: REVIEW OF AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY

The Expendables 2, 2012, dir. Simon West / screenplay by Richard Wenk and Sylvester Stallone, story by Ken Kaufman, David Agosto and Wenk, with characters created by David Callahan (103 minutes)

Like its predecessor, The Expendables 2 opens and closes with bloodbaths. I thought 2 was a lot more fun than the first. It felt a bit lighter and less serious, and the one-liners were way cheesier and more ridiculous (Terry Crews tells Arnold Schwartzenegger’s character that he will terminate him if Arnold doesn’t give him his gun back; Stallone tells a guy to “rest in pieces” after he is gunned down by a handful of his mercenaries; Arnold even says “I’m back” at one point). But the story (Stallone and co. accomplish a mission in the first act, and the rest of the movie is devoted to their avenging the death of a fallen Expendable, the recipient of a dagger to the chest, kicked into there by Jean-Claude Van Damme) is too weak for the movie to be more fun to watch again. (Jan. 11)

Finding Nemo, 2003, dirs. Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich / screenplay by Andrew Stanton, Bob Peterson and David Reynolds (100 minutes, DVD)

I wouldn’t rank Finding Nemo in the top tier of the best Pixar films, but it’s very well written, often clever and has some great voice performances by Albert Brooks and Ellen DeGeneres in particular. It was also just the fifth movie released under the Pixar banner and, at that point, the one I liked the least (Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2 and Monsters, Inc. preceded Nemo). Pixar’s been through a rough patch lately, though. Nemo‘s a masterpiece when compared to Cars 2 or Monsters University, but it doesn’t hold a candle to most other Pixar films. (Jan. 10)

Her, 2013, dir. Spike Jonze / screenplay by Spike Jonze (126 minutes, in theatres)

Spike Jonze’s latest with Joaquin Phoenix and the voice of Scarlett Johansson takes a look at humans’ struggle with intimacy in a near-future L.A. Strong performances all around with a world so believably futuristic, it’s a must-see for fans of Jonze, sci-fi, romance, comedy, life, love, film? Just watch it. (Jan. 10)

RELATED: REVIEW OF SPIKE JONZE’S HER

Billy Elliot, 2000, dir. Stephen Daldry / screenplay by Lee Hall (110 minutes)

A sweet British dramedy that was Jamie Bell‘s first film role ever way back in 2000. Bell won a (deserved) BAFTA award for his performance as the title character, a teenage boy who takes up ballet – courses taught by Julie Walters’ chain-smoking Mrs. Wilkinson – after struggling to get into the boxing courses his dad enrolled him in. (Jan. 8)

The Abyss, 1989, dir. James Cameron / screenplay by James Cameron (171 minutes, director’s cut DVD)

I was really digging The Abyss well into the third act. It’s a great, Alien-like sci-fi thriller that does a good job at building up the mystery of just what the heck happened to a nuclear submarine that the team of divers in The Abyss are looking for. There’s one underwater scene in particular – the first time the team goes into the sunken submarine – that was really beautiful. A lot of the Oscar-winning special effects are a little dated, and the denouement was just a bit too preachy for my taste. (Jan. 6)

Seven, 1995, dir. David Fincher / screenplay by Andrew Kevin Walker (127 minutes, DVD)

This was the first time I watched Seven since the first time I watched it years ago. It’s a lot more grisly than I remember and it’s a very well paced thriller directed by one of my favourite filmmakers, David Fincher. Worth noting that Brad Pitt’s acting has improved tenfold since; also stars Morgan Freeman, Gwyneth Paltrow and Mark Boone Junior. (Jan. 5)

The Spectacular Now, 2013, dir. James Ponsoldt / screenplay by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, adapted from the Tim Tharp novel (95 minutes)

A movie I regretfully left off my honourable mentions/best-of-2013 list. Sutter (Miles Teller) gets a new lease on life when he meets Aimee (the wonderful Shailene Woodley), a girl from school he never paid much attention to until she wakes him off a stranger’s lawn one morning. (Jan. 5)

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, 2011, dir. Brad Bird / screenplay by Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec based on the television series by Bruce Geller (133 minutes, Netflix)

Another movie I watched with my dad. It was my second time watching it, his first. I thought it was fun and especially liked the introduction of Ethan Hunt’s (Tom Cruise) new team made up of Simon Pegg, Paula Patton and Jeremy Renner. There’s a scene with Hunt scaling the Burj Khalifa in Dubai that’s worth the stream alone. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol is streaming on Netflix Canada. (Jan. 4)

Blackfish, 2013, dir. Gabriela Cowperthwaite / documentary, written by Gabriela Cowperthwaite and Eli B. Despres (83 minutes, Netflix)

My second viewing of the Gabriela Cowperthwaite documentary was just as sobering and chilling as my first. At a brisk 83 minutes, the interviews are footage are compelling and tell the story of Tilikum, a killer whale at SeaWorld. (Jan. 4)

Playing for Keeps, 2012, dir. Gabriele Muccino / screenplay by Robbie Fox (105 minutes, Netflix)

An attempt to expand my horizons. Playing for Keeps is a romantic comedy that’s neither romantic nor funny. Gerard Butler is a fictional former soccer superstar named George Dyer who is somehow broke just a few years after retiring. He lives in Virginia to be close to his son and ex-wife (Jessica Biel) when he’s forced to coach his son’s soccer team. He just wants to be a good father to Lewis (Noah Lomax) and he would be if he weren’t so busy trying to also get a job at ESPN, and fighting off the soccer moms (Uma Thurman, Judy Greer and Catherine Zeta-Jones) who throw themselves at him, and maybe reconnecting with Lewis’s mom. (Jan. 4)

The Sound of Music, 1965, dir. Robert Wise / screenplay by Ernest Lehman, adapted from the stage musical by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse and the book The Story of the Trapp Family Singers by Maria von Trapp, with the partial use of ideas by Georg Hudalek (174 minutes, DVD)

I wanted to revisit the movie after NBC aired the musical with Carrie Underwood. It holds up nicely and Julie Andrews is wonderful as Maria. (Jan. 3)

True Lies, 1994, dir. James Cameron / screenplay by James Cameron, adapted from La Totale! written by Claude Zidi, Simon Michael, Didier Kaminka (141 minutes, DVD)

So much fun. It was my first time watching True Lies even though I bought the DVD years ago. I watched it with my dad during one of our rare movie nights. He liked it but thought it was over the top. I liked it in spite of that. Stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, in his third James Cameron film, Jamie Lee Curtis, in a Golden-Globe-winning role, Bill Paxton and Tom Arnold. (Jan. 2)

Lovelace, 2013, dirs. Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman / screenplay by Andy Bellin (93 minutes, Netflix)

I expected a more risqué biopic of Linda Lovelace, and was a little disappointed with how generic Lovelace ended up. Amanda Seyfried is lovely as the title character surrounded by scumbags of the 70s porn industry. It’s a one-note narrative, with Lovelace constantly being taken advantage and lied to; the performances from Seyfried, Peter Sarsgaard, Chris Noth, Bobby Cannavale and Hank Azaria were good, but, at 93 minutes, the film just dips its toe into a story it could have delved much deeper into. (Jan. 1)

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5 thoughts on “2014: The movies I watched

  1. Sam F. January 8, 2014 / 19:19

    Omg I feel so bad that you watched Playing for Keeps….so, so bad

    Like

    • Chris Hanna January 8, 2014 / 19:22

      I’m genuinely curious how they got so many people to agree to star in it, even if Dennis Quaid, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Uma Thurman and Jessica Biel have been in stinkers lately. They’ve never all been in the same one. It was brother-sister bonding time, though, so I put up with it :)

      Like

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