REVIEW: “Interstellar”

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While some people may not love his movies, even they would have to admit that Christopher Nolan is a cinematic artist who has given us a number of movies known for their artistry and uniqueness. Personally I find myself smitten with every feature he brings to the screen. Nolan creates experiences. Through breathtaking visuals and challenging narratives, he takes his audiences places that must be navigating by the senses AND the intellect. I think he is a brilliant filmmaker, but even the greats sometimes miss the mark. There have been a lot of mixed opinions about Nolan’s latest work “Interstellar”. Is this his first shoot and miss?

Much of “Interstellar’s” divisiveness is rooted in extremely high expectations and/or the audiences’ willingness to not just quickly consume the film’s themes but to chew and meditate on them. It’s a film rich with ideas and questions, some of which are only barely touched on but which are still relevant and worth our attention. “Interstellar” is also soaked in science, not in the arrogant or haughty sense, but in a way that convincingly melds science fiction and reputable theory. It’s also ripe with emotion, something that I never expected going into it. In other words it’s a movie with a number of different components but none of which conflict thanks the masterful control Nolan has of his material.

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I firmly believe that the less you know about “Interstellar” going in the better. But to offer a little about its story, Matthew McConaughey plays a widowed ex-NASA pilot named Cooper who now runs a farm with his father-in-law, teenaged son, and 10-year-old daughter. It’s the future and times are hard for the human race. A devastating blight has ravaged crops and able farmers have become more valuable than pilots or engineers. Government programs like NASA and the military have been abandoned and the focus put on the urgent need of food. In reality Earth’s plight is incurable and Cooper is recruited by an old acquaintance Professor Brand (Michael Caine) to head a space expedition to find a habitable planet. But it would require Cooper to leave what he holds dearest in order to potentially save it.

Nolan takes his time developing his scenarios and his characters. It starts with McConaughey and his fabulous performance. His weather-worn face and calloused hands puts him right at home on the dustbowl that Earth has become. McConaughey has a natural and magnetic presence that helps him sell every scene he’s in. It may be a poignant scene with his young daughter Murphy (remarkably played by Mackenzie Foy) or a vigorous debate with a room of physicists. I connected with his character early on and stayed invested until the end.

There is also a host of fantastic supporting work. Anne Hathaway is great as Professor Brand’s daughter and fellow scientist. I also enjoyed David Gyasi as a physicist who joins the expedition. And later on Jessica Chastain appears and gives a performance that grounds and emotionally energizes the second half of the film. Once again she is fabulous. Other castings that I really liked included John Lithgow, Casey Affleck, David Oyelowo, and Ellen Burstyn. Only one performance stuck out like a sore thumb. Neither Topher Grace nor his character ever quite fit.

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But just having a great cast isn’t good enough. There has to be good material for them to work with and Christopher Nolan, along with his brother Jonathan, provide it. Their script pulls influence everywhere from “2001: A Space Odyssey” to “Alien”. From “Metropolis” to “Wall-E”. Yet despite that “Interstellar” is uniquely Nolan’s. Like many of his films it is cinematic brain food. It challenges us on a personal level by looking at our decisions and their consequences. It looks at self-sacrifice and the costs that some pay. It also challenges us on a philosophical level. What is our purpose of being? What is our place in the world?

And as I mentioned earlier there is a lot of science. This leaks into one of the complaints I’ve read in several places. Many count the film’s numerous science-laced conversations as a flaw. Some have seen them as nothing more than convoluted exposition. I couldn’t disagree more. Exposition is filling in gaps with back story or explanation and there is certainly some of that. But so many of the conversations center around the peril the characters are in and ways to handle it. They are dealing with unknowns, not providing filler. And of course I didn’t understand all of the talk about quantum physics, relativity, singularities, etc., but I believed it because the characters believed it and were passionate in their conversations about it. I bought into them so their knowledge was all I needed.

And then there is the emotional component of it. Surprisingly “Interstellar” is a film so full of emotion and some have had a hard time connecting with it. That’s a shame because emotion is the centerpiece of the film. At the core of “Interstellar” lies the one human force that transcends time and space. This is a movie about love. And it actually dares to be unashamedly sentimental, something else that many have viewed as a flaw. Again, I couldn’t disagree more. That’s because none of the heavy emotional scenes (all connected to the central theme of love) feel false or fabricated. In fact on several occasions I found myself deeply effected and more than once I was wiping tears from my cheeks. To add some perspective, that is very rare for me. But that’s not the only human side we see. Selfishness, cowardice, and deception all show their heads. Some at odds with love. Others born out of a twisted form of love.

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It should go without saying that “Interstellar” looks and sounds amazing. Whether it’s the dry, abrasive, decaying Earth ushering in mankind’s extinction or space and its beautiful palette of stars, planets, clusters, and wormholes, the film offers a number of stunning effects and visual treats. It’s never as spectacular as last year’s “Gravity” but it’s equally impressive. There is a style employed that reminded me of real archived footage. It made many of the sequences all the more immersive. I also loved the use of sound from the space ambiance to Hans Zimmer’s precise score. “Interstellar” is a technical delight.

So why is “Interstellar” a divisive film? I can see a few areas where some may struggle with it. Some may find it too talky. Some may find it to confusing. Some may find it too sentimental. I respect those criticisms yet disagree with each of them. “Interstellar” is a space opera that is inspired by many films but it lays its own course. It’s a contemplative adventure and an emotional exploration that captivated me from its opening moments. More than that, it is one of the deepest and most moving experiences I’ve ever had with a film. It challenged me to self-reflect. It asked questions that I’m still tossing around in my head. It entertained me in a way that few movies of the last decade have. In a nutshell “Interstellar” is the reason I love movies and I can see this film becoming one of my favorites of all-time. Boring, overly sentimental, convoluted? No way. It’s a graceful, stimulating, a beautiful movie that gave me a motion picture experience I won’t soon forget.

VERDICT – 5 STARS

5 STARSs

5STAR K&M

K & M Commentary: The Many Reactions to Superman/Batman

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One of the biggest bits of news filtering out of this year’s San Diego Comic-Con was that Warner Brothers and DC Comics would be featuring Batman in the Man of Steel sequel slated for 2015. Now you can imagine the plethora of comments and opinions that immediately followed the announcement. They ranged from childlike jubilation to doomsday prophecies! But considering what little information we have so far isn’t it all just speculation at this point? But ya know, we bloggers love to speculate. That’s half the fun.

There are several ways to look at the announcement and several legitimate points of view. Lets look at some of the prominent opinions coming from the news:

1. Some see this as nothing more than a desperate cash grab and an attempt to catch up to Marvel’s bustling movie universe. Now there’s no denying that there is an element of truth to that. Clearly Marvel has taken a huge lead in the comic book to big screen category. With the exception of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy and to a smaller degree the recent “Man of Steel” film, the DC Comics universe has failed to really flourish on the big screen. But that doesn’t automatically mean that this is desperation or a cash in. It’s not as if a Superman/Batman collaboration is completely unheard of. The two have shared a largely successful comic book with each other for years now. Therefore it wouldn’t be a stretch to see them together on the big screen. As for desperation, while I had never heard a confirmation, I had heard that the idea of bringing these two iconic superheroes together in a movie had been played around with before. With Nolan’s trilogy in the books, this would be as good a time as any to bring along the next vision of Batman.

2. Some have already written this idea off as a disaster. They believe this will ruin and undermine everything that Christopher Nolan accomplished in his Dark Knight trilogy. Many think that shoehorning Batman into the new Superman franchise does a disservice to the character and runs the risk of alienating fans of the one great property that their movie universe possesses. Again, these are some legitimate concerns but very premature ones. With such little information out there about how and how much Batman will be used, it’s really impossible to say anything with certainty. Again, there is a wealth if history between these two characters so it’s reasonable to believe that Batman’s inclusion could be done really well.

3. And then there are those that are bubbling with excitement. I must admit, when I first heard the news I fell into this category. As a long time comic book reader, the thought of these two phenomenal heroes meeting on film as thrilling. The possibilities are endless. This could be the launching point into the new Batman series. This could be the launching point of the Justice League film that has been talked about for years. In my eyes the potential for something great is off the scales. But optimistic fans have reason to be cautious. Again, we don’t know very much. Will Batman be utilized in a way that makes for a good movie AND keeps the character on the same firm footing where Nolan left him? Will his role be weighty enough to feel justified and warranted? These are real concerns but none are bigger than this: Who will play Batman? For me this is a crucial ingredient to making this whole thing work. There’s a lot of complexity and layers to the Bruce Wayne/Batman character and poor casting could derail every bit of potential. This is enough cause to be a little cautious.

So is there reason to be concerned? Absolutely. Is there reason to write it off? Absolutely not. In fact I think the sheer potential of the idea is enough to get fanboys and movie fans excited and curious. But whatever your position one thing is for sure, Warner Brothers has everyone talking about this and that’s a good thing. Now here’s hoping they deliver the goods. After all, in the end that’s all that matters.

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5 Phenomenal Movie Helicopter Scenes

movie_theatre - Phenom 5As goofy as this probably sounds, I love a good helicopter scene. I know it’s weird but I’ve been amazed at some of the great moments in movies that involve helicopters. In fact, you can sometimes find fantastic helicopter scenes in movies that aren’t necessarily that good. In light of that I’ve decided we would have some fun in this week’s Phenomenal 5. I’ve picked out 5 outstanding helicopter movie scenes that range from iconic to absolutely insane. Now considering how often helicopters have made their ways into movies it would be silly to call this the definitive list. But there’s no denying that these 5 helicopter scenes are certainly phenomenal.

#5 – “LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD”

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“Live Free or Die Hard”

I doubt anyone will ever call 2007’s “Live Free or Die Hard” the best film of the “Die Hard” series. But while it didn’t live up to the previous three movies, it was a fun flick and considerably better than the more recent franchise killer. Perhaps the coolest scene in the movie involves an incredible helicopter sequence. On their way to FBI headquarters, John McClane and his witness are ambushed by an attack helicopter in downtown New York. They are eventually flushed out of a tunnel but McClane always leaves his mark. He not only escapes the tunnel but he launches his car into the hovering chopper. BOOM! Insanely over the top but also insanely awesome.

#4 – “RAMBO III”

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“Rambo III”

It’s pretty safe to say that John Rambo loves helicopters. There are three or four great Rambo chopper scenes that could easily make this list. But I went with a wild and intense sequence from “Rambo III”. In this installment of the testosterone-driven Stallone franchise Rambo tackles the Soviet occupied Afghanistan. While at a village with some Afghan freedom fighters, two Russian attack choppers attack. Armed with rockets and machine guns, the choppers decimate the village and the people there. Rambo dodges explosions and bullets until he reaches a mounted machine gun on top of a hill. In typical Rambo fashion he swings the turret and starts firing on an approaching chopper. It blows to bits sending the other chopper packing. 80s cheese no doubt but I love it.

#3 – “THE DARK KNIGHT”

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“The Dark Knight”

For me, Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” is the best superhero movie ever made. A key ingredient to its tremendous success was the performance of Heath ledger as the Joker. The Joker’s advantage came from always being a step ahead of the Gotham Police. That was never more evident than in a scene where a police convoy is transporting Harvey Dent. Anticipating a police chopper escort, the Joker has his men fire cables from one high rise building to the other across the street. The chopper snags one of the cables which sends it careening into the side of the building and eventually crashing down in front of the convoy. It’s just one part of a truly incredible sequence.

#2 – “APOCALYPSE NOW”

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“Apocalypse Now”

I may not hold Francis Ford Coppola’s beloved 1979 war picture “Apocalypse Now” in as high regard as many do, but I do recognize some of the great moments it gives us. Maybe the most well known scene in the film comes after Martin Sheen runs into Robert Duvall’s wacky, surf-loving Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore. Kilgore leads his air calvary helicopter squadron in an attack on a Vietcong base based on nothing more than the fine surfing conditions in that area. The helicopter attack amid napalm drops and “Ride of the Valkyries” is for me the film’s most memorable scene. But it’s Coppola’s camera that makes it so good. His sweeping shots and perfectly framed chaos create one of the most visually stunning war sequences. This scene also leads to one of the most iconic film quotes in history – “I love the smell of napalm in the morning”. How could this scene not be on this list?

#1 – “28 WEEKS LATER”

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“28 Weeks Later”

Whenever I think of helicopter scenes in cinema my mind will always gravitate to the inventive, over-the-top, and down right nutty chopper sequence in “28 Weeks Later”. I won’t get into the whole “are the Rage virus victims zombies” debate, but they’re close enough for me. In the movies we’ve seen zombies killed in a variety of ways but never as they are here. I don’t want to spoil anything but let’s just say that our survivors are discovered hiding in the tall grass of a field by a huge ravenous group of snarling infected who instantly come running for them. But a friendly chopper steps in and boy does it take care of business. Pilot Harold Perrineau dips the nose of his helicopter to where his swirling blades are mere feet from the ground. You guessed it, he flies that thing right through the horde. Limbs fly, blood splatters, and heads roll in this graphic zombie/infected slaughter sequence. I still remember my first reaction when seeing it.

So there you have it. These are five phenomenal helicopter movie scenes that I love. But what about you? See something I missed? Please take time to share your favorites below.

REVIEW: “Inception”

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After the release of Christopher Nolan’s “Inception” back in 2010, I wrote a review on my earlier blog site praising the film. After several more viewings, I would continue to applaud this production and it was easily my favorite film of that year. But as excited as I was over “Inception”, I still don’t think my previous review did justice to what has become one of my favorite movies of all time. Yes, I said of all time! I still find “Inception” to be one of the most original and most ambitious movies I’ve ever seen. But ambition doesn’t always equal a great movie. “Inception” not only aims high but it succeeds in creating a brilliant and unique picture that’s unlike anything I’ve seen.

It’s hard to pigeonhole “Inception”. It’s a heist film, a tragic romance, science-fiction, and an action film. But the best thing is it uses all of these ingredients flawlessly. The bulk of its success can be traced right back to Nolan. For my money Christopher Nolan is one of our greatest working directors. He wrote , co-produced, and directed this film and I truly believe he’s one of the only visionary filmmakers who could have pulled this off. It took him almost ten years to write and rewrite the script and it took the huge success of “The Dark Knight” to secure the big budget needed to make “Inception”. But you sure can’t argue with the results of the finished product. “Inception” ended its box office run making over $825 million worldwide.

The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio, an actor Nolan had wanted to work with for some time. He plays “Dom” Cobb, a dream thief for lack of a better title. He, along with his partner Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), are paid to infiltrate the subconsciouses of their targets via their dreams and steal information. When the dream extraction from a wealthy Japanese businessman named Saito (Ken Watanabe) goes wrong, Cobb and Arthur find out they were being tested. Instead of extracting information, Saito wants the them to attempt inception on a business rival of his. The idea of inception is that instead of stealing information you plant it in the target’s subconscious while they’re dreaming. There are questions as to whether inception is even possible but Cobb is enticed to take the job when Saito promises to use his influence to clear Cobb’s name of a mysterious murder charge that has kept him out of the United States and separated from his two children.

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To do the job Cobb needs a top-notch team of experts. Eames (Tom Hardy) is basically a forger or probably better described as an impersonator. Once inside a dream he has the ability to take on the identity of anyone. Ariadne (Ellen Page) is the architect. She is able to construct mental labyrinths inside the dreamers subconscious. This is essential if the team is going to know their way around the dream. Yusuf (Dileep Rao) is basically the team’s pharmacist. He’s the one who controls the sleep via his numerous concoctions. Saito also insists on going and keeping an eye on his “investment”. Nolan takes us through the formation of the team, bits of their training, and of course their attempt at inception. As the story moves forward Nolan plays with our minds as he begins placing dreams within dreams and he causes his audience to pay close attention as their well planned heist encounters more and more complications.

One thing I’ve always loved about a Christopher Nolan film is his ability to put to gather the perfect cast. This may be his best yet. DiCaprio has been a critic’s darling with several of his performances, but I think this is one of his very best. Cobb knows his business but he’s a tortured man with loads of emotional baggage. Leo handles all of this perfectly. I also loved Tom Hardy here and he steals nearly every scene he’s in. Eames is a confident wisecracker and some of his best scenes are when he’s giving Arthur a hard time. Speaking of Arthur, Gordon-Levitt gives another strong performance and he has one particular action sequence that’s one of the best I’ve ever seen. And then there’s Ellen Page who I liked as Ariadne. Her character is new to the dream scene and she brings a needed sense of caution and reality to the mission.

But there are some other great performances that are important to the story and worth mentioned. One of my favorites was Marion Cotillard as Mal. She has a special bond with Cobb and repeatedly appears within the dreams potentially compromising the mission. Cotillard’s performance is multi-layered and fascinating. Michael Caine, a Nolan favorite, is very good as Cobb’s father-in-law and caregiver of his children. Cillian Murphy plays the team’s central target for inception and he too is a great fit for his role. It was also great to see Tom Berenger given a nice role to work with and the great Peter Postlethwaite in what would be his last performance before his death due to pancreatic cancer. All of these performers are sharply in tune with the material and the cast serves as just one of the movie’s many high points.

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Nolan is also a visual filmmaker and there is some incredibly eye candy in “Inception”. The movie was filmed in locations all over the world including Tokyo, Morocco, Paris, and Alberta. Each of these places have their own separate and distinct look and feel to them within the movie whether they take place in reality or in a dream. This was an intentional move by Nolan who wanted to place his film in the contemporary world while also playing with our perceptions of what is real and what’s not. And of course since we’re talking about dreams, Nolan has a spectacular and diverse visual sandbox to play in. He wows us with several amazing special effects sequences that include rotating hotel rooms, trains barreling down big city boulevards, and a shootout at a fortified arctic base. “Inception” hits you with one spectacular set piece after another and all of this gels nicely with the movie’s deep and layered story.

“Inception”isn’t a movie with a straightforward by-the-books narrative. It’s a film that requires you to pay attention and I like that. I’ve talked with people who didn’t care for the movie because of its complexities and I can’t help but be puzzled. So many movies are simple and formulaic genre films that never challenge their audiences in any way. For me it’s refreshing to have something completely original and fresh and I appreciate how the film doesn’t dumb things down for the audience. I’m also amazed at just how well this complex story unwraps. Nolan constantly throws new kinks into his story to the point where I questioned whether he could bring it all together. But like a skilled and crafty pro he pulls everything in during the last 20 minutes, right up to the beautiful final shot. And that final scene, well it gets a little misty for me every single time.

For me everything in “Inception” works. The special effects, the action sequences, Nolan’s phenomenal script, the incredible cast, Hans Zimmer’s pulse pounding score. This is why I go to the movies. There’s nothing conventional about “Inception” and there’s no way to watch it and not appreciate its craftsmanship. That said be prepared to think. The story is a bit of a challenge but that’s just another joy I get from watching it. I understand it may not be everyone’s cup of tea but it gives me everything I want in a motion picture experience. For me this is a modern cinematic masterpiece.

VERDICT – 5 STARS

5 STARSs

5STAR K&M

THE TOP 10 FILMS OF 2012

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Folks, its time for the big one! The 2012 movie year is over and done so that means its Top 10 time. This is my favorite part of the movie season – a chance to reflect back on the past year in movies and heap praise on the films that I think are the 10 best. 2012 started off a little slow but ended up being a pretty strong year for both the big blockbusters and for small independent cinema. But enough with the buildup. (Imagine a small but steady drumroll) May I introduce The Keith & the Movies Top 10 Movies of 2012…

Before I get to the 10 best, I do want to mention three films that I desperately wanted to see before making this list. Unfortunately it’s not going to happen for another week or so. They are “Zero Dark Thirty”, “Rust and Bone”, and “Amour”. I would also like to throw out a few honorable mentions. These were fantastic movies that I loved and that just missed the cut (click their names for full reviews)…. “Damsels in Distress’, “The Hobbit“, “The Kid with a Bike“, “Bernie“, “Looper“, “Delicacy“, “Les Miserables”

Frankenweenie#10 – “FRANKENWEENIE” – I’m as shocked as you. The idea that a Tim Burton picture would be on my Top 10 list amazes me. I’m not a Burton fan but “Frankenweenie” is an animated delight. It’s one part tender tale about a boy and his dog and another part the Frankenstein story and it works beautifully as a collective whole. It’s also an old school horror movie homage with tons of fun references to everything from the monster pictures of the 1950s to the classic Universal horror films. But the key reason it works is that Burton wisely focuses more on telling a good story than promoting his unique style. The result is a fabulous animated treat that I adored.

Prometheus#9 – “PROMETHEUS” – I know this will be a controversial pick just judging by the variety of differing opinions about this film. But I gotta say that I loved “Prometheus”. I loved the universe. I loved the special effects. I loved most of the cast. I loved its open-endedness. Are there holes in the logic here and there? Sure. But for me Ridley Scott supplied me with another exciting sci-fi experience that may not answer all the questions as it advertises, but it still reminds me of what an intelligent and visionary filmmaker he is. I stand firmly beside “Prometheus” and sincerely hope that the $400 million box office was enough to ensure us a follow-up.

Lincoln#8 – “LINCOLN” – Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” is a movie that may surprise a lot of people. While there are a few Speilberg overindulgences, as a whole he really dials it back and it works beautifully. This isn’t a film steeped in huge set pieces and heavy melodrama. This is a performance driven drama with possibly the best ensemble casts of the year. Daniel Day-Lewis reaffirms his status as the greatest working actor with a fine performance. Critic Leonard Maltin called the performance miraculous and I have to agree. He loses himself in this towering historical character and I was hooked on every line and every mannerism. That’s the biggest reason the film worked so incredibly well.

Impossible#7 – “THE IMPOSSIBLE” – There have been many disaster movies that have made their way onto the big screen. But none has ever gripped me and affected me the way “The Impossible” did. This is one of the most poignant and powerful pictures I watched all year. It’s also a draining and at times difficult movie to endure. But the reward is overwhelming as we watch the best of people come out in a truly devastating circumstance. This is an intelligent and respectful film about the Indian Ocean tsunami and it’s aftermath. Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor give stunning performances and newcomer Tom Holland should garner a lot of attention. Don’t brush this movie aside as just another disaster film. It’s so much more.

SKYFALL#6 – “SKYFALL” – It wasn’t until Daniel Craig took the reigns of 007 that I became a huge James Bond fan. Now I’m hooked. “Skyfall” is a wonderful action thrill ride from director Sam Mendes and is arguably the best Daniel Craig Bond picture yet. It’s loaded with the expected blow-your-socks-off action shoot-outs and car chases. But it also fleshes out Bond more as a person, something I really responded to. Javier Bardem, while underused, is a blast and it was great to see Judi Dench’s role expanded. “Skyfall” has raked in over $1 billion dollars worldwide but it’s well deserved. This is just more proof that big budget films can and should knock it out of the park.

ARGO#5 – “ARGO” – For my money Ben Affleck has proven himself to be an incredibly capable director. “Argo” is a shining example of his abilities behind the camera. This sizzling picture set during the Iran hostage crisis of 1979 is an edge-of-your-seat thriller anchored by a fantastic cast, sharp direction, and Chris Terrio’s slick and intelligent screenplay. It dramatizes the absurdity of the real life hostage rescue in a way that had me glued to the screen. And the perfectly realized sense of time and location just seal the deal. It also features what may be the best opening 20 minutes I have seen in several years. I love “Argo”. It’s storytelling at its finest.

AVENGERS4 – “THE AVENGERS” – It has become the norm for Hollywood to release several big budget superhero movies each year. But very few are as good as “The Avengers”. This was one of the most ambitious projects and it had potential to be a disaster. It was far from that. “The Avengers” was one of the most well-conceived and well-executed movies of the year thanks to the clever and often times hilarious screenplay from Joss Whedon. Loud laughs and thunderous applause filled the theater during both of my big screen viewings and I was right there with them. In terms of sheer fun at the movies, “The Avengers” was tops and that makes up for any tiny flaw it may have otherwise.

MOONRISE#3 – “MOONRISE KINGDOM” – It’s safe to say that I have evolved into a full-blown Wes Anderson fan. “Moonrise Kingdom” solidified that for me. This is a film that perfectly encapsulates Anderson’s special brand of humor and style. There’s a beautiful and sensitive story of eccentric children’s puppy love and their feelings of not belonging. But there’s also the story about the adults within a small New England community and all their imperfections. And then there’s Anderson’s razor-sharp script – some of the best writing of the year. Great performances, hilarious moments, perfectly quirky music, and an artful 1960’s aesthetic are all spread across Anderson’s gorgeous canvas.

BEASTS#2 – “BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD” – This is a movie that I didn’t catch up with until later in the year. Suffice to say it really blew my mind. This was clearly the biggest surprise of the year for me as well as the most moving and emotional film of 2012. A first time director and two first time performances create an experience that pulls you into the isolated and poverty-stricken world of a 6-year old girl named Hushpuppy. It’s sometimes heartwarming and sometimes deeply unsettling, but it’s riveting cinema throughout. This is small and little known film that is finally getting an audience and stands above most every film of 2012.

DARK KNIGHT#1 – “THE DARK KNIGHT RISES” – No other movie of 2012 combined the thrill of adrenaline-fueled action with the art of pure cinematic storytelling. Christopher Nolan wrapped up his phenomenal Dark Knight trilogy with yet another sharp and layered movie. Tom Hardy is a brute presence and Ann Hathaway makes Selina Kyle (a.k.a. Catwoman) a much more grounded character. The entire film is laced with a tinge of realism but it’s still a rousing superhero experience. Some have had issues with this film but I found it to be brilliant and the perfect ending to one of my personal favorite trilogies. This is also Nolan’s third straight film to end up as my year-end #1. Bravo!

So there they are, my 10 Best Films from the 2012 year. What are your thoughts? Where did I go wrong? What’s your favorite film of 2012?

 

*After writing this I was able to catch up with “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Amour”. Let me say that both would make my Top 10 without a doubt!

5 Phenomenal Actors Who Never Won an Oscar

A few weeks ago I looked at 5 phenomenal actresses who were never given an Academy Award despite their incredible talent and strong careers. Today we are focussing on the men. I found this to be a much tougher list to put together. The number of great actors that never won the highest acting award would surprise you. And I found it incredibly difficult to leave certain names off this list. But I think a great case can be made for the five that made the cut. Now, as with the ladies, Lifetime Achievement Oscars don’t count. I’m talking about men who never received the heralded Best Actor or Best Supporting Actor awards. With such a healthy selection, it would be silly to call this the definitive list. But it’s clear that these 5 Oscarless actors are certainly phenomenal.

#5 – FRED ASTAIRE

While I’ve never been a huge fan of musicals, I’ve always appreciated the amazing contributions Fred Astaire made to the once flourishing genre. So it came as a big surprise to see that Astaire never won an Oscar. Now he did receive an honorary Academy Award after one of his retirement stints. But he was never recognized for his acting. Astaire was an amazing talent both with his dance and with his voice. But he was also a talented and always likable actor who made many quality films. There was a lot of doubt about whether he would make it in the movie industry but he would end up putting that to rest. He will always be recognized for his collaborations with Ginger Rogers. The two made a total of ten movies together including “Top Hat”, “Swing Time”, and “The Barkleys of Broadway”. He was superb in “Holiday Inn” alongside Bing Crosby. He would also make many well-received movies with the likes of Rita Hayworth, Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, and Audrey Hepburn. Fred Astaire made many films that should have garnered some Oscar attention. And this is coming from a guy not that crazy about musicals.

#4 – LEONARDO DICAPRIO

From an early age, Leonardo DiCaprio defined himself as an exceptional actor through several incredible performances. He first caught the attention of movie fans with his portrayal of a mentally handicapped boy in “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape”. This would earn him his first Academy Award nomination. He would star in several recognizable films before making his big splash (pun intended) in James Cameron’s mega-hit “Titanic”. Following it, he began a defining collaboration with Martin Scorsese in films like “Gangs of New York”, “The Aviator” (which earned him his second Oscar nomination), and “The Departed”. Hey would then earn a third nomination in “Blood Diamond”. He would continue to do top-notch work particularly in “Shutter Island”, his fourth movie with Scorsese, and the fantastic “Inception” with director Christopher Nolan. DiCaprio has an impressive resume and several intriguing roles lined up. He’s earned his numerous nominations but cases could be made that one or more of them could have translated to wins.

#3 – ROBERT MITCHUM

It’s hard to believe that an actor who was so highly revered and with so many good movies on his resume never received an Academy Award for his work. Such is the case with Robert Mitchum. Mitchum really made a name for himself in the film noir genre with movies like “Crossfire”, “Out of the Past”, and “The Big Steal”. He also starred in “The Story of G.I. Joe”, a solid picture that would earn him his one and only Academy Award nomination. After playing in a variety of roles, Mitchum would give a mesmerizing and menacing performance in “The Night of the Hunter”. The rest of Mitchum’s career would feature numerous Oscar worthy performances in some really good films such as “The Sundowners”, the creepy “Cape Fear”, “The Longest Day”, “El Dorado”, “The Friends of Eddie Coyle”, and “Ryan’s Daughter”. Mitchum had a recognizable look and unmistakable voice. But he also had a booming screen presence that made his performances all the more memorable. It’s truly amazing that the Academy never recognized him for his work.

#2 – JOSEPH COTTEN

Joseph Cotten had a long film career that spanned over five decades. He was an actor that was always working but was never quite as popular as many of Hollywood’s big names. But personally I loved Cotten and he starred in some of my favorite classic movies. You know things are good when one of your very first feature films in the beloved “Citizen Kane”. Cotten’s performance as Leland stands out and it’s one of the film’s many strong points. After another wonderful collaboration with Orson Welles in “The Magnificent Ambersons”, he would star in one of my very favorite Alfred Hitchcock pictures “Shadow of a Doubt”. In it he delivers yet another true Oscar-calibur performance. The 1940’s were a great year for Cotten as evident by his work in “Gaslight”, “Portrait of Jennie”, and a spectacular movie that I think may offer his very best performance “The Third Man”. While not as strong as the 40’s, the rest of his career would offer several memorable roles in films like “Niagara”, “Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte”, “Soylent Green”, and “Airport ’77”. It’s stunning to me that Cotten never garnered any recognition from the Academy especially for his early work.

#1 – CARY GRANT

It almost doesn’t seem possible. Has Cary Grant really never won an Academy Award especially when considering his brilliant resume? Nope, he never won an Oscar and he was only nominated twice! In 1970 the Academy did give him a “We Feel Terrible for Always Passing You Over” honorary Academy Award, but that doesn’t make up for the shunning. Cary Grant’s career stands on its own and it goes without saying that it was a great one. Grant’s good looks and undeniable charm always translated well to the big screen. He gave so many brilliant and charismatic performances from the 1930’s until his retirement in the mid-60’s. Instead of giving a history, let me just name some of the wonderful films he’s been in and you explain to me how he never won and Oscar – “Bringing Up Baby”, “Gunga Din”, “His Girl Friday”, “The Philadelphia Story”, “Penny Serenade”, “The Talk of the Town”, “Arsenic and Old Lace”, “Notorious”, “To Catch a Thief”, “Houseboat”, “North By Northwest”, “Operation Petticoat”, “Charade”. There are several other great Cary Grant pictures but I think you get the point. He was a wonderful actor who always commanded the screen. He also gave us some of cinema’s greatest films.

There you go. Those are my five phenomenal actors who have never won an Oscar. What say you? Agree or disagree with my list? Please take some time to share your thoughts on this week’s Phenomenal 5.