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Best of 2014: Movies March 13, 2015

Posted by David Card in Media.
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After my humiliating defeat at the hands of my sister in the family Oscars pool, it’s finally time for this post. But first, the usual stats, courtesy of Box Office Mojo.

  • Last year’s domestic box office gross was down 5 percent, after two pretty good years in a row. And Box Office Mojo is counting sales from Number One film American Sniper as 2014, even though most occurred in January 2015 and beyond. Last year, nothing cracked $400 million; three movies have $300+ million so far: Sniper, Hunger Games 3A, and Guardians of the Galaxy. Recent big years had multiple $400-million releases, topped by a monster like The Avengers with $600 million or Avatar at $750 million.
  • As usual, almost all of last year’s Top 10 were either cartoons or superheroes. Katniss and Chris Kyle pretty much qualify as superheroes, and the phenomenally crappy Transformers movie might as well be a cartoon. Guardians and The LEGO Movie did just fine as as franchise-starters at over $330 million and $250 million, respectively. Disney and Warners are in good shape, and while Fox may be gnashing its teeth over fading franchises, no studio had a huge-budget flop.

Among those big hits, Sniper was solid, but Guardians got more critical love than it deserved, because it felt fresher than most played-straight superheroics. But come on, who makes a mix tape with “Pina Colada” and “Cherry Bomb?” Most of my favorites of the year fell well below the Top 10 earners.

Source: flickr user Llaunes i cel·luloide 03

Source: flickr user Llaunes i cel·luloide 03

Which is not to say I’m a complete snob. I go to the movies weekly, and love blockbusters as well as indies. I’m a hard grader who reserves 5 stars in Rotten Tomatoes or Flixster for true classics. Last year I saw seven 3.5-star movies – not a bad tally. My personal Top 10 were:

  • Boyhood – This exercise in Texas slackerealism is a stunt, but an effective one. Just about the entire cast is so good – esp. the chemistry between Hawke and Coltrane – you actually care what happens to them. Why is that so rare?
  • Only Lovers Left Alive – Hiddleston and SWINTON are the coolest vampire couple since Bowie and Deneuve.
  • Whiplash – DI meets the drummer. The two leads are terrific, it’s superbly shot and edited, exciting, and will actually provoke discussion. Whiplash has little to do with jazz – it’s more like a corny sports movie – but I love corny sports movies.
  • The Babadook – The best classic horror movie in years. Two great performances (Davis and Wiseman), a good look and sound design, and just as scary thematically as “literally.” Can’t wait to see what Jennifer Kent does next.
  • Stalingrad – Old-fashioned, sentimental, propagandistic? But also epic. Great Russian cast overcomes under-written parts and matches the 3D spectacle.
  • Mr. Turner – One wonders if the eccentric bloke really grunted that much, but some of the vignettes are brilliant, most of the cast is very, very good, and the cinematography really does hint at the sublime.
  • American Sniper – Largely apolitical and super-patriotic, it’s still gripping and troubling. Cooper’s superb, un-flashy performance wasn’t completely ignored by the major awards nominators. Glad he was on our side – hoohyah!

To get to 10, the 3-star movies that will hold up best included:

  • The Grand Budapest Hotel – For once, Anderson’s fussy art direction works wonders, Fiennes is a marvel, and there’s even a hint of heart. A sad and nostalgic one.
  • Fury – Old-fashioned nearly to the point of cliche, but delivers some powerful scenes. Pitt is charismatic and the tanks look authentic, even if the tracers don’t. Three good war movies in one year?
  • John Wick – Lean and mean. Exciting choreographed violence shot coherently FTW.

In the based-on-a-true-story category, I liked Get on Up a little better than Foxcatcher, which was a little too cold, and far more than Selma, which had some effective scenes but was really only a few cuts above Movie-of-the-Week material. The best animated movie I saw was Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises (I didn’t see LEGO yet). It felt three dimensional with no need for 3D glasses. Birdman was overheated and thematically shallow.

Possibly that affected my Oscar picks, though I try to predict, not cheer. I had Keaton for Best Actor, but only went 14 for 24, my worst in a few years, with only three of the big six. Boyhood was robbed.

Best of 2010: Movies February 24, 2011

Posted by David Card in Media.

Yikes, the Oscars are this weekend and I haven’t posted my usual “best of” yet. Here are my faves of 2010:

  • The Social Network. High craft. Will launch a thousand start-ups.
  • Toy Story 3. Huge heart. Up there with Pixar’s best.

I gave each of these 3.5 stars out of 5 on Flixster. Last year, I handed out five 3.5 star ratings and in 2008 one 4-star (The Dark Knight) and two 3.5’s. I reserve five stars for absolute classics like Casablanca, Duck Soup, The Big Sleep, and Chinatown.

Best of the rest (each gets a 3-star rating):

  • Winter’s Bone. Ozark neo-realist gothic.
  • I Am Love. Boy, those rich Milanese know how to live. And make sensuous, operatically over-the-top melodramas.
  • Red Riding Trilogy. Like a great Mystery series touched with evil: This is the North, where we do what we want.
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Quite possibly better than the book.
  • Kick-Ass. Silly, silly critics, it’s not a satire, it’s po-mo fanboy superheroics taken to their logical conclusion
  • Valhalla Rising. Undoubtedly awesome if one is on drugs: stoner Christian Vikings meet the heathen on the edge of the world.
  • The King’s Speech. Three good leads; takes no risks. Will win many Oscars.
  • Potter 7A. If you love our three heroes, you’ll love this installment; otherwise it may seem long and a little lonely.

I liked How to Train Your Dragon and Unstoppable also, but not quite enough to put ’em in the top 10. The Academy nominators agreed with four of my favorites, one less than last year. Like the newly enlarged Best Picture noms, I like a mix of movies aimed at kids and grown-ups, with a range of budgets and box office performance.

A slightly encouraging sign: some good movies for adults actually made money this year. Toy Story 3, that appeals to both kids and adults, topped the charts.

It’s always fun to look at the year’s box office. Not a lot of movement on the hits vs. long-tail, kids vs. grown-ups, or “Can’t Hollywood Do Anything Creative” fronts. Last year’s total dollar take was roughly flat with 2009, though boosted by 3D ticket prices. There was one $400 million hit in 2010, and roughly five $300 million sellers, with 29 over $100 million. In 2009, Avatar was a $750 million monster, with a single $400 million seller and a few at $300 (32 over $100 million). There were five or six franchises in the top 10 both years, though more animation in 2010.

Oscar, Oscar, Oscar March 8, 2010

Posted by David Card in Media.
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I won the Card Family Oscar Pool, but it was close till the end. My sister got cinematography: I thought Avatar was a cartoon – you can win cinematography for a cartoon? But Hurt Locker pulled it out for me, as Betsy was going with Avatar. I guess you can only be King of the World once.

Actually, I think the new voting system helped Hurt Locker, as I’m assuming anybody that picked Up in the Air for best picture was more likely to pick Hurt Locker than Avatar as their second favorite. But we’ll never know.

I ended up 19 for 24, which is my best ever, and I got all the big five. I missed Foreign Language, as an easier, but less critically acclaimed movie won for the second year in a row. (I didn’t see any of them, but I’m up for A Prophet this week.) And Wallace and Gromit lost, for once. I had the sound categories splitting, but Locker took ’em both.

I was quite surprised that Precious stole adapted screenplay from Up in the Air, esp since that meant Air ended up shut out completely. It was probably my favorite movie of the best picture noms.

I was teary-eyed at the John Hughes tribute, no matter how long it was. Hey, I’m high school class of ’79; I’m allowed. And I do miss Billy Crystal. Or Johnny. I liked it better when the stars were hammered. Speaking of which, where was Jack?

Best of 2009: Movies February 2, 2010

Posted by David Card in Media.
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The Oscar noms are out. Here are my faves of 2009, some of which actually got nominated:

  • Up in the Air. Sweet and sad and funny: snappy patter from great cast.
  • Red Cliff. Big spectacle; LOTR-class battle scenes.
  • It Might Get Loud. Charming doc about guitar heroes; Jimmy Page is still god, er, the devil.
  • Star Trek. Tons of fun even without added nostalgia bonus.
  • Avatar. Justifies 3D and CGI: just let it wash all over you.

I gave all of these 3.5 stars (out of five), but I probably enjoyed Star Trek and the documentary the most. Last year, I gave one 4-star rating (Dark Knight, of course, I concede that I am a nerd), and only two 3.5’s.

To get to a Top Ten, here’s the next five:

  • The Hurt Locker. With a better script you’d have a really taut, heroic-though-still-ambiguous, classic.
  • District 9. Killer premise and technical execution that doesn’t quite deliver on the morality play. Or was that satire?
  • Where the Wild Things Are. Very, very smart re-imagining with convincing kid’s-eye view.
  • Crazy Heart. Riddled with cliches, but, hey, what do you expect: it’s a movie about country music!
  • Inglourious Basterds. Some great scenes, but the whole thing barely hangs together. And it’s not nearly funny enough to justify its indulgences.

You can see that, as usual, I have no problem with genre flicks. You know, what used to be B-movies, before they cost $200 million. Along with District 9, Paranormal Activity (also 3 stars) showed just how much fun you can have making a B-movie on a B- or even C-movie budget.

I like movies for grown-ups, too; they just don’t make all that many of them. Unfortunately, I don’t think on-demand, Hulu, or iTunes is going to help much.

Here’s the list of 2009 box office champs. At least the Top 15 has one chick flick (The Blind Side: a chick flick disguised as sports move – great for dates! 2 stars), and it and three of the franchises have books behind ’em. And if you look close, you’ll see there’s a raunchy comedy mixed in there with all the cartoons.