Trust me. I’m the Doctor.

Ever have a case of the Mondays?  If you live in Los Angeles, there’s an antidote for that.  A good friend of mine, Brian Saa (he’s the guy below who’s not James Corden), organizes a Doctor Who Happy Hour called Gallidays.  It’s a spin on Gallifrey, which is the home world of the titular character.  On the first Monday of every month, District Pub in North Hollywood hosts a screening of an episode with drink specials.

Brian Saa

For those who don’t know, “Doctor Who” is a BBC show that has aired off and on (mostly on) since 1963.  The premise: a Time Lord explores time and space in his TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimension in Space), which happens to look like a police box.  The Doctor embarks on adventures with a companion, always a young woman from Earth.  And he can regenerate…which is how the series has lasted and why so many actors have played the character.

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Both Brian and I came to the show through our mutual friend, Ben.  He’s contributed to the blog on a couple occasions (click here for our discussion of “Guardians of the Galaxy” and here for some of his favorite Mystery Science Theater episodes).  Ben devised a road map for Doctor Who virgins.  It starts with the first season that starred Matt Smith (Series Five*).  Ben programs a few early detours through some of the best episodes, including “Blink” and the two-part “Silence in the Library”/ “Forest of the Dead.”  I’ve been in hot water with some Whovians for not starting with Series One, which featured Christopher Eccleston in his only collection of episodes.  Having gone back to it, though, I question whether I would have made it to Matt Smith’s run as the Doctor.

Brian started Gallidays in June of 2014.  On February 2nd, it reached record participation with 80+ attendees.  Did I mention James Corden was there?  (He’s the star of February’s episode “The Lodger”, “Into the Woods” and the newest host for “The Late Late Show.”)  Brian’s done giveaways as well as photo and costume contests.  He even organized a toy drive benefitting Children’s Hospital LA.

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So if you live in the Los Angeles area and you’re free on March 2nd, c’mon up to District Pub at 5249 Lankershim Boulevard and enjoy a few drinks with “The Bells of Saint John.”

Trust me, I’m the Doctor.

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* The show went on hiatus between 1989 and 2005, and the newest block of seasons are actually called series.

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Lists: Top 10 Films of 2014 (Part 2 of 2)

Welcome back, everyone!  If you didn’t see the first half of my top 10 films of 2014, be sure to click here.  Just a reminder: I don’t distinguish between best and favorite.  This list represents a mixture of the two.  Now, let’s get on with it!

5.) “Birdman”

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With films like “Amores Perros,” “21 Grams,” and “Babel,” Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu is something of a master of misery.  I never thought I would describe one of his films as breezy and entertaining, but…”Birdman” is breezy and entertaining.  He and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki — everything this guy touches is visually golden — devise a series of long takes that are expertly stitched together to give the impression of one continuous shot for the duration of the film.  Their camera weaves in and out of darkly comic fantasies, as Michael Keaton’s Riggan, a has-been movie star, attempts to revitalize his career by doing a play in New York.  Keaton is joined by Edward Norton, Emma Stone and Naomi Watts in the best ensemble of the year.  Norton is particularly strong, playing a talented yet egotistical performer.  He flexes some comedic muscles in one of my favorite acting moments of the year.  He suggests an alteration to one of Riggan’s scenes, and after the two enact the change, Norton gives a shrug as if to say, “Pretty good, huh?”  Yeah, pretty damn good.

4.) “Snowpiercer”

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Director Bong Joon-ho’s films are marked by dynamic tonal shifts.  “Snowpiercer” is about the remnants of the world’s population on a train that circles the globe.  The planet has become inhospitable after an attempt to curb global warming goes wrong.  The train is broken up into the haves (at the front) and the have-nots (at the back).  Tilda Swinton embodies the film’s more outrageous fixtures in a whacko performance as Mason, the spokesperson for the creator of the engine.   “Keep your place.  Be a shoe,” she tells Chris Evans’s Curtis as he and his fellow passengers attempt a revolution.  Balancing such comedic elements are some of the most visceral action sequences of the year.  One of the principle tenants of directing action is to use the setting, making the sequence possible only in its particular location.  Here, we get a tense battle that’s complicated by the train speeding through a tunnel.  The haves are equipped with night vision goggles while the have-nots are not.  In another great sequence, two characters, cars apart, fire at each across an open expanse as the train rounds a wide turn in the track.  Some might find Joon-ho’s work mood swing-y, but I think his mixture of tones is exhilarating.

3.) “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

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Wes Anderson’s films have been described as pocket watches, and the comparison is apt. Every piece of art direction, every camera move, every performance flourish plays an integral role in the experience.  Well, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is a pocket watch wrapped up in a series of Russian dolls.  Beginning with a girl at the gravesite of an author, transitioning to the author relaying a story about going to the titular hotel, jumping back to the same author talking to Zero, the hotel’s owner, and finally arriving in 1932 where we meet young Zero and the concierge, Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes).  Fiennes is an actor I usually associate with drama…heavy drama.  “Schindler’s List” anyone?  But here he shows his comedic chops.  Gustave H. is a fun contradiction, refined and crass in equal measure.  With this and “Moonrise Kingdom,” Anderson is on a hot streak.  “Grand Budapest” plastered a huge smile on my face, it’s so inventive and fully realized.  The film isn’t all fun and games; as with any of Anderson’s work, there’s a twinge of melancholy.  It can be sad to look back…and then look back…and look back some more.

2.) “The Lego Movie”

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Dear Michael Bay,

Have you seen “The Lego Movie?”  Well you should, because it’s great!  I know, I’m as surprised as you are.  It’s based on tiny plastic bricks for goodness sake!  But it proves that a good film can come from anywhere.  This one’s from Phil Lord and Chris Miller.  (Do you know them? And do you think you could get me a job on their next film?)  Let me tell you what the movie’s about.  A construction worker named Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt) learns that he might be The Special, a hero prophesized to defeat the evil Lord Business (Will Ferrell).  There wasn’t a funnier movie in 2014, but a lot of the comedy comes from names you might not expect, like Liam Neeson as Good Cop/Bad Cop and Morgan Freeman as Vitruvius.  (He’s kind of the Obi-Wan to Emmet’s Luke Skywalker.)  It’s great to see a children’s film — did I mention it’s based on a toy? – that’s fun and engaging and even has something to say about consumer culture and individuality.

Your pal,

Gar

P.S. “The Lego Movie” ALSO has lots of explosions! I know how much you like those.

1.) “Boyhood”

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I know, I know, it’s a boring choice for #1.  But what can I say?  Sometimes there’s a good reason a particular film is mentioned over and over again at the end of the year.  Everyone knows the story behind the production of “Boyhood” — Richard Linklater filmed the movie off and on for 12 years with the same core group of performers.  We follow six-year-old Mason (Ellar Coltrane) as he and his older sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) bounce between parents (Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette), fall into and out of love, and ultimately leave home.  Some have criticized “Boyhood” for being nothing more than a gimmick.  “No one would be talking about this movie if they cast actors of different ages!”  To that, I say the method of filming is inseparable from the film itself.  “Boyhood” is about the fleetingness of time.  Different scenes are going to resonate differently with different people.  For me, the moment that hit hardest was actually a two-part sequence.  It begins with Mason and his girlfriend, Sheena, sharing some late night food at a diner.  They talk about their hopes and fears, and it’s a wonderfully harmonious scene.  They seem right for each other.  Cut to a year later — no title cards in this film, which creates some striking transitions — and Mason and Sheena have had a bitter break up.  No screaming, no shouting.  We don’t even see the break-up on screen.  The film largely eschews those standard coming-of-age scenes that involve a lot of fireworks.  Instead, the emotional impact comes from the gradual culmination of smaller moments, like the sun imperceptibly creeping across the sky…before it sets.

Thanks for reading!  Here’s the complete list:

  1. “Boyhood”
  2. “The Lego Movie”
  3. “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
  4. “Snowpiercer”
  5. “Birdman”
  6. “Ida”
  7. “Gone Girl”
  8. “Godzilla”
  9. “Selma”
  10. “Nightcrawler”

And some honorable mentions: “The Babadook,” “Blue Ruin,” “Calvary,” “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Two Days, One Night”

So, do you agree or disagree with my list?  What were some of your favorite films of 2014?  Comment below.

Lists: Top 10 Films of 2014 (Part 1 of 2)

Okay, I’ve held off long enough (read: finally caught up with some films I needed to see).  Before I get to my top 10 of 2014, a few thoughts…I saw more than 40 movies, and it was a pretty solid year overall.  Not extraordinary, though the big summer releases resonated in a way that they haven’t for a while.  For the purposes of year-end lists, I generally don’t distinguish between best and favorite.  This top 10 really represents a mixture of the two.  Okay, here’s my #6-10…

10.) “Nightcrawler”

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One of the keys to unlocking “Nightcrawler” is James Newton Howard’s music.  The film is about an amateur videographer, Louis Bloom, prowling city streets to find footage — home invasions, auto accidents — that he can sell to the local news.  While it has the trappings of a character study and a thriller, Dan Gilroy’s film is a rag-to-riches story.  Rather than offer a traditional moody score, Howard’s music has a hopeful quality.  It pines for our character’s success, as though it’s the music he might hear inside his head.  That his actions are morally murky at best and downright psychotic at worst is, well, beside the point.  Jake Gyllenhaal plays the wannabe newsman, and it’s easily the best performance of his career.  He talks with reporters and supervisors as though human interaction was something he learned from a book or website.  With each encounter, I grew more and more anxious, waiting for Louis’s psychosis to finally boil over.  Surely someone is going to get this guy help…or have him arrested.  Right!?  In an insidious bit of commentary on our media, help never comes.  “If it bleeds, it leads.”

9.) “Selma”

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I’m always a little resistant to award season biopics.  They’re often more “history lesson” than “film.”  Not the case with Ava DuVernay’s “Selma,” which is about the voting right marches of 1965.  I love the opening, when Martin Luther King Jr. (played wonderfully by David Oyelowo) is rehearsing a speech.  “It’s not right,” he sighs.  We assume he’s talking about the language, but it’s nothing so lofty.  He just doesn’t like his tie.  There’s flesh and blood in this monument.  A horrific and racially motivated act follows.  The film plays like a thriller, keeping the pressure on and never letting us forget what’s at stake.  And it moves like gangbusters, swiftly covering a lot of characters and events.  I loved the backdoor dealings.  As much as this movie’s about a man, it’s also about politicking and enacting change.  Some have criticized “Selma” for its depiction of President Lyndon B. Johnson, who wasn’t a roadblock to the civil rights movement as dramatized in the film.  While I can appreciate those complaints, it frankly doesn’t bother me.  This isn’t a documentary, it’s not bound to factual constraints.  Rather, it’s a stirring account of fighting systematic oppression.

8.) “Godzilla”

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A couple of questionable plot turns and a wooden performance from Aaron Taylor-Johnson aren’t enough to kill this gargantuan summer blockbuster.  Not by a long shot.  Director Gareth Edwards delivers spectacle of the highest order.  Sure, a number of mega-budget productions attempt the same thing, but few remember that there’s nothing less spectacular than non-stop spectacle.  Edwards is judicious in dolling out his setpieces, offering a wink and a nudge (see: a wry cutaway from a brawl in Hawaii) while making us wait for the hugely satisfying final showdown.  Another word for spectacle, at least as far as “Godzilla” is concerned, is scale.  Duh, it’s a movie about the grandaddy of giant monsters!  Everything about this film is intended to give us that sense of awe — from the structure to the evocative sound design to the camerawork that keeps us on the ground level.  Despite our best (and not-so-best) efforts, all we can do is stare up and appreciate the titans overhead.  “History shows again and again how nature points out the folly of man.”

For more of my thoughts on “Godzilla,” click here.

7.) “Gone Girl”

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Gloomy serial killer movies like “Seven” and “Zodiac” make it easy to forget what a lacerating sense of humor director David Fincher has.  But “Gone Girl” puts it on full bloody display.  The film, written by Gillian Flynn and based on her novel, is about a man, Nick (Ben Affleck) under investigation when his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike) goes missing.  Much of the humor is derived from the media circus that surrounds her disappearance.  During a painfully funny press conference, Nick makes a brief statement that doesn’t sound particularly heartfelt.  He’ll later point out that that doesn’t make him a murderer, though it might as well in the court of public opinion.  A great ballet of looks between Nick and his sister (Carrie Coon) ensues as Amy’s parents make long, prepared statements.  Top to bottom, the performances here are excellent.  So many of the casting decisions seemed odd on paper — Tyler Perry as a New York lawyer, Neil Patrick Harris as, well, a creeper — but they pay off big time!  And of course there’s Rosamund Pike, bringing so many shades to Amy.

For more of my thoughts on “Gone Girl,” click here.

6.) “Ida”

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In Paweł Pawlikowski’s “Ida,” a young nun (Agata Trzebuchowska) visits her worldly aunt (Agata Kulesza) before taking her vows.  The aunt reveals that the nun’s parents were Jewish, and both were killed during World War II.  After finding their resting place, the aunt urges her niece to experience more of life before committing to the church.  In one of my favorite images of the year, the nun, slightly intoxicated, twirls within a curtain.  Sunlight streams through the window and illuminates the fabric producing a warm cocoon.  It’s such a wonderfully evocative depiction of a young woman coming of age.  This film is filled with striking compositions.  Łukasz Żal and Ryszard Lenczewski’s black and white cinematography emphasizes institutions, often placing characters in the lower part of the frame so that these structures — the church, for example — tower over them.  Trzebuchowska and Kulesza are terrific, the latter saying anything that pops into her head and the former speaking hardly at all.

Stay tuned next week for my #1-5 picks!  What were some of your favorites of 2014?  Comment below.

Biggest Surprises and Discoveries of 2014

Last week’s post was a bit of a downer, so how ‘bout a positive spin on 2014? Here are some surprises and discoveries I had at the movies last year…

Mica Levi’s score for “Under the Skin”

It might be the most terrifying movie music since Kubrick borrowed the work of György Ligeti for “The Shining.”  The film’s about an alien entity (Scarlett Johansson) with nefarious intent.  Non-traditional scores are popular right now, and Levi’s atonal work fits the bill.  It would be a disservice to put her music into words, but, appropriately, there are stretches that sound like an insect barreling down a highway.  It’s difficult to imagine Jonathan Glazer’s nightmarish landscape sounding any other way.

Carrie Coon in “Gone Girl”

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Prior to David Fincher’s “Gone Girl,” I had never seen Carrie Coon on screen.  While certainly under duress — her brother (Ben Affleck) is being investigated for the disappearance of his wife — Coon might be the first “normal” person to inhabit a Fincher film.  His work is so often populated by misanthropes and nihilists, it’s rare to see someone so…personable.  And that’s not a backhanded compliment.  In a book-length interview for Cameron Crowe, Billy Wilder explains that one of the most difficult things for an actor to do is captivate while “being everyday.”

Jake Gyllenhaal in “Nightcrawler”

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Jake Gyllenhaal is a fine actor, but I’ve always been able to see the gears turning.  He often falls back on ticks and other actorly crutches to make a performance feel “real.”  In many ways, he’s using those tricks in “Nightcrawler,” but they’ve never been more shocking or unsettling.  He plays an amateur videographer who prowls Los Angeles at night, looking for auto accidents or home invasions that he can record and sell to local news stations.  Like an alien himself — speaking of “Under the Skin” — Gyllenhaal’s interactions feel rehearsed and calculated, as though he learned how to relate to others from a book or website.  It’s a startling performance, one that left me appreciating the actor like I haven’t before.

“The Lego Movie”

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I don’t think I was more cynical about any project in 2014 than “The Lego Movie.”  It was released in the first quarter of the year — typically a dumping ground for studios — and it was based on a toy.  But this film by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller reminded me that a good movie can come from anywhere.  Thematically deep and infectiously entertaining, it’s saturated with jokes, gags and pratfalls…and virtually all of them land.  And the voice cast is superb — it even includes some actors, Morgan Freeman and Liam Neeson, who aren’t normally associated with comedy.

What were some of your biggest surprises and discoveries of 2014?  Comment below!

Most Disappointing Films of 2014

Happy New Year, everyone!  I hate to start 2015 with a negative post, but since I recently wrote about my most anticipated films of the year, I thought I would share a few 2014 titles that didn’t live up to my expectations.  (I’ve excluded Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar,” since I already wrote about my disappointment with that film.)

“The Rover”

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This one may or may not have been on your radar.  It’s the second feature from David Michod.  His first, “Animal Kingdom,” was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress (Jacki Weaver), and it was one of my favorite films of 2010.  It’s a masterclass in the slow burn.  “The Rover”…not so much.  It’s hard to imagine a film with so many graphic headshots could be so dull.  Set in a post-apocalyptic world, Guy Pearce plays Eric, a man bent on retrieving his car from a trio of thieves.  In an effort to find the three baddies, he kidnaps one of their brothers, Rey (Robert Pattinson).  There’s clear conflict, one man holding another against his will.  There’s a certain level of intrigue — we don’t know why, at least not right away, but Eric is fixated on getting this particular car back and there’ll be hell to pay if he doesn’t.  Yet it feels so tedious.  It’s the type of film that’s filled with silences and close-ups of weathered faces, which might speak volumes if we had any sense of what was driving these characters.  Instead, we’re subjected to one grisly encounter after another without any real sense of forward movement or stakes.  It just feels as though we’re perpetually circling the drain.  I really liked the final reveal, when the reason for Eric’s dogged determination becomes clear, but it comes way too late.  Instead of bringing the water to a boil, Michod leaves us with limp noodles.

“Begin Again”

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Here’s another follow-up to a promising debut: John Carney’s 2007 musical, “Once,” was the little indie that could, earning an Academy Award for Best Original Song.  Based on the strength of his first film, I was really looking forward to Carney’s next, “Begin Again.”  Positive buzz out of the Toronto Film Festival did nothing to diminish my excitement.  But sadly, this film is the antiseptic cousin to “Once.”  Gretta (Keira Knightley) is a singer-songwriter who recently left her cheating rockstar boyfriend.  Dan (Mark Ruffalo) is a music executive separated from his wife and struggling to adapt to the changing industry.  Like “Once,” both are artists aspiring to be more, informed by their relationship baggage.  The film is frontloaded with drama…tired and stock drama, but drama none-the-less, but the second half is marked by an almost complete lack of it.  Once the two commit to an artistic partnership and decide to record their album in locations throughout New York City, everything is sunshine and roses.  For example, Dan visits one of his old clients, a superstar now.  He pitches his idea, and tells the client that he needs drummers.  “I’ll find drummers for ya.”  But Dan can’t afford to pay them.  “Shoot, I’ll pay for them out of my own pocket.”  This scene takes all of 30 seconds.  “Once” had genuine struggle and melancholy, which made the ending so gratifying.  I really liked the music in “Begin Again,” but it forgets that you need darkness to appreciate the light.  The film feels like 100 minutes of characters playing in a nice, safe sandbox.

“Inherent Vice”

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During an interview for “Insomnia,” a film about a detective suffering from sleep deprivation, which might just be the least of his problems, director Christopher Nolan talked about the importance of communicating sleepiness without making the audience tired.  Now, I think Paul Thomas Anderson, the writer and director of “Inherent Vice,” is one of the most talented filmmakers working today.  Much too talented to make a meandering and directionless film just because it’s about a meandering and directionless character…but that’s what we got.  Joaquin Phoenix plays Doc, a Private Eye searching for his ex-girlfriend’s boyfriend.  It would take way too much real estate to go into the rest of the plot, though that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  From “The Big Sleep” to “The Big Lebowski,” I’ve enjoyed a number of gumshoe detective movies with convoluted plots that I could scarcely recount.  The performances here are all very strong, particularly Phoenix, Katherin Waterston as his ex, Josh Brolin as a policeman with a twinkle in his eyes that “says civil rights violation,” and Martin Short (!) as a dentist, but at two-and-a-half hours, this film is such a slog.  It’s intermittently funny, but most of the humor is pretty sophomoric. In an early scene, Brolin’s “Bigfoot” Bjornsen slowly eats a banana on a stick.  It looks like this macho officer of the law is performing felatio!  Get it?  Get it?!  It’s not particularly funny the first time, and then we return to the joke, not once, but twice.  I’ve seen a number of people defend the film, “Just go for the ride,” but does the ride need to be so damn long and aimless?

What were your most disappointing films of 2014? Comment below!

Lists: Top 10 Most Anticipated Films of 2015 (Part 2 of 2)

If you missed the first half of my list, be sure to check it out. Now, my five most anticipated films of 2015!

5.) “Inside Out”

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Release Date: June 19th

The last few years have been a bumpy road for Pixar.  We got “Cars 2” and “Monsters University,” which both felt like cash grabs.  But “Inside Out” will be Pete Docter’s first time in the director’s chair since “Up,” and I’m holding out for the studio’s return to form.  The film has an intriguing premise, centered around small creatures who live in our bodies, each representing and governing a particular emotion.  It’s an original production — only the second out of Pixar’s last four films — by screenwriter Michael Arndt, who previously wrote “Toy Story 3.”  I’m hopeful that he and Docter will bring the balance of humor and pathos that made “Up” and the third Toy Story so remarkable.

4.) “Crimson Peak”

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Release Date: October 16th

I’ve written before about what a valuable and distinctive voice Guillermo del Toro is in pop cinema. After delivering big-budget science fiction films like “Pacific Rim” and “Hellboy II,” del Toro returns to the genre where he cut his teeth as a director. “Crimson Peak” is a horror film with a bang up cast, including Mia Wasikowska and Tom Hiddleston (as husband and wife) as well as Jessica Chastain. It was reported out of Comic Con 2014 that del Toro’s gothic story called for a particularly extravagant chandelier, but the studio wouldn’t approve the expense…so naturally he bought one out of pocket. Del Toro’s passion and willingness to put his skin in the game is one of the things I find most endearing about him. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for his latest.

3.) “Spectre”

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Release Date: November 6th

Even after the excellent “Casino Royale,” Sam Mendes took the Bond franchise to a whole new level with “Skyfall.” He returns to the director’s chair for 2015’s “Spectre,” and Daniel Craig is back as 007. Having established Moneypenny and the new M (played by Naomie Harris and Ralph Fiennes respectively) in the last outing, this new entry reboots another familiar Bond element: the terrorist organization known as SPECTRE. It’s still unclear who’s playing the juicy part of Blofeld, the organization’s leader, but surely it’ll be newcomer Christoph Waltz or Andrew Scott. Either would be a fantastic choice! Audiences are probably familiar with Waltz’s Oscar winning turn in Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds.” Scott is a bit more of an unknown, though if you’ve seen BBC’s “Sherlock,” you know he can play The Evil Mastermind like nobody’s business!

2.) “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

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Release Date: December 18th

Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!

I’ll never not be a Star Wars fan, but after the utter disappointment of the prequels, it was hard not to approach this project with a bit of skepticism. Then they announced J.J. Abrams as the director, a very solid if unsurprising choice. Cast announcements were made: John Boyega, Adam Driver, Max von Sydow, Lupita Nyong’o, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, and…the cast from the original trilogy! And then they released that teaser — filled with wonderful tactile details and scratching all the right nostalgic itches while still leaving a lot of mystery. Instead of doubts, now I have questions: What’s happened in the years since the events of “Return of the Jedi?” How will the original cast be integrated into this new trilogy? What causes the Force to awaken?

God damn it, I’m excited!

1.) “The Hateful Eight”

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Release Date: Fall 2015

What’s the only thing that could topple Star Wars? Why Quentin Tarantino, of course! A force in his own right, his films are like a full course meal. You get your comedy, drama, action, indelible characters, great music selections, and incredible dialog. You also get fantastic actors, and “The Hateful Eight” is full of them: Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Dern, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Kurt Russell and many more. Set just after the Civil War, it’s about a group of bounty hunters that get entangled in a dangerous plot…but are there any other kind in the world of Tarantino? Of all his films, “Death Proof” is the only one I could take or leave, and the rest I adore. Simply put, he excites me more than any other filmmaker working today.

Here’s the complete list:

1.) “The Hateful Eight”
2.) “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”
3.) “Spectre”
4.) “Crimson Peak”
5.) “Inside Out”
6.) “That’s What I’m Talking About”
7.) “Avengers: Age of Ultron”
8.) Steven Spielberg’s Untitled Cold War Thriller
9.) “Silence”
10.) “Tomorrowland”

And here are some honorable mentions:

“Macbeth” — Screen adaptations of Shakespeare tend to be hit or miss, but this one stars Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard. Yes please!

“The Sea of Trees” — Matthew McConaughey and Ken Watanabe star as two men lost in a forest near Mt. Fuji. Gus Van Sant directs.

“Midnight Special” — The latest from Jeff Nichols, the director of “Take Shelter” and “Mud.” Stars Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver and Michael Shannon.

Thanks for reading! What films are you looking forward to in 2015?

Lists: Top 10 Most Anticipated Films of 2015 (Part 1 of 2)

I’m a few prestige titles short of an informed perspective on this past year in cinema, so I thought I’d jump ahead!  Here are the titles I’m most looking forward to in 2015…

10.) “Tomorrowland”

Disney's TOMORROWLAND..Casey (Britt Robertson) ..Ph: Film Frame..?Disney 2015

Release Date: May 22nd

What governs my interest in a project are the people involved.  A two-minute trailer can make anything look good, and a plot synopsis can’t encapsulate the creative decisions that bring a story to the screen.  With that in mind, my #10 is a mixed bag.  “Tomorrowland” is an original, big-budget science fiction film directed by Brad Bird.  From “The Iron Giant” to “The Incredibles” to “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocal,” this guy is one of the best pop filmmakers working today.  Sadly, screenwriter Damon Lindelof is not.  Influenced by frequent collaborator, JJ Abrams, Lindelof is a fan of the mystery box.  His “boxes,” while interestingly packaged, are often empty.  The disappointment of “Prometheus” and the final season of “Lost” still stings.  Given Bird’s track record and the intriguing teaser — No, I don’t ignore advertising altogether — I’m holding out for a good time at the movies!

9.) “Silence”

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Release Date:  Fall

Exhibit B in the case for directors generating excitement.  “Silence” has been a long-time passion project for Martin Scorsese.  It’s about two Jesuit priests persecuted in 17th century Japan.  Conceptually, I’m not particularly interested.  It sounds like a standard dreary prestige film, but Scorsese seals the deal.  Andrew Garfield and Liam Neeson are attached, and though I would prefer the original pairing of Daniel Day-Lewis and Benicio del Toro, Scorsese continues to adapt and produce great work.  I was a big fan of his last two movies, “Hugo, which was uncharacteristically family friendly, and “The Wolf of Wall Street” (definitely not for children).  I’m excited for him to finally bring his vision of this story to the screen.

8.) Untitled Cold War Thriller

Steven-Spielberg

Release Date:  October 16th

Here’s another great collection of talent!  This untitled Cold War thriller is directed by Steven Spielberg, stars Tom Hanks and is written by Joel and Ethan Coen.  Based on a true story, it’s about an attorney sent to negotiate the release of an American pilot captured by the Soviet Union.  I’m especially intrigued to see what comes of the collaboration between Spielberg and the Coens.  The former wears his heart on his sleeve, while the latter tend to be cold and aloof.  It’ll be interesting to see how that shakes out.  Hanks’s involvement with Spielberg is always a plus – well almost always…”The Terminal” doesn’t do anything for me.  But let’s be honest, when Spielberg is in thriller mode, hold onto your butts!

7.) “Avengers: Age of Ultron”

Ultron

Release Date: May 1st

I’m getting a little weary of super hero movies, especially Marvel’s.  Still, there’s no denying the event-ness that surrounds “Avengers: Age of Ultron.”  As a fan of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” I was excited by Joss Whedon’s involvement with the first Avengers movie, and he didn’t let me down.  As far as the sequel, if the trailer is any indication, he’s taking the “Empire Strikes Back” approach.  This will be the darker and moodier chapter, which is fine by me.  Dark Whedon is my favorite Whedon.  (Buffy’s “The Body,” anyone?)  I’m confident he’ll be able to take these characters in new directions and bring a more personal dimension to their struggle.  Let’s face it, you can only endanger the world so often before that stops being exciting.  Maybe the film’s sentient robot antagonist, Ultron, will bring the Marvel-verse what it sorely needs: a strong villain.

6.) “That’s What I’m Talking About”

thats-what-im-talking-about

Release Date: TBD

With 2013’s “Before Midnight” and this year’s “Boyhood,” writer-director Richard Linklater is on a god damn hot streak.  (Spoiler alert:  “Boyhood” is a serious contender for my film of the year.)  “That’s What I’m Talking About” promises to be a spiritual sequel to Linklater’s “Dazed and Confused.”  Set in the 1980’s, it follows several college baseball players.  I’m a sucker for a good coming-of-age story.  Though they might be a dime a dozen, I really feel that few get them quite like Linklater.  Whether he’s working with a limited cast (“Before Sunrise”) or a large ensemble (“Dazed and Confused”), he’s so respectful of his characters. They come across as real flesh and blood human beings…full of happiness and sadness, drama and comedy.

Stay tuned next week for my top five most anticipated movies of 2015!