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After typing this list, I would like to mention a few that also deserve to be here but don't fit the 10:
Moneyball Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol Midnight in Paris The Hangover: Part 2 (JUST KIDDING!!!)
12 Years a Slave (2013)
12 Years a Slave - The Schindler's List of Slavery
It has been 16 hours since the end credits of 12 Years a Slave started scrolling, and I have yet to recuperate from this miraculous, horrifying, brutal film. I am not ashamed to admit that I cried several times throughout this movie, and every time I think about Solomon's story I start to sniffle a little bit. This film is a masterpiece. There's no other word to describe it. Simply a masterpiece. Not only is it the best film of the year, but it's arguably one of the best films ever made. Right up there with Schindler's LIst. The way this story is told, the brutality of it all, is mortifying. And yet, despite all the horror that is portrayed on the screen, I can call this film beautiful. It was so well shot, so well edited, so well acted, so well directed...it was simply, in a word, flawless. As an avid film-goer, I often watch films like this analytically and try to tear them apart and find every flaw I can. But I couldn't find one single flaw with this film. Some may argue that some shots lasted too long, but no. These shots were just meant to make you feel like an accomplice. For example, there is an excruciatingly long scene (I say excruciatingly not because it's bad, but because it's hard to watch), where Solomon is hung from a tree with his toes barely touching the ground, and if his feet leave the ground, you know he will choke and die. We see his struggle from every perspective. Close up, wide, medium, POV, OTS, everything. And every time, in the background, we see people meandering by, as if this were just a normal day on the plantation. People would argue that this scene could have been cut, but I say no. It had to be that long, because it makes you as a modern viewer want to jump up and help him, even though you know you can't do anything. That's what being on a plantation felt like. You wanted to help him, but you knew that wouldn't do anything. 12 Years a Slave is not for the faint of heart. It's a horrifying testament to what America once was, and how man used to treat fellow man. I would advise you to bring a tissue box and prepare to weep several times. It's easily the best film of the year and most definitely the Schindler's List of our generation.
Gravity: Cuaron has topped himself
There are very few directors with a reputation like that of Alfonso Cuaron. He is one of those directors who doesn't really put out content very often, like maybe once every two or three years, but when he does make a film, it's just...wow. And yet, with Gravity, Cuaron has SOMEHOW managed to top himself.
To those who are well-versed on Cuaron's films and his style, you know that Children of Men is his other big science-fiction film (besides Harry Potter, with which Cuaron was just jumping in to fill shoes previously occupied by Chris Columbus, so he couldn't really use his traditional long- shot style too frequently). With Children of Men, he was able to use his style very frequently, establishing himself as a director who knows how to use the camera and how to utilize mise en scene to its fullest extent.
Let's get back to Gravity though. It has been a solid 5 hours since I stepped out of that theatre, literally screaming at the people in front of me who were saying "I mean I didn't really like it," and things of that nature, and I am still in a state of shock. Gravity takes you out of your seat, and puts you into space with Ryan Stone and Matt Kowalski, two astronauts, a newbie and a retiring veteran, who stare death in the face as they tumble away from their destroyed shuttle into the unknown. Their struggle for survival becomes your struggle to breathe as they overcome an obstacle only to find another and another and another. You may ask yourself, "Where can the story possibly go from here?" Believe me, I asked myself that question as well. You will never want to slap yourself in the face more than the moment you realize how much more can and does happen.
Never before has a movie been so visually and emotionally encompassing. From that opening 17 minute shot to the final cut to black, you won't know what to do with yourself besides gasp for oxygen and hold on for dear life (as they do). And I've been limiting my film nerdiness in this review as much as possible but THAT OPENING 17 MINUTE SHOT IS THE MOST BEAUTIFUL THING I HAVE EVER SEEN WITH MY OWN TWO EYES I CAN'T EVEN DEAL WITH THE GLORY AND THE SOUND DESIGN AND THE VISUAL EFFECTS AND THE CINEMATOGRAPHY AND JUST EVERYTHING ABOUT IT. My freak out for this review. it should be the last.
Go see Gravity. Advisable to see it in IMAX 3D; it is well worth the extra few dollars. Previously my favorite science fiction film was Cuaron's Children of Men. Now, it is Gravity.
The Hangover Part II (2011)
This doesn't need to be said, but I'll say it anyway.
The Hangover: Part II: unlike all of the movies which this title parodies, the sequel is completely unoriginal. Let me start over...do you remember how the first one was Doug's wedding and they had a bachelor party in Vegas and lost Doug because they all had a hangover (get it? Hangover?)? Well, let's use the exact same sentence to describe the sequel...the second one was Stu's wedding and they had a bachelor party in Bangkok and lost Teddy because they had a hangover again. What's the third one going to be: Phil's wedding and they have a bachelor party in Amsterdam and lose Alan? Please, no. Let's see some originality.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
Entertaining, but features James Cameron's traditional foul-ups
You probably already know the plot of this movie, so I'll get right into my review. As a standard sci-fi movie (not as a sequel), this is fine. It is entertaining, it has a decent plot, it has good effects, and it has some great action set pieces. However, there are several problems I have with this movie, and most of them tie back to the director, James Cameron. First of all, the editing techniques that he is so famous for really irritate me. He often shows 5 or 6 different angles of the same explosion over and over and over again. Why do we need to continue to see this explosion 5 times. Just move on with it. Additionally, this film is the epitome of over-used slow-motion. Every action scene has it, and slo-mo is one thing that, unless it has a metaphorical purpose (like in Inception), is really unnecessary and annoying. I understand that these techniques are used to make the film look cooler, but it really doesn't in my opinion. It just makes it worse and more irritating to watch.
I truthfully believe that James Cameron is an excellent visceral director. He knows how to establish a visual and milk it until the last drop of awesomeness. However, being good with visuals doesn't mean that you are good at anything else. That is the second problem I have with this movie. Most things involved with a movie are for the visceral aspect, but there are two things that aren't: writing and acting. The writing of this movie wasn't bad. It could've been better (and certainly more original, which I'll get to later). But the acting is another story. Linda Hamilton was okay as the crazy action lady. Arnold Schwarzenegger didn't really have to act. He had to be a robot, which was exactly what he was. The kid, however, was horrible. This was his first movie, and he needed direction, which he could not get from Cameron. In fact, I disliked the kid so much that whenever he cried, especially in the end, I didn't care at all. In fact, I actually welcomed Schwarzenegger's death. Cameron, as I said, is a great visceral director, but he cannot direct an actor (or actress).
Finally, this film was very, very, very similar to the original. Almost unoriginal, in a way. It didn't really expand on the first one. The Schwarzenegger character is sent back to protect them, and Robert Patrick's T-1000 is sent to kill them, just like in the first (except in the first, Schwarzenegger was sent to kill them). It was also very predictable. As soon as the Liquid Nitrogen truck appeared, I called the ending. Then, when I saw that there were still 20 minutes left, I saw the rest of the movie coming.
The only reason I gave this movie a 6 is because it was fun. The action sequences were very well directed, but everything else was either meh or just bad, and most of the blame lies with the director.
Schindler's List (1993)
Schindler's List: A flawless masterpiece of Spielbergian proportions
Schindler's List is based on the true story of Oskar Schindler, an affluent German businessman who made his fortune in the pots and pans industry during World War II. After recognizing the atrocities committed by his fellow Germans towards the Jews, he hires as many Jewish day laborers as possible, paying off officer after officer, in order to ensure their safety and freedom.
I am a guy who likes to watch movies more than once: first to watch and enjoy, and the second to analyze and pinpoint the meaning of everything the director does. However, this film leaves such an impact and is so traumatic and horrifying that I could only watch it once. From the little German girl's foreshadowing words, "Goodbye, Jews!" to the death of the girl in the red dress, this movie depicts the abhorrent horrors of the Holocaust, like innocent men, women and children being sent off to their inevitable death in cattle carts.
The liquidation of the ghetto was, in my opinion, the most petrifying and tear-jerking sequence ever attempted. Everything you think you know about common decency and humanity is just thrown away: you are sucked into this world where everyone is a potential threat, and where you can die at any given second for doing some petty, meaningless little thing, like stepping out of line.
Steven Spielberg is honestly the bravest man in the history of filmmaking. He took a tragic era in world history and displayed it for everyone to see. People know the facts: 6 million Jews were killed over the course of 6 years, the gas chambers, the incinerators, the concentration camps, etc. What people don't (or should I say didn't) know are the stories. Who was friends with whom? Where did they live? What was their number in the concentration camp? Who lived, and who died? That is what Spielberg reveals to us. He shows us the horrors and hardships suffered by a specific group of people over the course of 5 or 6 years.
Then, Oskar Schindler enters the picture. He, at first, appears to be a greedy man whose only concern is money. However, then the horror show begins, and people begin to die at his feet. At first, he only saves the Jews because they are cheap labor. Then, he realizes that it is his calling to save them, not for money, but for humanity. He spends his entire fortune saving Jews, and in the end, he still thinks that he could have done more. "This car. Why did I keep this car? ten more people." In one of the best acted scenes in the history of film, Oskar Schindler, a strong, emotionless man, breaks down into tears when he sees what more he could have done. Although he is told over and over that he did enough, he keeps on thinking that he could have done more. In the end, it isn't about who he didn't save. it's about who he saved, and statistically speaking, there are more descendants of Schindler's Jews (as they are called) than Jews living in Poland. That just shows the impact that Oskar Schindler had on the Jewish population. As my Hebrew school teacher always said, "Saving one man is like saving an entire world."
Pocahontas with Blue People (aka Avatar): Good, but waaaaaaaaay overrated
Avatar is the story of Jake Sully, a paraplegic ex-Marine who travels to the distant realm of Pandora on a quest to find unobtainium, a valuable new mineral, and study the life forms on this moon. In order to do so, he enters the genetically modified body of the dominant species of Pandora, some really tall, blue thing, in order to investigate more thoroughly. HOwever, when he becomes absorbed into one of the local tribes, he finds himself craving this new life more and more and he discovers that he wants to save these endangered people from his own species. I will not deny that this movie has its high points. The effects were beautiful and the new world was fully engrossing. The new creatures were perfectly designed and their movement was very fluid. The action sequences were very well done, especially the final battle over the Tree of Lost Souls (if that's what its called, I forget). The image of the home tree collapsing was brutal and mortifying. That's it. Everything else, on a scale of awesome to awful, was between okay and bad. The acting was meh. Sam Worthington was alright when he was shouting dramatically, but he wasn't as good at the intimate scenes as he should have been. Zoe Saldana was okay, but nothing special. Her performance was enough to get by, but not enough to push it over the edge. However, I fully acknowledge the difficulty of acting in a full body motion sensor suit, so I give them props for doing as well as they did. Sigourney Weaver was great, but she had such a small role that it diminishes to meh. Everyone else was just support. Acting=meh. The story wasn't necessarily bad in and of itself. t don't really care about the futuristic nature of the story. that's what makes it interesting. What I do care about is that the same exact story has been told about 20 different times in movies. A running joke among my friends and I is that Avatar is essentially Pocahontas with blue people. There is not one single structural difference between the two. Story=bad. The script was not that good. It was really cheesy. You must look in your heart, Jake Sully. Oh, its not like I haven't heard that 3 billion times before. Script=not good Finally, the themes are soooooooooooooooo overused. We must protect nature, save the environment. Its not like I'm against the green movement or anything, its just that those kinds of themes should be saved for movies that aren't serious Oscar contenders (which this shouldn't have been). What I think is that James Cameron is just a publicity genius. He full absorbs people into this new and beautifully designed world with a very elongated, overused story. That way, the first time people see it, they only see the visuals. When they go back the second looking for story, there is nothing there. However, people rarely go back a second time because the movie itself is sooooooooooo long. Overall, this movie is as good as everyone says the first time. You go in, you enjoy the spectacle, and you leave content. And then you watch it a second time. This time, you realize that all of this money was spent on a story that has already been told 20 times over. Seriously, people? We need some originality. Look to Chris Nolan, Steven Spielberg, and Stanley Kubrick. Now those guys are original. Maybe we can shoot for something a little less formulaic. Good, but not as good as everyone says. I give this a 6/10, just because the effects were absolutely unbelievable.
No Country for Old Men (2007)
No Country For Old Men: Despite What Anyone Says, the Academy Got it Right
No Country For Old Men starts out as a traditional Western: beautiful cinematography, funny accents, cowboy hats, Mexican drug cartels, satchels of money, the works. We have our good guy, down-on-his luck sharpshooter Llewelyn Moss who finds the money, and we have our bad guy, raging maniacal psychopath Anton Chigurh who is chasing after him. Now before you go ahead and say, "I know where this is going," you can stop right in your tracks because you don't. You can and never will know where this is going until you see the movie. Now to all those nay-sayers out there, calling this film petty names and making fun of it. While I respect your opinion, you must look beyond the surface of this film into its deeper meanings and implications. No movie is perfect (I personally think this one is, but that's just an opinion), but you are criticizing the length of a shot or a technique one character uses, all of the little things, while important, are no reason to give a movie a one or a two. Looking beyond the surface, one can find many hidden themes to this movie. One is about the nature of violence, an age old theme that dates back to Biblical times. Ed Tom Bell, the local sheriff, opens up the story talking about how the older sheriffs didn't even carry guns. Then, you meet Anton Chigurh, the reason behind Bell's decision to wear one. Chigurh strangles a man with his handcuffs, and kills many others with a silenced SPAS-12. His very presence is intimidating, his actions are unclear and ambiguous, and his face expresses no emotion. He is the perfect villain. Finally, you have Llewelyn Moss, who is, arguably, the main character of our story. He kills exactly like Chigurh: he shoots beings that he believes are inferior to him. However, he doesn't shoot blindly; he takes his time, lines up his shot, processes his thoughts, then shoots at an animal (he misses anyway). The only other time he tries to kill is out of self- defense when Chigurh is attacking him. Chigurh represents the unnecessary violence: killing for pleasure, for sport, and killing beings of equal stature. Moss represents this to a much lesser degree: he never tries to kill humans for sport, but he kills animals for sport. Bell is pure goodness: he doesn't kill anyone on screen. He doesn't even try to. He talks about a death he enticed once, but that was only as a preventative measure against more death. You also have the relationship between the hunter and the hunted. Everyone plays both characters in this film. Chigurh is hunting Moss, and is always hunted by the police. Moss is hunted by Chigurh, the police, and his wife, but, in return, he hunts game and once goes after Chigurh. Bell is hunted by his conscience, but is also hunting Moss and Chigurh. There are so many other intricately laid details that point to many other global messages that there are too many to delve into. If you just want to watch this movie for the sake of watching it, please note: it is very gruesome, and it features one of the best villains in the history of filmmaking. Very few people will appreciate this movie, not because of its beginning, but because of its ending. The ending is very articulately planned to have complete and utter meaning in every camera movement. Focus on the ending, be warned of gruesomeness, and watch Javier Bardem give the performance of a lifetime. Go see No Country For Old Men.
Memento: Christopher Nolan's Masterpiece
What can I say. From one of the most intelligent directors of our time comes one of the most thought-provoking and ambiguous films of all time. A man who has lost the ability to create short-term memories seeks the person who raped and murdered his wife. Armed only with the tattoos on his body (as a way of reminding him who he is and details about the murderer) and a pistol, he stakes out a town with the help of his friend Teddy, searching for the mysterious John or James G. While the plot may sound a bit traditional, the presentation is anything but. The story is essentially told in reverse, in order to imitate the feeling of short-term memory loss. While there are little snippets here and there that are told in forward motion, that is only for the sake of continuity when the character reveals his background. Everything else is told in reverse. For most of the movie, you are lost, like this man, caught in a perpetual state of disbelief and confusion. However, as the forward clips and the reverse clips intersect, the story comes together completely. For a movie that ends with what is technically the middle, it has an unbelievable twist. The dialogue is thought-provoking and clever, the direction is flawless, and Guy Pearce gives, in my opinion, his best performance ever. Go and see Memento
The Departed (2006)
The Departed: My Personal Favorite Movie
To all who have criticisms of this film, take about 50 steps back and understand a few things. First of all, I understand that this is a remake of a great Japanese movie, so obviously certain elements of the plot and the script will be replicated. Second, in Martin Scorsese's infinite genius, he altered other elements of the story to make it seem more original and more unique to his directorial style. Now, we may discuss the movie.
Let me open with this: I am a HUGE Martin Scorsese fan. I have seen most of his movies and I have loved almost every single one. He presents a life so different from the suburbia in which I live, so I am immediately attracted to these new lifestyles and the associated problems. However, most of his movies don't really have plots, per say. They have stories (the movie is about this), but they don't have plots (this happens, then that, then the other thing, then it ends). The Departed is truly Scorsese's first real movie with a plot. Even Scorsese himself called The Departed, "My first film with a plot." This plot is one of the most coherent, intelligent plots of any movie I have ever seen. In order to not spoil any events, I will end my discussion of plot right there.
Let's go to the script. Phenomenal in every sense of the word. Every syllable is meaningful in this story. Even the 250 or so f-bombs have their use. For the dramatic dialogue, it creates a more intense atmosphere. Doesn't someone cursing sound angrier than someone who isn't? However, in the scenes with a (relatively) lighter mood, the curses make the conversation more lively and, at some points, humorous. Here's an example:
Dignam: ...this s***hole's got more leaks than the Iraqi navy. Ellerby: Go f*** yourself. Dignam: I'm tired from f***in' your wife. Ellerby: How's your mother? Dignam: Good, she's tired from f***in' my father.
That is just one example of the many darkly humorous moments that make The Departed more than just a drama, but a blend of various genres.
Let's move on to individual characters. After reading some of the other reviews, there have been claims that Dignam is an unnecessary character. That statement is more untrue than any negative comment I have ever heard about this movie. Dignam fills so many roles in this film that if he were removed, the movie on a whole wouldn't even be half as good. First, he is comic relief, cursing out everything that moves. Wahlberg does an excellent job of filling this role. Second, he plays the foil to Sullivan. Sullivan is the supposed goody-two- shoes with a secret. Dignam is an a**hole, but he has no secrets and is devoutly loyal to the police force. Finally, he essentially creates the blend of good and evil within Sullivan. When we meet Sullivan, we immediately think "bad guy" because of his association with Costello. Then we meet Dignam, and he consistently picks on Sullivan. Now, we can relate to Sullivan, because we've all been in the position where we have been picked on by someone of a "higher rank." Therefore, we see Sullivan as part good, part evil.
The acting is superb. I don't think that there are many movies that top the acting in this film. I would especially like to recognize the performances of Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon. What makes their acting in this movie so incredible is it isn't about what they say, but it's about what they don't. I read a review on this site saying the Matt Damon didn't emote. I would like to respond by saying that he did, but in such a subtle way that you really have to sit down and analyze the film over and over to see it. That's why his performance was so brilliant. However, it was very rare that this occurred. Why? I will answer this question with another question: If your character is a liar, how does a liar emote? How can someone who has been trained his whole life to keep everything inside emote? And as for DiCaprio, he gives, in my opinion, the best performance of his career (as far as I am aware). His character is so deep and complex that the web of lies created around him is impenetrable. It is almost impossible to tell what he is really thinking at any point in the movie. What does he really want? Who is Billy Costigan?
Finally, for those who complain that this film is very boring, I have some disturbing news for you: in order to be a film aficionado, you will have to watch movies MUCH more boring than this (Gone with the wind, Patton, etc). If you find this boring, have fun with everything else in film history.
Overall, The Departed, in my opinion, marks a grand achievement in the career of Martin Scorsese. He has taken his traditional interest and knowledge of the mafia and given it a plot unlike anything I have ever seen. He combines the common themes of his movie with a story from another country to make a truly unique film, no matter what anyone says. The acting is superb, the script is impeccable, and the characters are all very complex beings wrapped in webs of lies so tight that it is impossible to analyze anyone in this film. Go see The Departed (or re-watch it to look for the things I mentioned).
There is truly no other word to describe this masterful work of art. You can't even describe it as "a great film." It transcends that phrase, which can be interpreted very differently by different people, to the phrase, "one of the best movies ever made." Everything from the acting to the music was absolutely perfect. Joe Pesci is the pitch perfect gangster, and Robert DeNiro doesn't even need mentioning as one of the best mafioso characters of all time. Every scene makes you feel, wonder, writhe, squirm, laugh, cry, and dream all at the same time. It shows a side of the mafia never before seen on the big screen: the fun- loving, rich, godly characters that really ruled the streets of New York City. What makes this film different from films like The Godfather is that The Godfather is made to make you understand what the mafia is. I'm not denying the awesomeness of The Godfather, but I'm saying it's darker and more serious. Meanwhile, Goodfellas makes you feel so many different emotions, from abject terror to hilarity. And Goodfellas is much more analytical than The Godfather (in my honest opinion). When Martin Scorsese does something, he does it for an honest reason. Francis Ford Coppola isn't random, but Martin Scorsese, in my opinion, does it better. From the hilarious and touching beginning to the dark and depressing ending, Goodfellas is one of the best mafia movies of all time, and one of the best films of all time in general. Go see Goodfellas. By the way, for those of you that have seen Goodfellas, "You're a funny guy."