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What fun this has been, looking back at all of the amazing movies from 2014!  Click here for part one of my list of the Best Movies of 2014, numbers twenty through sixteen.  Click here for part two, numbers fifteen through eleven.  Click here for part three, numbers ten through six.

And now, at last, it’s time to draw this list to a close with my five favorite films of 2014.  Here we go:


5. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes I dearly love every film in the Planet of the Apes series, even the terrible ones.  (Though the least said about Tim Burton’s disappointing entry, the better.)  But I was bowled over by the greatness of Dawn, the eighth Planet of the Apes film and the second in the rebooted prequel series.  What a rare thing it is to see a sequel with such ingenuity, such creativity, such narrative power.  Director Matt Reaves has come in and crafted an astounding piece of speculative fiction.  Ten years after the events of the last Apes film, a plague has wiped out most of humanity.  Caesar and his apes have crafted for themselves a utopian civilization, deep in the woods of San Francisco.  But when a small group of humans wanders into Caesar’s community, the struggling human community and the developing ape community find themselves on a collision course, and Caesar’s belief that the apes are naturally superior to the flawed humans leads him to the precipice of a disastrous misjudgment.  Yes, this is a film that features talking apes, but Dawn is a rich human drama with Shakespearean levels of emotional complexity and power.  When everything goes to hell in the third act, it is tragic.  Andy Serkis does some of the best work of his career as Caesar, bringing such pathos, such richness of feeling to this ape character.  The mad geniuses at Weta Workshop and all the countless visual effects artists and crafts-people who brought the visual effects of this world to life have outdone themselves, creating one of the most impressive visual effects achievements I have ever seen.  Those apes look so real it is staggering.  Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a spectacular achievement, and I can’t wait to see where this series goes from here.  (Click here for my original review.)


4. Guardians of the Galaxy What was it I said back when writing about Captain America: The First Avenger about Marvel Studios making it look easy?  They took a comic book team fairly obscure even to comic book fans, one that has not been able to ever support its own comic book series for very … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Boyhood

August 21st, 2014

The stunt concept behind Richard Linklater’s film Boyhood would make it worthy of note even if the end result wasn’t all that compelling.  In an audacious, jaw-droopingly cool years-long undertaking, director Richard Linklater and his cast (including Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, and young Ellar Coltrane) shot for a few weeks a year for twelve years (you read that right) to create a film that followed the journey to maturity of a young boy named Mason (Ellar Coltrane).

All the more so, then, am I ready to shout from the rooftops in praise of this film, because what Mr. Linklater and his talented collaborators have created is a film that is staggeringly beautiful, an emotionally rich journey that is unlike any other film I have ever seen.  The film is over two and a half hours long, but I felt it blew by in mere moments, and I would have gladly watched another two and a half hours without complaint.

One might expect a film shot in small segments over the course of twelve years to feel choppy and episodic.  But I was delighted by how smoothly the film works as a whole.  The story-telling and the editing are masterful.  Each sequence flows smoothly into the next, carrying the audience along with the flow of these people’s lives.

Mr. Linklater and his team chose incredibly well in casting young Ellar Coltrane (merely 7  years old when the project began in 2002) as Mason.  Mr. Coltrane is incredible, and I found his performance to be as convincing and open and honest when he was seven as when he was eighteen.  Whenever I praise the work of a child actor I have to reserve half the praise for his/her director.  (Same goes with criticism.  I don’t blame Jake Lloyd for The Phantom Menace, I blame George Lucas.  But I digress.)  So bravo to Mr. Linklater for finding such a remarkable young man, and for the care with which he worked with him over the course of twelve years, in order to draw out such a remarkable performance.  And bravo to Mr. Coltrane himself.  If he never makes another film, this will always stand as a remarkable acting performance.  But I hope very much that this young man will make many, many more films.

Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette are both wonderful as Mason’s parents.  They are as fully-developed, interesting characters as Mason himself, and I appreciated that the film takes the time to flesh out the both of them as much as it does Mason.  I love how neither parent is idealized.  We see both Olivia’s (Patricia Arquette) and Mason Sr.’s (Ethan Hawke) flaws and weaknesses front and center.  But we also see … [continued]

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From the DVD Shelf: Me and Orson Welles (2009)

In Me and Orson Welles, directed by Richard Linklater, high school student Richard Samuels (Zac Efron) somehow finds himself cast in a small role in Orson Welles (Christian McKay)’s 1937 production of Julius Caesar at the Mercury Theatre.  As the brash, brilliant, egocentric Welles struggles to realize his vision for the production, Richard enters a master class in theatre and life as he struggles to hold his own in the production while also finding himself attracted to Mr. Welles’ pretty, driven young assistant Sonja (Claire Danes).

Whenever Me and Orson Welles focuses on Mr. Welles, and his efforts to mount his production called Caesar, the film soars.  Christian McKay is wonderful as Welles.  He commands the screen whenever he is on it, just as the real Orson Welles did.  As Welles, Mr. McKay is dynamic, funny, and outrageous — an oversized personality, bursting at the seams with brilliance and ego.  There’s an element of caricature in the performance, but it never falls over into silly parody.  Mr. McKay shows us the beating, human heart of the man — his failings, and his burning desire to succeed in his endeavors despite all the obstacles in his way.  It’s an incredible performance, and I hope that Mr. McKay goes on to have a long, successful career.

I was fascinated by the film’s glimpses into Welles’ production: the way he turned constraints into creative devices (choosing to set the film in modern day because he didn’t have money for costumes), and I thrilled to the glimpses we were given into the staging of certain scenes and Mr. Welles and his actors’ debates as to how to bring certain moments from the play to life (such as the death or the poet Cinna).  He ensemble of actors in the film who portray Welles’ ensemble at the Mercury Theatre are very strong (James Tupper, Eddie Marsan, Ben Chaplin, Leo Bill, and more) and could each almost be the lead of their own film.

Unfortunately, where the film falls flat is in the story of the main character, Richard, played by Zac Efron.  While I’m certainly not a fan of Mr. Efron’s (I’ve never seen High School Musical or any of his work), I not a hater, either.  I was eager to see what this young actor/musician could do in this serious role.  Sadly, he’s just terrible.  Mr. Efron plays his scenes with an arrogant smirk that caused me to have an immediate, visceral dislike for his character.  Throughout the film, it’s impossible to tell when Richard is being genuine or when he’s just spinning lies to get the girl or to get a job.  (When Richard first meets Orson Welles, he clearly lies through his … [continued]