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The List of Lists

by on Apr.17, 2014, under Other Features

“We’re all going to die some day.”

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The morbid thought above is what motivated me to start using my IMDb app to log every single movie I’d like to see from every year that cinema has existed. This was two years ago, and after hopping over to Letterboxd to house my myriad of “To See” lists, I’ve found myself on the opposite end of an embarrassing mountain of movie-related lists that cover blind spots, annual favorites, film series, and directors.

As of today, I have 3,238 film in my Letterboxd Watchlist. There are plenty of shorts in there, so let’s say that the average film duration in that Watchlist is 90 minutes. That makes 4,857 hours of viewing time, which breaks down to about 203 days. That means if I watched nothing but movies from my Watchlist all weekend long, every weekend, I’d have my list viewed in its entirety by 2020… A completed Watchlist, a broken marriage, a failed career, and probably some sort of heart disorder. So I suppose my realistic expectation is that I’ll never get to watch all these movies before I die… and that’s okay. It’s okay because they’re in a list, and when something is in a list, it’s real, it’s accounted for, and it’s attainable.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve enjoyed wasting mental energy by listing things, especially movies. It’s how my brain works, I suppose. And with the internet and a smart phone, it’s easier than ever to get down my thoughts on digital paper. Having a place where I can easily pull up every movie I’d ever like to see gives me a weird sense of comfort. Knowing that I have documented my opinion on the filmography of a given auteur filmmaker puts me at ease.

With all that said, I present The List of Lists, a comprehensive collection of every single opinion I have about every single movie ever made. If I’ve seen it, it’s ranked by year and in some cases, director or film series. If I haven’t seen it, but want to, it is alphabetically organized by year. If I haven’t seen it and either I don’t want to see it or I don’t know it exists, it’s not on any of these lists. This idea was given to me by my friend Franco, who is surely disturbed by the obsessive girth of my creation.

THE LIST OF LISTS.

Time to get started on your own… before it’s too late.

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Back to the Movies 1984: No. 50 Rhinestone

by on Apr.10, 2014, under 1984, Back to the Movies

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I begin my journey, as I did with the last edition of Back to the Movies, at the bottom of the list first. As I learned with 1983, the movies that tend to fall near this end of the list fall into one of two categories: they are either A) big studio releases that were complete flops or B) movies that weren’t major commercial forces but still picked up enough interest to squeak their way into the top 50.

When it comes to the No. 50 film from 1984, the spectacularly awful Rhinestone, there’s not really much question as to which category we’re talking about. Rhinestone is a textbook flop – a movie born from a desire to satisfy Hollywood egos rather than audiences. A movie born from that breathtakingly lazy process of sticking two random, popular stars-of-the-moment together and hoping their combined drawing power is enough to create a hit.

Before we get into just how bad this movie manages to be despite featuring two of the most popular stars of the 1980s, let’s talk about how it came to exist in the first place. Rhinestone first made it to Hollywood in the form of a screenplay from a then-unknown TV writer and director named Phil Alden Robinson. The script was picked up and quickly turned into a vehicle for two of the hottest, most charismatic stars of the day: Dolly Parton and Sylvester Stallone.

That’s about the moment where this movie began to go off the rails. By 1984, Stallone had established himself as a massive force in Hollywood, not just in front of the camera but behind it as well. Between the first three Rocky films and First Blood, Stallone had starred in four major studio releases accounting for a combined $374 million and had directed another legitimate blockbuster in 1983′s Staying Alive, the horrendously stupid sequel to Saturday Night Fever. Stallone was now a proven success both as an actor and as a writer/director, so it’s no surprise that once he became attached to the project, the screenplay was handed over to him for a total rewrite.

Stallone’s rewrites made the film sillier and more heavily reliant on corny jokes. Phil Alden Robinson was reportedly so upset with Stallone’s reworking of the screenplay that he considered removing his name from it (though ultimately keeping his name on the script helped his career take off in Hollywood).

Meanwhile, Rhinestone increasingly became a real passion project for Stallone. He turned down roles in Romancing The Stone and Beverly Hills Cop (two movies we’ll see much later on the countdown) to pursue a project that he felt would establish him as a major force in a new and lucrative segment of the industry: comedy.

Stallone’s co-star for the role, Dolly Parton, was a legitimate superstar in 1985, the likes of which have rarely been seen before or since. In addition to her wildly successful country music career, Parton had starred in two of the biggest and most surprising hits of the 1980s already with 9 to 5 and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Rhinestone appeared to provide Parton with the perfect opportunity to capitalize on her success in both avenues; a lighthearted comedy film with one of Hollywood’s biggest names with an accompanying soundtrack album loaded with new material from Parton ready-made for country radio.

So there you have it: two of the biggest stars of the day together in the same movie! What could go wrong?

There’s honestly not a single scene in this movie that I enjoyed from start to finish, at least not in a non-ironic way, and it all starts at the very beginning. The movie quickly establishes its premise, which is My Fair Lady, which is Pygmalion. Basically, Parton and her sleazy boss (Ron Leibman) make a bet that she can turn any old fella off the street into a country singer.

The stakes in this version of the classic story however are, well, pretty horrible in the way that only a blissfully ignorant early ’80s film can be. If Parton can’t follow through on her wager, she promises to have sex with her boss, whom she hates and definitely does not want to have sex with. Maybe I’m being an overly-sensitive PC stick-in-the-mud but I’m kind of amazed this wasn’t brought up as a particularly offensive idea in any of the materials I’ve read about the movie written at the time. The post even used the setup as a major selling point, with the tagline ”She’s bet everything, and we mean everything, that she can turn this New York cabbie into an overnight sensation.”

This pretty astonishingly gross premise does at least provide us with plenty of one-liners from Parton directed at her disgusting boss (“There are two kinda of people on this world, and you ain’t one of them”) though they are hit-and-miss at best.

The first “fella off the street” she sees is, of course, Stallone who plays a painfully loud and obnoxious New York cab driver. From his very first scene, it’s apparent that Stallone has absolutely no idea what he’s doing in this movie. He seems to be under the impression that the louder he is, the funnier he’ll be. The end result is a performance that is so completely devoid of any charm or charisma that we spend most of the movie hoping he’ll find something else to do for a few minutes so Parton can talk to someone else.

Unfortunately, Stallone doesn’t leave the screen much at all for the remainder of the movie, following Parton back to her Tennessee mountain hometown where she plans on teaching him what it means to be a real country boy. Hollywood has gotten a lot better at portraying the South accurately on film but Rhinestone provides perhaps a perfect example of how wrong Hollywood got the South 30 years ago. The film seems to be under the impression that all Southerners are basically Texans, spouting cowboy wisdom, talking about riding horses and saying “howdy” to each other.

While Richard Farnsworth does a nice job playing Parton’s father, most of the Southern characters are about what you would expect to see from a movie that gets everything wrong about the South. I will admit, I enjoy Tim Thomerson‘s performance as Barnett, an ex-boyfriend of Parton’s character who drunkenly spars with Stallone in a local bar. He’s a character who’s obviously meant to be the bad guy but unlike Stallone, Thomerson obviously knows how to play his character for laughs.

Anyway, after teaching Stallone the basics of being a country singer and leading him through a somewhat successful and enjoyable musical performance in Tennessee, Parton and Stallone head back to New York where, assembled in front of Stallone’s entire family, Parton proceeds to suddenly and without provocation rip Stallone’s character for being a terrible singer. It’s obviously true, but it doesn’t seem to fit her character or the direction of the plot at all. It feels almost like things were going too well for the characters so Stallone (or Robinson) decided they needed to create a new conflict out of thin air by making America’s sweetheart suddenly act like a complete asshole.

Somehow (I actually don’t even remember) they get this problem worked out and the film culminates with Stallone and Parton performing together on stage. We are told by the movie that Stallone is absolutely killing it. The crowd is going wild. This is what it actually looks like.

That’s supposed to be THE BEST performance Stallone gives in the movie. That’s the triumphant moment that earns his character a performing contract the club manager.

There’s a tone-deafness to the entire film that the scene above exemplifies perfectly. This is a film that was obviously made by a director who thinks Sylvester Stallone is 1) a really funny comedic actor and 2) at least a pretty good singer. That director oddly was Bob Clark, who actually seemed to have a pretty good feel for comedic performances when he directed Porky’s and A Christmas Story. In general, the movie feels like a project in which Stallone had free reign to do pretty much whatever he wanted. He certainly appears to be having a good time, even if no one else is.

The critics in 1984 felt pretty much the way I feel. Roger Ebert hated nearly everything about it, even its sex scene which he called ”so tame that Miss Piggy goes further with Kermit.”

The silver lining for Rhinestone was undoubtedly its soundtrack album, which yielded two top-ten country hits in “God Won’t Get You” and “Tennessee Homesick Blues”. According to her auto-biography “My Life and Other Unfinished Business”, Parton said that she considers the soundtrack album for Rhinestone some of the best work of her career and her solo performances in the film are hugely enjoyable to watch, even as someone who is admittedly not a fan of country music.

I’ll be honest: I didn’t know this movie even existed before I sat down to take a look at my list of films for this latest edition of Back to the Movies. I think that’s fairly representative of the legacy this film left behind, along with whatever affect it may have had on its two stars. Stallone didn’t attempt to make another comedy until 1991 when he starred in John Landis’ highly-regarded Oscar while Parton continued on with her hugely successful career music career, returning to the screen again two years later in the chick flick classic Steel Magnolias.

Rhinestone appears to have faded into cultural obscurity over the years, which is usually what happens to movies that are bad but not bad enough to be considered campy. The film is best summed up by an actual line Stallone wrote and says in the movie: “It’s like, worse than liver.”

Next Up: George Burns pulls double-duty in Oh God, You Devil

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Cinematrimony – Noah

by on Apr.10, 2014, under Cinematrimony

Matt and Francesca Scalici return with another episode of Cinematrimony. This time, Matt and Francesca discuss Darren Aronofsky’s Noah. How does Aronofsky’s imaginative take on the biblical tale play with Matt and Francesca? Has Francesca finally come around on the controversial director or is she still haunted by what he did to her brain in Black Swan? Matt and Francesca discuss this and more in this episode of Cinematrimony.

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Shelf of Shame 2014 – Ben Stark

by on Apr.08, 2014, under Shelf of Shame

In 2013, I watched 12 “classic” films that I hadn’t ever seen before. It worked out well, and I’m doing it again in 2014! Here are the final 12 films I’ll be watching. Friends from Film Nerds, Aspect Radio,  and the Hollywood Gauntlet and Fabisch Factor facebook groups voted and helped me whittle down the list to just 12. Needless to say, I’ve got plenty more years of movie-watching left before this Shelf of Shame is empty.

 

January – DOG DAY AFTERNOON (Sidney Lumet, 1975)

VIEWED JANUARY 25th – I was expecting great things from Sidney Lumet, a director whose work I’ve not seen much of, and of course I had heard great things about Al Pacino’s lead performance, but what I wasn’t expecting was the amazing work from Charles Durning. I was primarily familiar with Durning from his fantastic comedic work as Pappy O’Daniel in The Coen Brothers’ O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU?, but his turn as negotiating officer Moretti is absolutely staggering. Every performer in Lumet’s somewhat comic heist movie feels exceptionally lived-in and organic, but somehow Durning’s work is what really blew me away. Overall the film moves extremely quickly, but for some reason I felt a disconnect when it came to John Cazale’s tragic Sal character. This will probably subside with future viewings.

February – THE STING (George Roy Hill, 1973)

VIEWED FEBRUARY 18th – Being that George Roy Hill’s BUTCH CASSIDY & THE SUNDANCE KID is one of my all-time favorite movies, my expectations were very high for Hill’s reunion with Paul Newman and Robert Redford. While THE STING doesn’t have its predecessor’s visual flair, structural experimentation, or winsome anachronisms, it’s still a very entertaining and satisfying caper film. It’s more of a Redford vehicle than a showcase for Newman, which is – again – a slight disappointment, but Redford certainly has plenty of screen presence to hold his own. What’s immediately apparent about THE STING is its incredible production value. The art direction and costume design is staggering, and along with the wonderful interstitial title cards, go a long way in creating an absolutely organic, lived-in environment for its characters. Hill doesn’t let any of the design go to waste, either; much of the film is shot in slow, open wide shots that make sure we get to see all of our characters living in the world created for them. As with most 1970′s classics, the supporting cast is fantastic, as Charles Durning makes another welcome appearance. He’s joined by the great Robert Shaw in a glowering villain role, as well as a very charming Harold Gould and a scrappy, likable Jack Kehoe. All in all, THE STING was a warm, effervescent caper delivered to me in the dead of winter, and it couldn’t have been more welcome.

March – THE GREAT DICTATOR (Charlie Chaplin, 1940)

VIEWED MARCH 29th – Quite possibly one of the most important films I’ve watched for the Shelf of Shame, it’s a miracle that Charlie Chaplin’s brave satire even exists. Much has been written about the audacity of THE GREAT DICTATOR, but what strikes me is its episodic nature, reminding me more of Chaplin shorts than features, and its obvious change from other Chaplin features: The use of dialogue. Chaplin’s toe-dipping into sound is what makes MODERN TIMES such a beautifully fun anachronism, but here the full-on sound treatment doesn’t sit as well. There’s something awkward and misshapen about Chaplin’s film, but it’s such a bold statement, and features several excellent sequences (including that famous ending), that it still manages to charm.

April – THE GREAT ESCAPE (John Sturges, 1963)

May – BRAZIL (Terry Gilliam, 1985)

June – HANNAH & HER SISTERS (Woody Allen, 1986)

July – PATTON (Franklin J. Schaffner, 1970)

August - TRAINSPOTTING (Danny Boyle, 1996)

September – ELEPHANT (Gus Van Sant, 2003)

October – VIDEODROME (David Cronenberg, 1983)

November – M.A.S.H. (Robert Altman, 1970)

December - THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (John Sturges, 1960)

Just like last year, be sure to check in monthly to make sure I’m staying on schedule! Here‘s the list on Letterboxd.

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Ben Stark’s 2013 Year-End Favorites

by on Mar.14, 2014, under Speculatin' a Hypothesis

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The time has come. I watched 170 movies in 2013, some of those being repeat viewings, and 65 movies released in 2013. It was another great year for film. There are a number of films I wish I had seen but didn’t get a chance to. Here’s how 2013 shook out for me.

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10. Short Term 12

Short Term 12 begins and ends with two separate stories, wonderfully told by John Gallagher, Jr., but the film’s examination of artistic expression doesn’t stop there. Each of the very damaged young characters in this film find a way to express themselves – either through music or writing or drawing – except our lead character, played by Brie Larson. She deprives herself of a voice, closing herself off to the world and stewing on her anger. It’s a great performance in a wonderfully and deceptively simple and “small” film.

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9. Monsters University

It’s hard to discuss Pixar’s latest without spoiling it, so forgive me when I call Monsters University one of the best films about failure that I’ve ever seen. Dan Scanlon and his team do what every great Pixar film manages to do; to tell a very adult, very human story on the canvas of a colorful, imaginative world that can be accessed by people of all ages. I might be too revealing when I say that of all the great Pixar characters, if Mike Wazowski isn’t the best, he’s certainly the one I relate to the most.

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8. Upstream Color

It was a good year for purely cinematic movies; films that rely on the elements of filmmaking that cannot be mimicked in any art form – images, sound, and the convergence of the two. Only God Forgives, To the Wonder, and – by all accounts – Leviathon (a film I haven’t seen) are all examples of films that ask their audience to put away their limited understanding of what cinema can be. Shane Carruth’s latest, however, is the best of the bunch. On top of a simple science fiction narrative, it builds a visual and aural tapestry of emotion and revelation using impeccable editing, videography (the film was shot on Panasonic’s prosumer grade AF-100), music, and sound mixing. Carruth’s sophomore effort is even better than Primer, and he continues to reveal himself as one of film’s most important voices.

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7. Frozen

Not only is Frozen a triumphant return to the top of the mountain for Walt Disney Feature Animation, with massive box office returns, tremendous pop culture impact, and a handful of Oscar victories, but it’s also a simultaneous ode to and subversion of traditional “Disney Princess” narratives. Eschewing the idea of the jealous, bitchy villainess, Frozen becomes a movie about broken relationships and broken people. Paul Bullock said it much better than I could when he pointed out that the film is an analysis of depression and isolation. That’s a brave thing to do with a strategically positioned $150 million tentpole release, and I hope it’s a sign of things to come for Disney.

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6. 12 Years a Slave

One of the constant themes of 2013 film, in my opinion, is identity. What happens when our identity is taken from us? What happens when we are subjected to the whims of another person acting their identity out on us? The Solomon Northup story is surely harrowing in a physical way – and Steve McQueen doesn’t hesitate to explore that element – but under the surface, revealed in a single, silent direct-address close-up of Chiwetal Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave illustrates the horror of forgetting who we are. There are so many things to discuss about such an important and impeccably crafted movie, but I’d like to point out that Patsey and Solomon aren’t the only slaves at the center of the film’s narrative. McQueen marvelously illustrates the slavery of Michael Fassbender’s Epps to his own compulsions and sexual fixations, and the hell it unleashes on those subjected to his will.

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5. Pacific Rim

A $190 million monster movie about dancing. Guillermo del Toro responsibly wields the full power of Warner Brothers’ blockbuster machine to make a boy’s adventure movie that features incredible visuals, satisfying battles between giant creatures, and a story that highlights the importance of community and collaboration. We are all of us incomplete, and the person we need to save the world might be the last person we expect: One of the joys of the film is its subversive love story. Pacific Rim’s blond, white, male hero goes from having essentially a clone of himself as his perfectly compatible partner to realizing that a dainty Japanese girl is a better “dance partner” than anyone could have guessed, and the very thing that brings them together is the loss in their past. You’d never think this film, with this premise, would tell that kind of story, but that’s what you get when you have a filmmaker like del Toro, who belongs in the same conversation as Spielberg, Nolan, and Bird as great artists that explore great truths on the canvas of massive, commerce-driven spectacle.

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4. Drug War

If Solomon Northup is in danger of forgetting his true identity, the hero of Johnnie To’s excellent Drug War is as secure in his identity as possible… but that doesn’t make him safe. Matt Singer’s Letterboxd blurb of the film perfectly expresses the character of Yi Huang’s Yang: “I’m a cop. You’re a drug trafficker. I didn’t betray you; I busted you.” Yang perfectly understands his job, and literally carries it out to the bitter end. On the other end of the spectrum, Louis Koo’s Timmy will swap sides and flip allegiances as often as he can to save his skin. He’s willing to give up who he is to survive, and in essence loses any semblance of identity – or humanity – in the process.

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3. Inside Llewyn Davis

Of all the 2013 films I saw, there isn’t one that I’ve spent time turning over in my head more than Inside Llewyn Davis. Joel and Ethan Coen surpassed the title of mere “national treasure” so long ago that I’m afraid we’re all in danger of taking these masters for granted. Much like Monsters University, Inside Llewyn Davis asks its lead character how he will react to failure. Will he flee the Greenwich Village folk music scene that has been so cruel to him, and that he has been so spiteful towards? If he does get out of this seemingly endless cycle, how will he do it… by settling down, by suicide, by selling out? The climax of Inside Llewyn Davis is a bit of enigma, and could be viewed as hopeless, but for those of us that have faced failure time and time again, it’s a shout of victory.

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2. Gravity

Gravity has taken a lot of flack for being a shallow technical exercise, but I think it’s a crime to confuse “simple” with “shallow”. The trajectory of the film’s plot is direct, without any fringes. The goal of its hero is clear, as are the obstacles. Through this stripped-down premise, director Alfonso Cuaron tells a story of rebirth and the delicacy of survival. Gravity mirrors Frozen by exploring the idea that, despite it often being easiest to tune out the noise of the world around us and “let go,” there is a necessary sweetness in the chatter. The barking of a dog, the banter of an annoying co-worker, buzzing of flies… noise signifies life.

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1. Captain Phillips

All the production value, all the camera tricks, all the computer graphics, all the publicity that money can buy will never replace the transformative power of the face of another human being. Tom Hanks’ performance in Captain Phillips has haunted me ever since I saw the film in the fall of last year, but that doesn’t make the movie a one-trick pony. The prelude to Captain Phillips‘ finale is a near-perfect execution of a near-perfect script. It’s an action movie with two clearly defined characters on a collision course with one another. It’s a scathing examination of the changing face of American labor and global economics. It’s a stimulating look at the layers of command that exist in all of our lives. And, just like 12 Years a Slave and Drug War and Monsters University and Inside Llewyn Davis, it’s a mirror held up to each of us, asking us: What happens when our identity is taken from us? What happens when “who we think we are” turns out to be a false assumption?

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HONORABLE MENTIONS
American Hustle
Drinking Buddies
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
The Hunt
The Lone Ranger
Mud
Oblivion
Only God Forgives
To the Wonder
The Wolf of Wall Street

EDITING
5. Pacific Rim
4. To the Wonder
3. The Wolf of Wall Street
2. Upstream Color
1. Captain Phillips

SOUND
5. The Conjuring
4. Gravity
3. Pacific Rim
2. 12 Years a Slave
1. Upstream Color

VISUAL EFFECTS
5. Star Trek Into Darkness
4. Oblivion
3. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
2. Pacific Rim
1. Gravity

SCORE
10. Cliff Martinez, Only God Forgives
9. Michael Giacchino, Star Trek Into Darkness
8. M83, Oblivion
7. Steven Price, Gravity
6. Hans Zimmer, The Lone Ranger
5. Cristophe Beck, Frozen
4. Henry Jackman, Captain Phillips
3. Ramin Djawadi, Pacific Rim
2. Howard Shore, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
1. Hans Zimmer, Man of Steel

OVERALL DESIGN
5. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
4. 12 Years a Slave
3. Monsters University
2. Oblivion
1. Pacific Rim

CINEMATOGRAPHY
5. Andrew Lesnie, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
4. Emmanuel Lubezki, Gravity
3. Claudio Miranda, Oblivion
2. Bruno Delbonnel, Inside Llewyn Davis
1. Sean Bobbit, 12 Years a Slave

SCREENPLAY
5. Ryker Chan, Ka-Fai Wai, Nai-Hoi, & Yau Xi Yu, Drug War
4. Tobias Lindholm & Thomas Vinterberg, The Hunt
3. Shane Carruth, Upstream Color
2. The Coen Brothers, Inside Llewyn Davis
1. Billy Ray, Captain Phillips

SCENE OR SEQUENCE
10. Final Shoot-Out, Drug War
9. Train Chase, The Lone Ranger
8. Barrel Chase, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
7. Camp Scaring, Monsters University
6. Ending, Gravity
5. Performing “Fare Thee Well”, Inside Llewyn Davis
4. Let It Go, Frozen
3. Final Scene, 12 Years a Slave
2. Battle of Hong Kong, Pacific Rim
1. Ending, Captain Phillips

SUPPORTING PERFORMANCE
5. Jacob Lofland, Mud
4. Matt Damon, Behind the Candelabra
3. Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips
2. Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
1. Louis CK, American Hustle & Blue Jasmine

MALE PERFORMANCE
10. James Franco, Spring Breakers
9. Michael Douglas, Behind the Candelabra
8. Jake Johnson, Drinking Buddies
7. Mads Mikkelson, The Hunt
6. Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis
5. Christian Bale, American Hustle
4. Chiwetal Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave
3. Honglei Sun, Drug War
2. Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street
1. Tom Hanks, Captain Phillips

FEMALE PERFORMANCE
10. Rooney Mara, Side Effects
9. Olga Kurylenko, To the Wonder
8. Greta Gerwig, Frances Ha
7. Oliva Wilde, Drinking Buddies
6. Sandra Bullock, Gravity
5. Amy Adams, American Hustle
4. Brie Larsen, Short Term 12
3. Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
2. Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave
1. Amy Seimetz, Upstream Color

DIRECTOR
10. Jeff Nichols, Mud
9. David O. Russell, American Hustle
8. Guillermo del Toro, Pacific Rim
7. Johnnie To, Drug War
6. Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave
5. Shane Carruth, Upstream Color
4. Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street
3. Paul Greengrass, Captain Phillips
2. Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity
1. The Coen Brothers, Inside Llewyn Davis

You can check out my favorites from 2012 here, and my most anticipated films of 2014 here. I’ll also being weighing in on Aspect Radio’s big 2013 show and 100th episode. Be sure to head on over to benstarkfilm.com to see my film projects and follow me on Twitter and Letterboxd.

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One Thing I’d Change About the Oscars – Part 4: Ben Stark

by on Feb.27, 2014, under Other Features

Academy Adjustments is a series of posts that will run up until the March 2 Academy Awards. Each of the Film Nerds will detail what single change they would make to the Oscars if they were put in charge of the Academy. You can see Part 1 here, Part 2 here, and Part 3 here.

Today’s post comes from Ben Stark.

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ACCEPT NOMINATIONS YEAR-ROUND.

I don’t know about you, but my December is far busier than it needs to be. Not only am I trying to make more time for visiting friends and family, but I’m trying to buy gifts for my wife and others. Plus, things at work usually get a bit more hectic as customers try to wrap up projects before the end of the year. The last thing I need is the pressure to see the best films of the year in a four-week window… and yet that’s exactly what happens every year. Why? I’d argue it’s because studios only release their best work during this four-week period, despite having a fifty two-week year available to them.

According to Oscars.org, “nomination ballots are mailed to the Academy’s active members in late December and are due back to PricewaterhouseCoopers, an international accounting firm, in January.” This only leaves voters a few weeks to catch up on all the films that are in release, and it certain doesn’t leave enough time to visit or re-visit quality films from before September or so. If I have trouble seeing all the supposedly great movies released in a given year, what does that say about the voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, all of whom are undoubtedly much busier than me?

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We all have short memories, and studios know this. That’s why it’s smart for studios to release their best films – the ones most likely to win awards – as close to the nomination process as possible. So, logic would dictate the necessary action: Expand the Academy Award nomination window, and you’ll expand the amount of desirable release dates available to studios for their best output.

Nominations would be gathered four times a year – in March, June, September, and December – via a secure online system. Nominations could be submitted any time during a given month, which would allow studios to campaign even more fervently throughout the year. For example, if a studio had a movie they were proud of in February, they wouldn’t have to sit on it (or its profits) until November. Instead, they could release it in time for March voting, making a strong publicity push for a film that’s fresh on everyone’s minds.

Yes, it would take a while for a year-round nominations to make a difference, but over the course of five or so years, it would completely shift the way studios release their movies. Not only that, but it would open the door for more movies to be heralded, more movies to be given Oscar attention, and would give more casual audience members the chance to see the great movies we film enthusiasts have to work so hard to seek out every year. If there are more films throughout the year with positive “Oscar” buzz, it would essentially create a mini-Oscar race every three months, driving up box office receipts and hopefully encouraging studios to make more awards-quality films. I don’t think I’m overstating it when I say that quarterly Oscar nominations could very well save cinema!

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As is apparent by the release of films like THE HUNGER GAMES in March or GRAVITY in October, studios are willing to drop blockbusters outside of the traditionally lucrative Summer movie season. It’s time for them to spread their prestige pictures around the same way, and the best way to encourage this is for the Oscars to create a quarterly nomination process.

Please, members of the Academy: December needs your help.

 

Benjamin Stark is a filmmaker based in Huntsville, Alabama and writes the Speculatin’ a Hypothesis column right here at FilmNerds.com. You can check out his movies at his website, benstarkfilm.com and follow him on Twitter (@WonderMillFilms). 

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One Thing I’d Change About the Oscars – Part 3: Graham Flanagan

by on Feb.24, 2014, under Other Features

Academy Adjustments is a series of posts that will run up until the March 2 Academy Awards. Each of the Film Nerds will detail what single change they would make to the Oscars if they were put in charge of the Academy. You can see Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

Today’s post comes from Graham Flanagan.

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GIVE US FULL-LENGTH OSCAR CLIPS FOR PERFORMANCES.

If I could change one thing about the annual Academy Awards broadcast, it would be the lack of substantial video clips that showcase the performances of the nominated actors.

It seems that, over the years, the length of these clips has dwindled a great deal.

Future broadcasts should build time for clips lasting AT LEAST 20 seconds to allow the work for which the actors are nominated to be appropriately featured.

I remember watching Academy Awards broadcasts in the 1990s that included clips for the respective nominees that reminded the audience about the reason their names were being read.

It also created an opportunity, in the pre-internet age, to give people watching in smaller markets a chance to see samples of the nominated work that had yet to make it to their local multiplexes.

I remember Oscar clips in those days running much longer than the ones we see today, and I always enjoyed hearing the crowd’s reactions.

The Oscars’ official YouTube page (an essential resource) removed the movie clips from ceremonies gone by due to licensing reasons. However, I found one YouTube user called Mr Awards Man who seems to understand exactly what I’m talking about.

He’s created a series of nostalgic montages that recreate the way in which Oscar clips were delivered in older broadcasts.

Here’s his montage for Best Supporting Actor in 1995:

Hopefully the producers of this year’s show will return to a similar format. That is undoubtedly a difficult task, though, since the show is always injected with so much superfluous fluff that the clips showcasing the nominated performances are elements that can be easily excised in order to be done before the 11 ‘o Clock news.

It’s every actor’s dream to be nominated for an Academy Award. One would hope the Academy would take the time to remind the audience how the lucky few in attendance  actually achieved that goal.

Graham Flanagan is a senior video producer at BusinessInsider.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Graham_Cam, and listen to his recent Aspect Radio contributions, where he discusses the work of Philip Seymour Hoffman and the truth behind IMAX’s variable screen sizes.

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One Thing I’d Change About the Oscars – Part 2: Craig Hamilton

by on Feb.17, 2014, under Other Features

Academy Adjustments is a series of posts that will run up until the March 2 Academy Awards. Each of the Film Nerds will detail what single change they would make to the Oscars if they were put in charge of the Academy. You can see Part 1 here.

Today’s post comes from Craig Hamilton.

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STOP PERFORMING THE BEST SONG NOMINEES.

If I were in charge, you would never again see a performance of any of the Best Song nominees.  Not every song is performed every year, but most years, at least a few songs are performed from the best song category.  Since the Oscars feels like it has to act like the Tony’s, there are always a few musical numbers performed throughout the broadcast that aren’t the Best Song nominees.  In hindsight, these almost never work and they will certainly suffice without the inclusion of the Best Song nominees.  I can understand the need to liven up a show with music, but why tack on additional performances of songs that few people know?

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Let’s face it, unless it comes from a musical, the Best Song nominees are either a part of the opening or closing credits of their respected movies or they’re practically a part of the score itself.  I’m not arguing getting rid of this category, even though I could, because it’s evident that some years there shouldn’t even be a category for Best Song.  In 2011, only 2 songs were nominated and really “Man or Muppet” was the obvious winner.  One couldn’t help but feel like “Real in Rio” was a pity nomination to keep things interesting.   In fact, only twice in the last 5 years have there been 5 nominees for Best Song.  That’s not counting this year, where there are 4 nominees.

And what’s with this not performing all nominees?  Sounds a bit unfair doesn’t it?  How do you know which to perform?  Sorry, Bombay Jayashri, but you can’t perform “Pi’s Lullaby” tonight because we got Adelle!  What if the song that wins the Oscar isn’t performed while the losers are?  What a disaster!  Either all or none, I say.  Actually, none, I say.

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Here’s how much time would’ve been spent performing ALL of the songs had they all been performed over the last 5 years:

2008: 14 minutes 50 seconds               3 nominees

2009: 15 minutes 26 seconds               5 nominees

2010: 16 minutes 39 seconds               4 nominees

2011: 6 minutes 44 seconds                  2 nominees

2012: 17 minutes 11 seconds               5 nominees

That’s an average of just over 14 minutes and that doesn’t count the extra time that would inevitably be added on due to queuing up and applause and transitions and what have you.

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You can do a lot with 14 minutes.  For one, you could make the show 14 minutes shorter.  Or you could add a category; maybe Best Lighting.  But you’d be better served using that time to broaden the setup of the tech categories.  You can use that time to enlighten the audience and viewers on just what all goes into Sound Mixing or Visual Effects.  Show us a clip of the Sound Editors in a room shoving wooden sticks into buckets of mud to get just the right sound of a barefoot Mesoamerican who’s trying to keep his head.  Don’t be afraid to split-screen that mug with actual footage from the film.  Play some behind-the-scenes footage of Roger Deakins filming a James Bond skyscraper fight scene on a Shanghai night.  These nuances are all part of what makes the films so great and it’s all undeniably more interesting than hearing the Best Songs performed live.  What’s that?  You think the techie stuff is boring?  What are you doing watching the Oscars?  What are you doing reading this?  I ban you from further readership!

You can find more from Craig at citizencraig.com, and be sure to follow him on Twitter (@citizen_craig), where he and his wife are staging scenes from the best films of 2013 with their one-year-old daughter, Beatrix. It’s the cutest thing you’ll ever see. Here she is as Theodore from HER:

You can also find Bea’s scenes (@BeaMovies) on Twitter and Instagram. Stay tuned to FilmNerds.com during the remainder of February for more Academy Adjustments!

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One Thing I’d Change About the Oscars – Part 1: Ben Flanagan

by on Feb.11, 2014, under Other Features

Here’s the first in a new series of posts that will run up until the March 2 Academy Awards. Each of the Film Nerds will detail what single change they would make to the Oscars if they were put in charge of the Academy. First up is Ben Flanagan!

academy-adjustments

LET US WATCH ALL THE NOMINATED SHORT FILMS.

Last year marked the first time in my moviegoing life I’d seen all five animated shorts nominated for the 2013 Oscar in that category. It took long enough to see that day, but thanks to YouTube, it finally happened.

So last year, I had a dog in the fight — quite literally, in fact, given my favorite of those shorts was “Adam and Dog,” which sadly did not win. But it felt good to care about these films and the budding careers of those responsible.

Prior to the occasion, I had an interest in seeing the nominated films, but there was no local theatrical or online venue where I could do so, therefore, I had no rooting interest when these categories came up during the respective broadcasts over the years. I didn’t care, and the Academy gave me no reason to do so.

I found that watching the 2012 animated short nominees was one of the more fulfilling film experiences that year and could not wait to make this a tradition of mine for the subsequent ceremonies. (Note: I have yet to see the 2013 nominees, and I still haven’t seen any live-action or documentary short nominees.)

That said, if film lovers and Oscar ceremony viewers do not have easy access to watch all 15 nominees, then I would totally nix the categories, at least from the ABC broadcast. Or announce the winners in and out of breaks. It reduces their importance, but if no one has seen the winning films they announce, then what’s the point? We have zero context for what we’re seeing on television, and we’re either changing the channel or, at the very least, taking bathroom breaks during their often moving speeches.

So I propose we either totally get rid of these categories during the main broadcast of the Academy Awards, or the Academy, and ABC make a greater effort to show these movies to viewers who have less access to those who live in cities where they may hold the occasional screening at a handful of theaters across the country.

I’m crossing my fingers for the latter. These folks and their art deserve their day in the sun.

Find more from Ben Flanagan on Twitter (@ThisBenFlanagan), at al.com, and listen to the newest episode of his podcast ASPECT RADIO for a great discussion about IMAX and all its various incarnations.

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11 truly tremendous moments in movie music in 2013 (audio)

by on Dec.30, 2013, under Other Features

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The 2013 film year didn’t disappoint, and neither did its soundtracks featuring beautifully composed original scores and brilliantly chosen songs to accompany the films.

Take a look back at some of the shrewdest choices the filmmakers made and the unexpected collaborations between them and many of the best composers in Hollywood, including the likes of Hans Zimmer and Cliff Martinez.

You may not consider this the best movie music of 2013, but each choice left an astounding impression on me that I won’t soon forget. These sounds remain inside my head, tumbling back and forth and forcing me to revisit some of the instant classics that made 2013 one of the best film years I can remember.

Jimmie Noone – “Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gives To Me” (from “Blue Jasmine”)


Steve Jablonsky – “I’m Big” (from “Pain & Gain”)


Hans Zimmer – ” What Are You Going To Do When You Are Not Saving the World” (from “Man of Steel”)


Ramin Djawadi – “Pacific Rim”


Hot Chocolate – “Every 1′s a Winner” (from “Frances Ha”)


M83 – “Waking Up” (from “Oblivion”)


Britney Spears/James Franco – “Everytime” (from “Spring Breakers”)


Sleigh Bells – “Crown on the Ground” (from “The Bling Ring”)


Cliff Martinez – “Wanna Fight” (from “Only God Forgives”)


Mike Patton – “The Snow Angel” (from “The Place Beyond the Pines”)


Oscar Isaac & Marcus Mumford – “Fare Thee Well (Dink’s Song)” (from “Inside Llewyn Davis”)

Read the full article at AL.com

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