This time, Director Face/Off pits two legendary visual storytellers against each other: Paul Thomas Anderson and Quentin Tarantino. While some may disagree, the two have some stuff in common – both directors were obsessed film fanatics at very young ages, broke into the industry humbly by way of short films and co-written screenplays, and then went on to make cinematic staples like Pulp Fiction and Boogie Nights. Both directors make solid, intriguing films held up by foundations of strong, colorful characters, nonlinear narrative continuity and plenty of violence. Who does it all better, though?
Anderson Filmography: Cigarettes & Coffee, Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, Magnolia.
Tarantino Filmography: Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill Vol. 1, Kill Bill Vol. 2, Sin City (Tarantino was a “guest director)
Anderson landed the talent of Philip Baker Hall in his debut short Cigarettes & Coffee, garnering them both a cult following that amassed even more following Magnolia, and Hall’s role as game show host Jimmy Gator. Michael Madsen is most notably remembered as Mr. Blonde in Reservoir Dogs, the guy responsible for the iconic “ear scene,” in which he also dances nonchalantly to Stealers Wheel. There’s no denying Madsen’s roles in Tarantino films are quite typically the lovable badass villain, as proven by his role as Budd in the Kill Bill series.
Winner: Michael Madsen/ Tarantino
Anderson Filmography: The Master, Inherent Vice
Tarantino Filmography:Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill Vol. 1, Kill Bill Vol. 2
Anderson’s work has always been deep in story and subject matter, but at one point in his career, his work went from deep to really f-ing heavy, around the time that There Will Be Blood came out. Following the two and a half hour oil-drilling epic drama came The Master, where Joaquin Phoenix plays Freddie, a drifter haunted by inner demons and PTSD who follows a leader of a religious movement. Uma Thurman’s roles as Beatrix Kiddo in the Kill Bill series and Mia Wallace in Pulp Fiction are both pretty much legendary in cinema. With rumors of a third installment to the Kill Bill series in the works, there’s just no battle here!
Winner: Uma Thurman/ Tarantino
Philip Seymour Hoffman
Anderson Filmography: Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch Drunk Love, The Master
This is a very difficult round, due to the incredible talent of both Philip Seymour Hoffman and Samuel L. Jackson. While Jackson is a Tarantino staple, known for his righteousness, filthy yet quotable lines and just general badassity, Hoffman is just as worthy from his proven versatility and range in Anderson’s films alone.Between confessing unrequited love for Dirk in Boogie Nights or leading people into an inner circle of unconventional beliefs as a religious leader in The Master, Hoffman gives incredible, real performances. RIP Philip Seymour Hoffman!
Winner: Philip Seymour Hoffman/ Anderson
Subjective Winner: Tarantino Reuses Actors Better
Join us next week for the next battle, and check out prior segments:
Timothy Spall puts in a mighty performance as secretly emotional romanticist painter J.M.W. Turner. He grunts, mumbles and grumbles like an out-of-shape lumberjack hacking through a ball of phlegm. The movie itself, unlike Spall’s crusty and terse Turner, is long-winded, meandering and sometimes out of shape. Fatally British director Mike Leigh‘s shots are gorgeously composed like classical paintings, with DP Dick Pope (that’s Dick Poop to the Academy) casting light upon them to resemble the very romanticism period his subject matter paints his brush strokes in. The picture is affable -at least more so than its gruffalo subject – if not with too many flourishes of boring. Much like an entire exhibit of Romantic-era paintings. (C+)
Angelina Jolie fails to settle into the moment in her clunky Louis Zamperini biopic. The first scene – a critical dogfight – should be ungodly tense, instead the stakes are bled dry by a prevailing sense of inconsequential schmaltz. “Don’t forget, it’s just a movie!” By refusing to tell the story chronologically, Jolie has snuffed the natural tension of events and quelled our investment in the characters before they arrive at pivotal, empathy-rich moments. With a notably better movie just simple steps away – one with better editing (anything other than that dreadful flash-back/flash-forward), a lack of inexplicably useless alterations to Zamp’s true tale and some actual storytelling prowess – Unbroken is an undeniable failure, most of all for its wasted potential. If you want the story of Zamperini, do yourself a favor and read the book as Jolie skimps mightily on the goods – often skipping entirely over critical scenes – and can only proffer this truly inspiring saga glazed over with a cloying religious-tinged icing and sans a lick of nuance or tension. Chariots of Firethis most certainly is not. (D)
Majorly better than the petri dish of Hallmark moments I went in expecting, Cake is a victory not only for Jennifer Aniston‘s majorly biting performance but for its subtle examination of a life lived in angry anguish. Leaving tooth-marks in everything she touches, Aniston’s Claire lives in chronic pain, lashing out at the word around her and pushing those closest to her away. Daniel Barnz seeps into and out of the story like a fly on the wall, allowing us to take in his subject with all her scuzziness intact, not trying to paint a pretty picture so much as replicate the after effects of a fatal accident. The product may not be remarkably new but its certainly potent and a big stepping stone for Aniston’s dramatic future. (C+)
THE MAZE RUNNER (2014)
Far more fun than it has any right to be, The Maze Runner is a jambalaya of The Hungers Games, Labyrinth, The Goonies and “Lord of the Flies” with mecha-spiders and a prevailing sense of mystery to make the whole thing exciting. The film, based on the first in the popular YA series from James Dashner, sets up a series how a series is supposed to be set up: slowly and with a careful amount of reveals. Kitchen sinking this is not. Rather than yet another retread origin story to preface the event we’re all waiting for anyways, The Maze Runner launches right into the action, rarely stopping to explain itself along the way. For a product that could have been a total mess, The Maze Runner manages to stay fresh and intriguing even in a sub-genre critically overloaded with bunk. (B-)
INHERENT VICE (2014)
Paul Thomas Anderson‘s latest may prove a touch of disdain for his audience as he makes no effort to surface the runways of Inherent Vice with any narrative tarmac. He’s happy letting us bump along a long and rocky road to get to his warm, gooey center. Though full of genuinely inspired moments of shot-framing perfection, Inherent Vice fails to grasp a through line and with a running time that’s just shy of two-and-a-half hours, he lets down those looking for any clarity through all the pot smoke. Joaquin Phoenix is strong in the role though I can’t help but wonder if original cast member Robert Downey Jr. could have been able to elevate the stoned PI character to higher heights. All in all, another case of PTA not being able to deliver the full, meaty package worthy of his talent. (C+)
A rousing historical tour de force, Selma is an accomplishment of art and nonfiction coming to head; the product of historical accuracy colliding with a massively stirring lead performance from David Oyelowo and confident, assured direction from Ava DuVernay. Selma documents the events leading up to the Selma to Birmingham march in hopes of true voter equality, starting with Martin Luther King’s receiving of the Nobel Peace Prize. Though DuVernay’s picture isn’t always as taut as it should be – and there are some serious second act lulls – Selma thrives on the soaring energy of Oyelowo, who captures the powerful energy of the good Reverend MLK with earth-shaking force. Of biopics this year, DuVernay’s is a massive step above the humdrum The Imitiaton Game, and Oyelowo is a good step above Benedict Cumberbatch on almost all levels. It’s a damn shame that history once again couldn’t reflect the change that Selma and Selma sought. (B+)
BIG EYES (2014)
Tim Burton‘s talents depend entirely upon his current quirk level setting. Aside from the crisp, all-ducks-in-a-row 1950s/60s setting and an abstract grocery store scene, Big Eyes harkens back to a very different Burton – one without a drapery of strange and a Johnny Depp mascot prancing around. A Burton that attempted to engage emotionally with his audience. And although Big Eyes seems (finally) to come from the right place, its subject – Margaret Keane (Amy Adams) – is an infinitely frustrating lead character that all but unravels our interest in her story. Christoph Waltz imbues his devilish character with just the right amount of paranoid charm but it’s hard to get wrapped up in the narrative when you’re always yelling at the screen for your “hero” to actually act. (C)
Laura Poitras‘ portrait of Edward Snowden and his NSA whistle blowing is earth-quaking stuff. The clear front runner for Best Documentary at the 2015 Academy Awards, Citizenfour is a triumph because of its varied ability to get inside the story. Documentarian Laura Poitrasnot only offers a complete overview of all the facts but gets under the skin of the issue by closely tracking the emotional transformation of the controversial figure at the center of her film. A must-see for any and all American citizens, Citizenfour is an intellectually-driven descent into the madness of post 9/11 politics and the hazy hero-status of a new breed of revolutionary. (B)
So before you go asking about Lars von Trier‘s 5-hour sexcapade Nymphomaniac,Woody Allen‘s latest period piece starring Emma Stone or any of the three Terrence Malick films that may or may not debut this year, let me just stop you short and let you know that they didn’t see their way onto this list. Though Allen’s newest may be good, he shoots out so many duds that it’s hard to really look forward to any one piece of his work. And Trier, well, do I really have to say anything beyond look at the description? Maybe they’ll be bits of interest but I’m more dreading it than I am anticipating it. As for Malick’s certain pedigree of art film, let’s just say I’m wildly uninterested in anything the man does as I find his work more a chore than anything else.
Although I tried to keep my list as tidy as possible, I did make a bit of a miscalculation so this top ten will actually be a top 11. I was thinking of chopping one but when we’re down to the wire like this, I really want to make sure to get all these top-tier selections out there. One extra film to look forward to right?
If you haven’t yet, take a look back at number 30-21 and 20-11. Otherwise, let’s get down to my Ten Most Anticipated Movies of 2014.
Korean director Joon-ho Bong (The Host– the good one, not the bad one) makes his English-language debut with this dystopian film set on a high-speed train. Starring Captain America‘s Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell, John Hurt, Ed Harris, and Octavia Spencer, Snowpiercer opened in France in October to rave reviews. Some even went so far to call it “the best pure science-fiction film since ‘Children Of Men.” [The Playlist]. There’s been a little controversy over it’s US release, such as when will it actually release, amongst stirrings that a US release under the Weinstein Co. banner may see extensive cuts but I’m hoping that if this film ever arrives intact and well, it’ll be a stunner.
No official release date yet but it’s likely 2014 or bust.
10…Again. Map to the Stars
(Accidentally) sharing that top ten spot is David Cronenberg‘s Map to the Stars. Although Cronenberg has largely dropped the ooey, gooey sci-fi-horror genre that made his name what it is today, he’s still a director with a tremendous amount of passion and ideas. Obviously the cast is stacked;Julianne Moore, Robert Pattinson, Carrie Fisher, Mia Wasikowska, John Cussack; but this isn’t the sci-fi adventure the name may suggest. No, instead that star map refers to the celebrities of Hollywood as Cronenberg, backed by a script from Bruce Wagner, turns a satirical lens on child stars. With back-to-back collaborations, it looks like Cronenberg has found a new muse in Twilight‘s Pattinson and I must admit to strongly enjoying their last effort Cosmopolis so sign me up for a trip to Map to the Stars.
So far all we know is that this’ll hit screens sometime in 2014.
Continuing down the list, it’s all about the guys behind the camera. In Foxcatcher, Bennett Miller (Moneyball) tells the tragic story of how paranoid schizophrenic John duPont killed Olympic Champion Dave Schultz. Yikes. Even a year out, this film screams Oscars and is already poised to make contenders out of the likes of Mark Ruffalo and, however unexpectedly, Steve Carell. Miller has shown a knack for telling a true story in a way that we could never have expected so I’m fascinated to see what he does with a crazy dude and a murder plot.
Yet another without an official release date, Foxcatcher was pushed out of 2013 so there’s no chance it won’t see the light of day in 2014.
Brad Pitt is back to war and I’m already saving my seat. Backed up by Logan Lerman, Michael Pena, Jon Bernthal, and Shia LaBeouf (…) Fury tells the story of one Sherman tank and its five-man crew as they hunt down Nazis with a tank. While Pitt’s glorious recent track record may be the only thing immediately popping out about this one, Fury has something much bigger going for it: David Ayer. The only director to have two entries on this list, Ayer has proven that he can balance drama and tension like none other with End of Watch and this looks even better than entry #15 Sabotage. I’m really wagering a lot on Ayer this year but I have a feeling that neither of his latests will disappoint. If End of Watch is any indication, Fury could be the sleeper hit of the year.
November 12 will see Fury rolling in.
7. Inherent Vice
Paul Thomas Anderson.Joaquin Phoenix. Nuff said. Ok fine, I’ll go on. Even after the fuzzy disappointment that was The Master(and I’ve had enough of arguing why it was or was not a good movie), PTA will be returning to a more wacky and linear story. I started the 2009 Thomas Pynchon novel of the same name and found it a little dry and noirish for my reading taste but I can already imagine the kind of cinematic flair that PTA and Phoenix will bring to it. Needless to say, I’m confident that it’ll be a superior film experience. Although the source material suggests the story may be too pulpy for real awards consideration, could this be the film that brings Phoenix his awaited Oscar?
More 2014 films without confirmed release dates.
6. Gone Girl
Dark, dour, depressing. The three D’s of David Fincher. But what can you expect from the man who brought us Se7en, Fight Club and Zodiac? Based on the bestselling novel by Gillian Flynn, Gone Girltells the tale of a woman who disappears on her wedding anniversary. Although I’m trying to go into this one with as little details as possible, the mere fact that Fincher is on the case is enough to whet my curiosity. However much next year will revolve around his Batman role, Ben Affleck will have the chance to offer a much more interesting performance here and it’ll be nice to see the man stretch his wings and step outside of his easy, breezy comfort zone.
A pre-Halloween release with an October 3 date.
5. The Grand Budapest Hotel
I feel like I stand alone by being merely lukewarm on Wes Anderson‘s last celebrated film, Moonrise Kingdom, but I’m a staunch believer that his earlier, and more adult, work is his finest. So it’s no wonder that I silently celebrated when The Grand Budapest Hotelgot a R-rating. All of Anderson’s usual quirk and OCD-level of visual detail appear to be in tow as are Anderson regulars Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, and Bill Murray. This time newbies include Ralph Fiennes, in the starring role, Saoirse Ronan, Lea Seydoux, Tom Wilkinson, Harvey Keitel, and F. Murray Abraham. It really seems like Anderson can put a cast together like none other and with a cast list this stacked, you have to imagine that these actors are just lining up at the door to work with him.
In theaters March 7.
4. Chuck Hank And The San Diego Twins
Jonathan Keevil’s debut, Bellflower, was one of the most jarring and visceral films to date and I simply could not wait to see what he did next. So when it was announced that he would write and direct what seems like a loose adaptation of Romeo & Juliet (well there’s warring families and a captured girl so pretty much…alright scrap the R & J reference) I was pretty pumped. Keevil constructed his first film with less than fifteen grand and considering that this budget is about ten times that ($150K) it puts it in a great position. Still far enough away from the mainstream to retain a wholly original flair and yet loaded enough for a little financial flexibility to do more stunts, Chuck Hank and the San Diego Twins is a definite risk pick but one I’m confident making. In Keevil’s Kickstarter campaign, he noted they needed the funds to create such awesome action sequences as: “jumping out of a helicopter”, “Molotov cocktails everywhere” and “punching a guy and he bursts into flames.” Righteous.
It seems like none of my most anticipated have release dates as this one has nothing locked down yet either.
For years, Darren Aronofsky has led us on about his Noah project and finally this year we’ll see what it was he was chomping so hard at the bit about. Once Black Swan made 25 times its production budget (which for those of you don’t already know is totally insane) the folks at Paramount felt it was right to dish out the 130 million dollars Aronofsky wanted to make Noah the big budget spectacle film he always dreamed about. All evidence points to Aronofsky as a tremendous dramatic director (see Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler, Black Swan) but his first “spectacle” film (The Fountain) was seen as a bit of a failure. Hopefully he’s learned from his mistakes and Noah will satisfy us on a visual and emotional level unlike anything else this year.
Storms into large format theaters on March 28.
Speaking of spectacles, there’s no denying that Christopher Nolan is the undisputed king of the blockbuster. Forget about James Cameron, Nolan’s films have staying power and pepper coveted spots on top ten lists every year one of his films is released. Amazingly enough, Nolan’s films have the uncanny ability to attract fanboys and high-nosed film critics in equal measure and it all comes down to his ability to mesmerize an audience. Like Inception before it, Interstellar is an entirely original idea this time revolving around space travel and time warps. Of course we’re interested. Largely abandoning regulars like Christian Bale, Ken Watanbe and Cillian Murphy, Interstellar looks to a new generation of Nolanites in Matthew McConaughey, Jessica Chastain, Wes Bentley, Casey Affleck, Ellen Burstyn, John Lithgow and, naturally, Michael Caine. Let’s just be honest with ourselves: there is no summer movie of 2014 that we’re anticipating more than Nolan’s.
You’ll be able to see Interstellar at the biggest screen in a 100-mile radius on November 7.
When you think about it, it shouldn’t be a surprise that my most anticipated film of 2014 goes to Richard Linklater (whose Before Midnight was my Top Movie of 2013) but I’m willing to bet you haven’t even heard of this one. Ambitious to a fault, Boyhood has been in the making for 12 years. And by being in the making, I mean in legitimate development. As in filming for 12 years. Like Linklater’s Before series, Boyhood tracks a father’s (Ethan Hawke) relationship with his son as he grows from 6 to 18. With filming taking place for a few weeks every year, this film will not only serve as a time capsule for the ever-changing Hawke, Linklater, and newcomer Ellar Coltrane but will reflect a changing American culture in the most unaltered of ways. When asked about the film, Hawke said, “[we do] a scene with a young boy at the age of 7 when he talks about why do raccoons die, and at the age of 12 when he talks about video games, and 17 when he asks me about girls.” Essentially, the film will be like growing up all over again. As I said earlier, it’s ambitious beyond compare but I just can’t wait to see what is in store.
Of course there’s no official release date on this.
So there you have it ladies and gentlemen. Just to recap:
30. How to Train Your Dragon 2 29. Jupiter Ascending 28. Chef 27. Dumb and Dumber To 26. Only Lovers Left Alive 25. Wish I Was Here 24. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For 23. Locke 22. Edge of Tomorrow 21. Godzilla 20. Dom Hemingway 19: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes 18. X-Men: Days of Future Past 17. Exodus 16. Guardians of the Galaxy 15. Sabotage 14. Big Hero 6 13. The Raid 2: Berenthal 12. The Monument’s Men 11. Transcendence 10. Map to the Stars 10. Snowpiercer 9 Fox Catcher 7. Inherent Vice 8. Gone Girl 6. Fury 5.The Grand Budapest Hotel 4. Chuck Hank And The San Diego Twins 3. Noah 2. Interstellar 1. Boyhood