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Sunday, April 13, 2014

SUBSPACE TRANSMISSIONS Enters the Holodeck!

In the latest episode of Subspace Transmissions my two valiant co-hosts and I meet in the podcast arena to argue over the best and worst Trek holodeck programs. The results are insightful, silly and more than a little nerdy. But, then, would you expect anything less?!

Join Benjamin Yong, Tyler Orton and I as we don our Three Musketeers outfits and celebrate the very best and very worst the holodeck has to offer!

Click here to boldly go to the Subspace Transmissions blog.

Or, head over to the iTunes store and subscribe to the show!

Thanks for your patronage!

Monday, April 07, 2014

Exploring the Final Frontier with SUBSPACE TRANSMISSIONS!

While you wouldn't necessarily realize it  perusing this blog, I unabashedly, absolutely love all things Star Trek. Thus, when the opportunity presented itself to join an away crew and embark on an intrepid journey into the (not so) undiscovered country of Trek podcasting, how could I ever turn it down? Frankly, I just couldn't (a very human weakness, Spock would say), and Subspace Transmissions has been gloriously born!

Join hosts Tyler Orton, Benjamin Yong and myself for our debut episode in which each of us tries our hand at attempting to make a case for what we feel is the Best Star Trek Series.

Click here to boldly go to the Subspace Transmissions blog. I promise it's gonna be a fun ride!

Monday, March 03, 2014

Film Review - ROBOCOP

When it comes to franchise reboots, RoboCop ain’t exactly a sacred cow. Don’t get me wrong, Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 breakthrough is one of that decade’s most ambitious, and important, action cinema landmarks – a boldly gory and clever sci-fi shoot-em-up that unloads just as many incisive satirical jabs at Reagan-era U.S. culture as flesh-pulverizing bullets – and deserving of most of the praise awarded it. Yet, while the gloriously weird Dutch director went on to apply his surprise hit’s winning blend of social commentary and gut-churning violence to greater effect in 1990’s Total Recall and 1997’s Starship Troopers (his best American film), the titular character quickly, and pitifully, went to rust. The Frank Miller-penned RoboCop 2 upped its predecessor’s extreme blast-o-rama ugliness at the expense of innovation and wit, and the less said about the series’ pathetic threequel, short-lived TV incarnation or dud 2000 mini-series, Prime Directives, the better.

So it’s hard to fault MGM and director Jose Padilha (of Elite Squad fame) for wanting to jump-start the long-dormant property back into cultural relevance. And you know something? Their efforts aren’t without merit. This update certainly lacks the edge and sniper-scope focus of Verhoeven’s original, but it also doesn’t wuss out from taking the character in some new and intriguing directions. Frankly, what prevents this flashier version 2.0 from hitting higher marks is its makers’ timid reluctance to completely un-cuff themselves from the established story elements of the adored source material. There’s a sling-shot effect akin to Rob Zombie’s infinitely worse Halloween redo; just when we think we’re heading somewhere fresh we get yanked back onto sacred, well-trod terrain. Still, at least in this case the journey is mostly worth taking, despite the underwhelming reality of the final destination.

We’re (awkwardly) introduced into this Robocop's universe by a Bill O’Reilly-esque pundit buffoon played by Samuel L. Jackson, who feverishly explains that in the year 2028 America employs an endless array of drone soldiers in establishing order across the globe. Flush with success, Detroit robot manufacturer Omni Consumer Products, headed by the forward-thinking Raymond Sellars (a wonderfully twitchy Michael Keaton), are desperately hoping to topple a bill forbidding their mechanical creations from patrolling native soil. Their goal? To win over public support and change legislation by constructing an artificially intelligent law enforcer that appears more man than machine.

Lucky for OCP, they wind up with the perfect candidate for transformation in Alex Murphy (bland Peter Weller replacement Joel Kinnaman), a by-the-books local cop and family man who winds up in pieces after falling victim to a vicious crime lord’s car bomb. Reassembled into a flashy stainless steel abomination of flesh, wires and tubes by brilliant, well-meaning scientist Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman), Murphy fast becomes a thoroughly effective one-man weapon of justice and propaganda tool. However, while OCP ruthlessly strips away Murphy’s pesky lingering humanity in order to craft the ideal mechanism, glimmers of it continue to resurface; reawakening feelings for the officer’s widowed wife (Abbie Cornish) and son (John Paul Ruttan), and threatening to unmask a vast criminal conspiracy.

RoboCop is at its best in its first half; establishing the rule of OCP - an early sequence depicting an American military occupation of Iran is, dare I say, positively Verhoevenian - and charting the progress of Murphy’s transition into the tragic icon. This version dances more in the grey than the prior movie's black-and-white representation of maniacal corporate psychopaths gone wild, and we can understand the logic behind Keaton and Oldman’s decisions even if we don’t agree with them. There's a logical method to their madness. Similarly, this RoboCop doesn’t just emerge as a blank slate that slowly flickers back to consciousness. He’s now a frightened, grief-stricken human being who is horrified by his technological upgrade (the reveal of his existing mortal body parts is nightmarishly haunting, PG-13 rating be damned!) and must learn and adapt.

Too often in reboots the expanded origin stuff is clumsy and unnecessary (Amazing Spider-Man, anyone?), pointlessly over-complicating for the sake of justifying its own existence. Padilha and writer Joshua Zetumer are, thankfully, smarter than that. It’s compelling to watch Murphy not only react to his own dehumanization, but also endure OCP’s relentless training and tinkering, butting heads with Oldman and aggressive combat coach Jackie Earle Haley along the way. Sure, the increased emphasis on our hero's family is a bit too Movieland artificial – and, if you’ve ever seen an 80s action movie, you know exactly where his wife and son will be for the climax – but it allows a nice alternate perspective to our protagonist’s emotional arc.

The heart does sink, though, once the grinding wheels of inevitability start up in the second hour, and the film begins slavishly marching to the plot beat of its ancestor. Alas, this time around there’s a sense of bloodlessness – both literally and figuratively – to the action and big crowd-pleasing set pieces that drains the film of much interest. An epic clash with hulking ED 209 attack bots criminally underwhelms due to its unfathomable editing and staging, and the extended shootouts, layered with intentional videogame overtones, are too sanitized and controlled to exhilarate. Robocop also lacks a truly despicable villain to actively root against, with Haley being the only worthy successor to the Kurtwood Smith throne. The rest are mostly forgettable nonentities (Jay Baruchel’s snarky OCP lackey is one manic coke-sniffing scene away from working) who come across more like target practice than worthwhile antagonists.

Despite being conceived as a springboard for an ongoing series (the ending noticeably follows the template of most superhero movie franchise starters), this remake just doesn’t feel like it warrants any further chapters by the time credits roll. Rather, it’s a reasonably diverting, standard-issue spectacle with some cool ideas and fun performances that, thanks to Padilha’s efforts, entertains more often than not, in spite of a noticeable lack of fire and true purpose. Slickly engineered, test-marketed and costly in construction, this Robocop performs its duties sufficiently, but not efficiently.

3 out of 5

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Film Review - I, FRANKENSTEIN

If there is an afterlife, and its residents possess free reign to watch over the living, dearly departed author Mary Shelley must have been screaming bloody murder for her name to be removed from the credits of I, Frankenstein. For here we have one of the dourest, dumbest examples of imagination-deficient cinematic sludge in quite some time; a mopey fan-wank sequel to the literary classic in which the misunderstood, but dreaded, monster emerges - after centuries in miserable exile - as a sexy demon-battering vigilante with the disposition of an emo rocker. Sure, it’s feasible that decent B-movie fun could be generated from a hacky premise that requires our jigsaw puzzle-pieced antihero to mumble “descend in pain, demon!” while surrounded by bad CG fire swirls, but this motion picture IQ dropper is as incompetent as Igor on ice-skates. Blindfolded.

Set in the murky, desolate Gothic streets of a crumbling, unnamed four-block metropolis, the continuing adventures of the famed abomination, now played by Aaron Eckhart, pick up with him becoming embroiled in the centuries-old war between the divine Gargoyles and the sinister demons. Seems the evil forces, led by seething big daddy bad-guy Naberius (Bill Nighy), are hoping to attain Dr. Frankenstein’s miraculous scientific formulas and use them for their own nefarious ends. In a bid to thwart this apocalyptic plot, Gargoyle Queen Leonore (Miranda Otto) offers the newly rechristened Adam steel baton weapons and a cause to fight for, despite the objections of her hot-headed second-in-command, Gideon (Jai Courtney). Of course, ever the loner, the zipper-stitch-faced ass-kicker instead strikes out on his own, recruiting the aid of hottie scientist Yvonne Strahovski in a quest to uncover both the truth behind his mortality and a means of stopping Naberius’s mankind-decimating master plan.

Ostensibly based on co-star/co-writer Kevin Grevioux’s Darkstorm Studios graphic novel of the same name – which, to the best of my research, does not actually exist in any published form – I, Frankenstein is, more accurately, a craven attempt by producers Gary Lucchesi, Tom Rosenberg and Richard S. Write to replicate the success of their cruddy-yet-popular Underworld franchise. Again we have two long-opposing factions of phony-looking supernatural beasts, a tormented protagonist trapped in the middle of the conflict, and Nighy as the acidic villain (it’s debatable whether the actor is even aware he’s playing a different character here). However, whereas that franchise occasionally managed – in its first two installments – to just barely scrape by on the energetic bargain basement vision of Len Wiseman, this project’s helmer, Stuart Beattie (co-scribe of G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, 30 Days of Night and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl) is a barely adequate point-and-shoot kinda guy. His doom ‘n gloom visuals aren’t egregiously terrible, so much as utterly and completely generic and uninspired. More The Crow: City of Angels than The Crow, if you will.

Where the shoddiness really shines through is in the construction. We can look past the distractingly empty sets – I, Frankenstein’s extras budget must have been roughly on par with that of a 1987 episode of "The Bold and the Beautiful" – and joyless videogame-like action in which everything and nothing happens simultaneously. What can’t be forgiven, though, is the jarring, ramshackle editing that randomly transports Adam wherever he needs to be at all times – marvel as he falls off a building onto a subterranean train, sits and reads a book, and then astonishingly appears back on top of the previously mentioned building at a key moment mere minutes later – and loosely staples the directionless shambles of a story together. There’s no flow or arcs, only perfunctory plot beats tossed sluggishly into a swirling chaos of monotonous mythological nonsense and sub-Blade fisticuffs. The stakes feel pitifully low, and, since writers Beattie and Grevioux fail to gift even a single character with a personality trait, it’s impossible to give a rat’s ass what the dickens is going on.

Honestly, you just wind up feeling bad for the actors. Did the elegant Miranda Otto spend much time reminiscing about her career-launching stint in Middle Earth during this sorry shoot? Was Jai Courtney, fresh off the sting of A Good Day to Die Hard, aware that his near future wasn’t going to get any brighter? Did Bill Nighy buy a nice boat with his paycheck? And how about Aaron Eckhart, who was so fantastic in films like In the Company of Men, Thank You for Smoking and The Dark Knight? Clad in a black hoodie, eyes smeared with mascara, the actor glumly continues the frankly embarrassing trend of dressing middle-aged manly men like 18-year-old Goth brats. Remember the days when kids aspired to grow up to look like their favorite movie stars and not the other way around? Yeesh. What would Bogie or the Duke say?!

Dreary, derivative and insultingly lazy, the only faint benefit of this vile January dump is that it may potentially point a viewer or two in the direction of Shelley’s haunting work or some of the character’s iconic Universal efforts (allow me a precious glimmer of hope. Please.) Beyond that…well, to waste any more thought on this grim chore would be to exceed the consideration that went into its unholy conception. A stinking, unresponsive corpse of a movie that no one involved could be bothered jolting to life, I, Frankenstein deserves to be kicked into an unmarked grave and unceremoniously buried. 

1 out of 5

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Top 5 Most Underrated Supervillain Performances

Heath Ledger, Tom Hiddleston, Alfred Molina, Terrence Stamp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Jack Nicholson…

Let’s not kid ourselves: ticking off the best superhero movie villains is, at this point, a somewhat pointless endeavor. We all know who’s snatching up the top slot (“Why so serious?!”), and more often than not the ensuing list – of which there are no shortage on the oh-so wondrous interwebs – tend to fall predictably in line with the Greatest Superhero Movies consensus. Boooring!


So, instead, let’s take a moment and highlight those less fortunate scenery-chewing thespians; the tremendous talents that really went for it, delivering sensational bad guy performances in pictures that didn’t deserve their energy and were generally dismissed as mediocre or downright wretched. After all, there are some fantastic spot-on characterizations and moments of madcap malevolence that deserve their devilish due here! So join me in quaking in their magnificently fiendish presence!

5) Liev Schreiber (Victor Creed/Sabretooth) in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

Pyew! Hands down the worst film included on this list, Hugh Jackman’s first solo X-flick is a truly embarrassing, hacky assemblage of hoary clichés, appalling effects and hyper-dopey creative decisions. However, Schreiber’s teeth-gnashing turn as the animalistic hero’s adamantium-laced half-brother is this disaster’s lone saving grace. While lacking his X-Men predecessor Tyler Mane’s more comic book-appropriate blonde locks and hulking physique, the actor sinisterly taps into the role’s darkly funny, blood-curdling charisma, playfully rebounding between soft-spoken statuesque menace and full-blown psychopathic savagery. Had Origins understood how to effectively weave him into the narrative, and given him something interesting to do, he’d likely be remembered for a lot more than his goofy (and never-ending) CG-aided pouncing and clawing sequences.

4) (Tie) Mickey Rourke (Ivan Vanko/Whiplash) & Sam Rockwell (Justin Hammer) in Iron Man 2 (2010)

These two both showed up ready to play and were instead sidelined by an overly-complicated and bloated (albeit still modestly engaging) story that ignored them for vast chunks of time. Rourke – whose numbed Russian Peter-Stormare-in-Fargo-like heavy is a fun amalgamation of Iron Man foes Whiplash and Crimson Dynamo – gamely disappears Method-style into the greasy, hulking hide of his mumbling vengeance-minded genius. Alas, despite his very cool dreadlocked visage, ugly menace and tech gimmickry, the movie fails to establish him as a fearsome threat. Following a spectacular attack on the Monaco Grand Prix, he mostly just sits around waiting to do something, and when he finally goes back into action it’s underwhelming to the max. Rockwell’s hilarious anti-Stark arms dealer buffoon – a de-aged, doofed-up version of his comic book counterpart – gets the juicier scenes and funny lines, yet ranks even lower on the danger-scale. Thus, we find ourselves watching Downey’s tin-plated titan facing off against two genuinely memorable, eccentric opponents who are, unfortunately, obviously inferior to him in every conceivable way. Not exactly a stellar way to set the stakes particularly high.

3) Kevin Spacey (Lex Luthor) in Superman Returns (2006)

While I consider myself a staunch defender of this Bryan Singer-helmed tribute to the Richard Donner Superman era - and honestly prefer it to the recent overkill-happy Man of Steel reboot – there’s little question that movie-goers felt quite differently. That said, criticisms of stars Brandon Routh and Kate Bosworth, and the moody, reflective story they occupy, aside, it’s mighty tough to discount the dripping-with-relish efforts of Spacey as pop-culture’s most infamous iconic bald megalomaniac! Sure, Lex’s plan doesn’t make a whole lotta sense here, but the actor is having so much fun it’s infectious, blending Gene Hackman’s mischievous twinkle and bluster with cold reptilian intellectualism and the odd spike of truly shocking sadism (Kryptonite shank!). Anticlimactically abandoned on a desert isle, it would have been fascinating to see where Spacey would have taken this renowned arch-foe in ensuing sequels had he been given the chance. Oh well, at least we’ll always have this legendary line delivery:


2) Thomas Haden Church (Flint Marko/Sandman) in Spider-Man 3 (2007)

There’s no good reason Haden Church couldn’t have joined the lofty ranks occupied by all-timer Spidey nemeses Willem Dafoe and Alfred Molina. Perfectly cast, and aided by state of the art effects (Sandman’s beautiful and haunting Universal Monsters-inspired origin scene remains a genre stand-out), he and director Sam Raimi display a flawless understanding of the perpetually-unsuccessful working class spirit of Stan Lee’s immoral granular creation. Alas, too many studio intervention-induced subplots and villains (New Goblin! Symbiote!! Venom!!!) result in an uphill battle for the ingenious actor, who nonetheless valiantly tries his damnedest to convey the wounded humanity and redemptive journey of his antagonist in scant screentime. Worse, when the storytelling really jumps the track in the second hour, the concrete-fisted criminal’s motivation and relatable mortal form go entirely out the window, leaving us with a giant groaning monster that lacks an iota of soulfulness or pathos. Perhaps it’s fitting that it was Sandman, of all of Spider-Man’s rogues, who wound up having the worst luck storming the big screen. It sure doesn’t make the end result sting any less though.

1) Colin Farrell (Bullseye) in Daredevil (2003)

Rarely has any actor in a superhero movie gone as gleefully over the top silly as Farrell does in Mark Steven Johnson’s so-so comic book adaptation without crashing and burning (take notes Tommy Lee Jones, Uma Thurman, John Leguizamo and Dominic West). Introduced to the brash party time rhymes of House of Pain, the actor flamboyantly steals every single one of his scenes, pushing his thick Irish accent, hyperactive eyebrows and bizarre mannerisms masterfully right to the edge of Cartoonsville. And yet it all works so wonderfully! Whether hissing crazily at a rat or slyly murdering an old woman with airline peanuts, Bullseye is a hysterical figure of giddy lunatic mischief, scoring huge laughs by playing up both his cocky deadliness and cape-swishing campiness simultaneously. It’s weird, in retrospect, that 20th Century Fox viewed Jennifer Garner’s vanilla Elektra as the breakout character, given Farrell’s broad crowd-pleasing antics and spotlight appearance in the movie’s sequel-teasing credits stinger. Borrowing a line from Frank Miller’s classic “Man Without Fear” Daredevil story arc, Farrell declares mid-film: “You’re good, baby. I’ll give you that. But me? I’m magic!” Pretty hard to disagree with him there.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

The Bottom 5 Worst Films of 2013

1) GROWN UPS 2 – Yeah, yeah, obviously no one (sane) expected value from a sequel to Adam Sandler’s blandly half-assed 2010 Great Outdoors rip-off. Nevertheless, experiencing this insultingly wretched laughter black hole in a theatre felt like a cinematic prison sentence, made infuriating by the sight of several bored formerly-great comedy stars (and Kevin James) flipping off ticket buyers in cynical shoulder-shrugging indifference. You would swear on the basis of this ramshackle, scriptless, punchline-free horror that none of the culprits involved had ever seen a funny movie, much less made one. In a year that saw Seth Rogen and crew assembling for the anarchic, creatively inspired team-up effort This is the End, Grown Ups 2 felt like Sandler and his nitwit road company clumsily waving the flag of pathetic irrelevance.

 2) R.I.P.D. – Being shamelessly derivative is bad enough, but if you’re going to crank out a blatant Ghost Busters/Men in Black clone at least put an ounce of effort into it! With its vintage year 2000-quality CG and barely stretched-to-feature-length runtime, this creaky, DTV-quality franchise non-starter wound up looked like an utter joke playing in cineplexes next to highly confident summer fare like Iron Man 3, Fast and Furious 6 and the underrated White House Down. Despite dying a suitably quiet death at the box office, R.I.P.D. did manage two major achievements: it likely put a nail in Ryan Reynolds’ flagging bid for A-list stardom, and spawned easily the worst Jeff Bridges performance of all time.

3) PARKER – This should have worked. After all, tough taking, no-nonsense Brit action god Jason Statham seemed like a good choice to take over the reigns of author Donald E. Westlake’s revenge-seeking antihero, previously brought to life by Lee Marvin (Point Blank) and Mel Gibson (Payback). The Taylor Hackford-directed results, however, were more mind-numbingly dull than dynamite, as Statham awkwardly adopted a hammy Texas accent in order to explore the Florida real estate market with Jennifer’s Lopez’s perpetual sad sack realtor. You know a movie is in terrible shape when the most memorable thing about it is that its leading man wore a stupid hat a lot.

 4) PAIN AND GAIN – Can we all just give up on the prospect of Michael Bay redeeming himself already? Coming on the heels of his noxious Transformers trifecta, this Coen brothers-inspired (in a Britney-Spears-covering-Joan-Jett-kinda-way) black comedy dirge took a fantastic true life premise and cast (Mark Wahlberg, Anthony Mackie, Ed Harris, Tony Shalhoub and a beyond-game Dwayne Johnson, among the victims) and submerged them in yet another of his patented acidic melting pots of tediously shallow, sociopathic high–def brutality, misogyny, homophobia and bathroom humor. Lacking even a splinter of actual satirical wit, Pain and Gain once more revealed the technically-adept Bay to be a woefully flabby, unfit storyteller.

5) A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD – We should have known this was a walking disaster the second it received the greenlight. A fifth series installment helmed by visionless Max Payne hack John Moore and written by Skip Woods, the dubious scribe of X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Hitman? Did we need a bigger freaking warning sign? Still, though, we had faith that Bruce had one more great bullet-torn adventure left in him. Alas, we were wrong to hold out hope (so very wrong…), as A Good Day to Die Hard proved to be an embarrassingly inept, dumb and lazy paycheck effort that did more damage to good ol’ John McClane than even Hans Gruber could dream of. Die Hard? More like Die Pitifully.

 Dishonorable Mentions: BULLET TO THE HEAD, G.I. JOE: RETALIATION, GANGSTER SQUAD, THE INTERNSHIP, TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Top 10 Best Films of 2013

1) 12 YEARS A SLAVE – In his first two remarkable efforts Steve McQueen displayed a fearless, unflinching proficiency for gazing into the darkest depths of human suffering, and finding spiritual hope (in Hunger) and, alternately, all-consuming despair (Shame). 12 Years a Slave, his staggering dramatic recreation of Solomon Northup’s tragic true story, elegantly portrays each end of the spectrum, and the sea of turbulence in between. Diving headlong into the degrading horrors of slavery, McQueen mines every ounce of humiliation, pain and torment from this horrendous period of American history, exposing the profoundly destructive effect it had on every single soul involved. Extraordinary elevated by a trio of transcendent performances from Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender and Lupita Nyong’o, this unforgettably haunting picture isn’t just the crowning cinematic achievement of the year; it’s destined for prominence as one of the defining works of our era.  

2) MUD – Following up his unshakeable 2011 gothic drama Take Shelter, writer/director Jeff Nichols’ fashioned this wonderfully personal and atmospheric noir-tinged tribute to lost innocence that rightfully warrants comparison with masterworks such as E.T., The Last Picture Show and The 400 Blows. Centered around an unlikely friendship between Tye Sheridan’s confused, sensitive adolescent and Matthew McConaughey’s mysterious island-dwelling escaped convict, this enchanting gem lovingly fills its layered, lived in canvas with countless colorful characters (Reese Witherspoon, Sam Shepard, Michael Shannon and Joe Don Baker, to name a few) and evocative passages of youthful discovery, frustration and idealistic naiveté. Mud spins an engrossing, beautiful yarn that fulfills our desire for delightful stories that energize the soul along the way. 

3) SHORT TERM 12 – Although top-ranking directorial masters dominated  2013, there were also a handful of hungry new kids on the block demanding to be heard. Chief among them was Destin Cretton, who expanded his 2008 short into this powerfully raw, clever and poignant fly-on-the-wall look at the daily realities faced by an underfunded foster care facility. Dodging every possible saccharine cliché in the book, Cretton delivers a movie that is original, affecting and hugely uplifting. He also gives the ever-brilliant Brie Larson a much-deserved plum role as the weary chief supervisor attempting to resolve her own issues in a tornado of mentally-draining dysfunction. Short Term 12 is a sensational film and a genuinely thrilling glimpse of things to come from an audacious rising talent. 

4) GRAVITY – If Children of Men definitively established Alfonso Cuaron as one of the principal cinematic storytellers of his generation, this astonishing white knuckle spectacle was eye-popping proof that’s he’s also the coolest technical boundary-pusher working today (sorry James Cameron). A small, gripping survival tale blown up to exhilarating big screen splendor, awesomely populated by seamless effects and one very frightened Sandra Bullock, Gravity was an intensely rewarding game-changer with vision and pure wonder. In a marketplace increasingly bogged down by manufactured blockbuster “thrill rides” this was the only one worth lining up for multiple times.  

5) BEFORE MIDNIGHT – The final (?) chapter in the most authentic romance in motion picture history (yup, I said it!), Richard Linklater’s third captivating Before entry observes now long-time lovers Jesse and Celine (co-writers Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy) as they grapple with middle-age and the threat of stagnation in their relationship. Insightful, funny and often uncomfortably frank, this magnificent series continues to be a triumph like no other; an intimate, thoughtful portrait of real world love, with all of its dizzying highs and wounding lows laid utterly, recognizably bare. Midnight puts us through the emotional ringer with these two once-crazy kids, however there’s an abundance of warmth, understanding and truth waiting patiently on the other side.

6) THE WOLF OF WALL STREET – There were a lot of crazy parties thrown on the silver screen in 2013, but none more strikingly unhinged and fiendishly decadent than legendary director Martin Scorsese’s balls-to-the-wall adaptation of reformed Wall Street conman Jordan Belfort’s autobiography. With a frothing, sleaze-soaked Leonardo DiCaprio – in an all-time great performance exploding with sociopathic subtlety and Jim Carrey-esque physicality - unloading every potent weapon in his arsenal, and an enormous crackerjack supporting cast including Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey and Kyle Chandler, this sprawling epic comedy delivers scene after scene of edgy livewire genius. Orchestrating the chaos, Scorsese doesn’t just demolish the American dream, he makes us howl with amusement at the absurdity, and injustice, of it all.

7) INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS – Boy, those Coen boys are sure on one helluva roll. Another rich addition to their already incomparable filmography, Inside Llewyn Davis is a poetic, bittersweet meditation on the lonely struggles of pursuing grand artistic ambition. Chronicling a week in the life of Oscar Isaac’s water-treading 1960s folk singer, the Coens’ latest is a perfect hang out movie, allowing us the simple pleasure of spending time with a fascinating, flawed, gifted man whose only solace can be found in the freedom of musical expression. The boundlessly talented Isaac is a revelation here – both as an actor and a singer – and his weary, droll journey, scored to an array of foot-tapping tunes, is a leisurely joy to watch unfold.

8) MONSTERS UNIVERSITY – Let’s be honest: no one was chomping at the bit for a prequel to the 2001 classic Monsters, Inc. Yet Pixar, the once unassailable animation juggernaut, pulled out another minor miracle with this hilarious, big-hearted second chapter that actually manages to top the endearing original. Returning Billy Crystal and John Goodman to their iconic roles, and surrounding them with a host of memorable new additions, this zippy send up of college comedies boasts huge laughs, several exciting and inventive action set-pieces and a handful of surprisingly touching character revelations. In a year brimming with worthy, exquisitely rendered family entertainment, Monsters University stood confidently, head and beastly shoulders, at the head of the class.

9) SPRING BREAKERS – Gaudy. Ludicrous. Campy. Shameless. All of those descriptors cheerfully apply to this mesmerizing (and polarizing) Harmony Korine cult hit, a Guns, Girls and Gangstas flash bomb of satirical irreverence and synthetic style lobbed straight at Generation Y. A hilarious hyperkinetic fever reverie, Spring Breakers is positively alive and of the moment, gleefully reveling in the raucous excesses of modern youth culture while simultaneously throwing up its hands in irritated exasperation. Backed by an unforgettably insane James Franco turn, this provocative cinematic statement sure ain’t for everyone. Nonetheless, those able to surrender to its pulsing provocative beat are in for one relentlessly trippy time.

10) ONLY GOD FORGIVES – Similar to slot number nine, helmer Nicolas Winding Refn and star Ryan Gosling’s gonzo hallucinogenic Bangkok revenge thriller had no shortage of vocal detractors. This David Lynchian follow-up to 2011’s fantastic Drive is the ultimate anti-crowd pleaser; a moody, head-scratchingly enigmatic exercise in futility, dream logic, oedipal weirdness and brutal emasculation. Cloaked in brooding surreal symbolism and shot in vivid, suffocating primary colors, Only God Forgives is an addictively revolting and sadistic puzzle that unlocks dazzling new secrets with every revisit. 

Honorable Mentions: FRANCES HA, IRON MAN 3, NEBRASKA, ROOM 237, THIS IS THE END