Saturday, January 31, 2015

2014 Denny Awards - Part 1 (Best Films)

Part 1/3 of my Annual "Denny Awards" ;-)
(Other Years' Awards)

Part I - Best Films of 2014
Part II - Most Compelling Performances / Character Roles (Male)
Part III - Most Compelling Performances / Character Roles  (Female)

       Best -         
             Chef [2014] - R (strange rating, probably for lang.) - 4 Stars - apparently a single work / kitchen scene with a lot of bad words gave this movie an R rating but otherwise this film is about as family oriented as it gets.  The father must choose between his career and his 10 y/o son and ... comes to choose wisely ;-)
       Honorable Mentions -
              Rio 2 [2014] - G / A-I - 4 Stars - no questions here.  A technically excellent and reliably safe family oriented movie here about a family of ... parrots ;-)
              Night at the Museum: The Secret of the Tomb [2014] - PG / A-II - 3 1/2 Stars - continues and with Robin Williams' passing probably brings to an end another excellent family friendly film built around a father and son relationship.
               Cantinflas [2014] - PG - 4 Stars - lovely family oriented Hollywood movie, fully bilingual, about comic genius / "Mexico's Charlie Chaplin" Cantinflas and who, despite being "a star" was also a family man.
               Belle and Sebastian (orig. Belle et Sébastien) [2013]  - (UR would be PG) - France (subtitled) - 3 1/2 Stars - Lovely film but probably will never be seen most American kids because, well ... it's IN FRENCH ;-).  It's about an orphan kid, Sebastian, who gets taken in by a nice family and who, along with his lovely sheep dog Belle (also a originally a stray) "work together" then to "fight the Nazis"  Never has the Resistance been SOOO cute ;-).
               The Babadook [2014] - PG-13 - 4 Stars - a different kind of "family oriented movie" but honestly with the exception of _really small kids_ probably _the best_ "really scary movie" that the whole family could enjoy to come out in a long, long time.  About a "story book monster" named "Mister Babadook" who knocks on the door "Duk - Duk - Duk" and if you let him in, he'll NEVER, EVER LEAVE ;-)

        Best - 
              Divergent [2014] - PG-13 / A-III - 3 Stars - honestly in good part about a family with maturing teens in very stressed (indeed "post-Apocalyptic") circumstances that still finds a way to "work together."
        Honorable Mentions -  
              Stand Clear of the Closing Doors [2013] - UR (would be PG-13) - 3 1/2 Stars - a family, Hispanic, probably undocumented, has to ALSO deal with a 12-y/o moderately autistic son.
              The Hundred Foot Journey [2014] - PG / A-III - 4 Stars - Pakistani / Indian Muslim family living in England moves to France so that the oldest son could pursue career as a chef.
              Chef [2014] - R (strange rating, probably for lang.) - 4 Stars - See above

BEST INTERGENERATIONAL FILMS (Best Family Centered Films for Adults) -
         Best -
               Still Alice [2014] - PG-13 / A-III - 4 Stars - 50-yo univ. prof with loving husband, three grown kids comes down with early onset Alzheimers.     
         Honorable Mentions -
               Boyhood [2014] - R / L - 4 Stars - intergenerational "phenom" certainly one of the best American pictures of the year, but despite its title is really aimed at an adult intergenerational audience. 
               Cinemanovels [2013] - R - Canada (subtitled at times) - 3 Stars - An adult daughter working to forgive her beloved "national icon" father, now deceased, who she remembers as having abandoned her and her mother for "HIS muse" / "love of HIS life" when SHE was child.
               Colette [2013] - UR (would be R) - Czech Rep (Eng. dubbed) - 3 1/2 Stars - a very poignant and different kind of Holocaust movie - No "Bielski brothers with guns" here. Mom/Dad, Grandma/Grandpa, honestly, how did you survive the Holocaust?
               Gloria [2013] - R - Chile (subtitled) - 3 1/2 Stars - In case you think your 50 y/o mom is already "dead" / "not worthy" of (much further serious) consideration ;-).
               My Old Lady [2014] - PG-13 - 4 Stars - 50-something, never made much of himself son confronting the legacy of his far more successful but otherwise generally dirt-bag, now deceased father.
              The Forgotten Kingdom [2013] - UR (would be R) - South Africa / Lesotho (subtitled) - 3 1/2 Stars - Listless 20-something son living in J-burg (in the city) must go back to Lesotho (in the country) to bury his father.
              The Lunchbox (orig. Dabba) [2013] - PG - India (subtitled at times) - 4 Stars - an inter-generational "love story" (of sorts) built around the simple misdirection of a single lunch box in sprawling Mumbai one day.
              The Theory of Everything [2014] - PG-13 / A-III - 3 1/2 Stars - the story of renowned theoretical physicist Steven Hawkins and his wife / family that's taken care of him.
              Wild [2014] - R - Drama - 3 1/2 Stars - a young lost woman decides to "walk her way back" to being the woman her beloved mother thought she was.

         Best -
               Big Hero 6 [2014] - PG / A-II - 3 1/2 Stars - a little boy must learn to be nice even if he wants to turn the inflatable / balloon-like robot that his older brother left him into a "Iron-Man" like "superhero" ;-)
         Honorable Mentions -
                The Lego Movie [2014] - PG / A-I - 4 Stars - just an unbelievably cute movie with little other social value (besides its unbelievable cuteness ;-)
                 Annie [2014] - PG / A-II - 3 1/2 Stars - remake of the musical "Annie" but set in the present day rather than during the Depression Era.  The movie's still cute but also with more of a bite.
                 The Book of Life [2014] - PG / A-II - 3 1/2 Stars - lovely "Halloween"-like movie based on the traditions of the Mexican "Day of the Dead" (Nov 2).

         Best - 
               Guardians of the Galaxy [2014] - PG-13 / A-III - 3 Stars - Probably the funnest teenage oriented movie of the year.  Soon after a little boy's mother dies (of cancer), he's "abducted by aliens." Life's never the same, but IT IS ... interesting ;-).
         Honorable Mentions -
               Dracula Untold [2014] - PG-13 / A-III - 3 1/2 Stars - The (mostly true) story of Vlad the Impaler who made a "deal with the Devil" to (try to) save his people.
               The Maze Runner [2014] - PG-13 / A-III - 3 Stars - probably the best of the boy oriented "post apocalyptic" thrillers being written and made into movies these days.
               Stones for the Rampart (orig. Kamienie na szaniec) [2014]- UR (would be R) - Poland (subtitled) - 4 Stars - kinda like the "Red Dawn [2012] [1984]" movies but FOR REAL.  About A BOY SCOUT TROOP that fought with the Polish Resistance (Home Army) during WW II.

         Best -
                Divergent [2014] - PG-13 / A-III - 3 Stars - Probably the best of these teen-oriented post-Apocalyptic sagas put on the screen as of now.
         Honorable Mentions -
                The Fault in Our Stars [2014] - PG-13 / A-III - 3 Stars - She's got cancer, he's got cancer, but they're in love.  A great sappy teenage drama / love story.
                 The Hunger Games: Mockingjay -- Part 1 [2014] - PG-13 / A-III - 3 1/2 Stars - another of the teen-oriented post-Apocalyptic series (pt 3/4), one that IMHO is improving with each installment.

        Best -
                  Night at the Museum: The Secret of the Tomb [2014] - PG / A-II - 3 1/2 Stars - a blissful run through so many historical (and prehistorical ;-) figures in so little time and an invitation to study them all.  The link to wikipedia is right here ;-)
        Honorable Mentions -     
                  Belle [2013] - PG - 3 1/2 Stars / The Invisible Woman [2013] - R - 3 Stars - the two invisible English women of the 19th century, one black, one white, but both with their place in history. 
                  Colette [2013] - UR (would be R) - Czech Rep (Eng. dubbed) - 3 1/2 Stars - A story of survival INSIDE Auschwitz. //  Aftermath (orig. Pokłosie) [2013] - UR (would be R) - Noir-ish Historical Drama about Holocaust secrets that remain in the Polish countryside - 4+ Stars  
                  Selma [2014] - PG-13 / A-III - 4 Stars - not perfect but L.B.J.'s _good name_ with live and the point of demonstrations at Selma were not about LBJ but about the 20-30 million African Americans who finally got their constitutional right to vote back.
                  Cesar Chavez [2013] - PG-13 - 3 1/2 Stars - Lovely dramatization of CATHOLIC, Hispanic, Migrant Workers' Rights advocate Cesar Chavez. 

                  Dracula Untold [2014] - PG-13 / A-III - 3 1/2 Stars - so you wonder why the Balkans are such a mess.
                  The German Doctor (orig. Wakolda) [2013] - UR (would be R) - Argentina (subtitled) - 3 1/2 Stars - Historical drama about Nazi War criminal Joseph Mengele's time in a notorious town in Argentina's Patagonia region.
                    Generation War (orig. Unsere Mütter, Unsere Väter) [2013] - UR (would be R) - Historical Drama - 4 Stars - Two part movie / originally a miniseries about 5 young Germans (one Jewish) who "came of age" during WW II.
                    Words and Pictures [2014] - PG-13 - 2 1/2 Stars  - fun teen accessible film that asks the question what's more important / impactful: "words" or "pictures."  

         Best - 
                     A Dream of Iron (orig. Cheol-ae-kum) [2013] - UR (would be PG-13) - South Korea (subtitled) - 3 Stars - a visual reflection about Man and his Mastery of the Environment
         Honorable Mentions -
                     August Winds (orig. Ventos de Agosto) [2014] (UR would be R) - Brazil (subtitled) - 4 Stars - a "small, personalist film" about a young Afro-Brazilian couple living in North Eastern coastal Brazil.  How much does one really need to be happy?
                     Citizenfour [2014] - PG-13 - 4 Stars - Documentary made in real time about former NSA contractor Edward Snowden as he leaked information about the extent of NSA surveillance of the American / World's population.  It may all be needed to frustrate deeply hidden terrorist plots, but IMHO he was right, we do need to at least discuss it / give some kind of societal consent.
                      Repentance [2014] - R - 3 1/2 Stars - African American drama / thriller that asks the question of what truly constitutes "repentance."
                      Two Days, One Night (orig. Deux Jours, Une Nuit) [2014] - PG-13 - Belgium/France (subtitled) - 4 Stars - Reminds us of the question: What are the values/benefits of work?   It is only about monetary compensation that we get from it, or are there other values/benefits to work?
                      Words and Pictures [2014] - PG-13 - 2 1/2 Stars  - fun teen accessible film that asks the question what's more important / impactful: "words" or "pictures."   And ALSO asks if "a teacher that is flawed can still have a (POSITIVE) impact?"

         Best -
                     August Winds (orig. Ventos de Agosto) [2014] (UR would be R) - Brazil (subtitled) - 4 Stars - fascinating film centered on a young Afro-Brazilian couple living in North Eastern coastal Brazil.
         Honorable Mentions 
                     Locke [2013] - R - United Kingdom - 4+ Stars - at the end of work one day, a civil engineer, Locke, decides the time has come to come straight / fix his life.  Two hours of "hands-free" cell phone conversations (all while driving) follow ;-)     
                     The Lunchbox (orig. Dabba) [2013] - PG - India (subtitled at times) - 4 Stars - a LOVELY story build around the mis-delivery of a single lunch box to an office worker in sprawling Mumbai one day. 
                     The Stranger by the Lake (orig. L'inconnu du Lac) [2013] - UR (would be R / NC-17) - France (subtitled) - 3 Stars - an excellent gay-themed film / thriller that simply takes place alongside a random lake somewhere in rural France during the summer.
                     My Old Lady [2014] - PG-13 - 4 Stars - Just a well staged, well acted, tight little (family) drama that honestly keeps you guessing all the way to the end.
                     Two Days, One Night (orig. Deux Jours, Une Nuit) [2014] - PG-13 - Belgium (subtitled) 4 Stars - A woman who had been on extended sick-leave (for depression...) is given a weekend by her boss to convince her coworkers to take her back (at their expense).
                     A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night [2014] - R - Iran-Exiles (subtitled) - Horror / Drama - 4 Stars - possibly the coolest vampire movie in long, long time, and without need of a lot of special effects.
                     The Babadook [2014] - PG-13 - 4 Stars - Great "really scary movie" / "horror film" that reminds us again that a lot special effects are _not_ necessary to scare the daylights out of us if the story is good ;-)

            Best -
                      The Song [2014] - PG-13 / A-III - 4+ Stars - IMHO the most creative of the year's openly religious films, basically retelling the story of the Biblical King Solomon but setting it in the present day: The son of a flawed but beloved "country music legend" (named David King ;-), sets out to "step out of the shadow" of his sooo famous dad.  Many personal adventures, trials and tribulations ensue ...                       
            Honorable Mentions -     
                       Calvary [2014] - R / L - Drama - 4+ Stars - Graham Greene-like story of an Irish priest who is "sentenced to die in a week's time" by a penitent he encounters in the Confessional one Sunday morning.  Why?  For the sins of other priests in the Church's present-day sexual abuse crisis.  The film then follows the priest over the week that follows as "the clock ticks down..."
                        Son of God [2014] - PG-13 - 3 1/2 Stars - the "Gospel portion" of the History Channel's The Bible [2013] TV Series released as a stand-alone movie.  Viewers who know and enjoy the Bible will enjoy how the film-makers apply the Scriptures in the film.  Also IMHO the best/most credible/balanced portrayal of Mary Magdalene in recent film.
                        Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago [2013] - UR would be PG-13 - 3 1/2 Stars - a documentary that follows six different "pilgrims" and pilgrims who set out to walk the Camino de Santiago de Campostella one recent summer.
                         Leviathan (orig. Левиафан) [2014] - R - Russia (subtitled) - 3 Stars - A powerful Russian film challenging the (in this case, Russian Orthodox) Church to stand up and _become_ what it would like itself to be: "the conscience of the people."  The film includes a telling reference to the notorious protest made by Pussy Riot at a Moscow cathedral some years ago.

            Best -
                           Begin Again [2014] - R / A-III - 4 Stars - One of the best young-adult post-breakup movies ever made.
            Honorable Mentions - 
                           What If [2014] - PG-13 - 3 1/2 Stars - Excellent RomCom on the value of friendship before "jumping in the sack."
                            Life After Beth [2013] - R - 3 Stars - Fun RomCom about someone having trouble "letting go" even after ... she's DEAD ;-)            
                            Foreign Body (Obce ciało) [2014] - UR (would be R) - Poland/Italy (subtitled) - 3 1/2 Stars - Polish film by a fairly famous director about two young adults (she even seriously discerning if she'd want to be / was being called to be a nun) who _do_ "actually believe."

            For the Cinematography -
                     Best -
                             The Grand Budapest Hotel [2014] - R / A-III - 1 1/2 Stars (w. expl.)- created a stunning, uniquely stylized storybook "European lost world"
                     Honorable Mentions -
                              Miss Christina (orig. Domnisoara Christina) [2013] - UR (would be R) -  Romania (subtitled) - 4 Stars - a ROMANIAN "vampire movie" ;-) / rarely did a vampire look _so good_ ;-)
                             Sin City: A Dame To Kill For [2014] - R / O - 2 Stars w. Expl. - made in high contrast B&W, the film looks honestly like a moving graphic novel. 
                             A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night [2014] - R - Iran-Exiles (subtitled) - 4 Stars - again filmed in high contrast B&W one of the _coolest_ looking films of the year.
                           A Dream of Iron (orig. Cheol-ae-kum) [2013] - UR (would be PG-13) - South Korea (subtitled) - 3 Stars - the awesomeness of the imagery lends support to the argument that we (humanity) are really coming to "plant our flag" / dominate this world.
                             The Stranger by the Lake (orig. L'inconnu du Lac) [2013] - UR (would be R / NC-17) - France (subtitled) - 3 Stars - the lovely laziness of the imagery here helps one to feel like one's "on vacation" as well
                             Mr. Turner [2013] - R - 2 1/2 Stars - some of the landscape shots honestly look like the paintings made by the artist.
                             Repentance [2014] - R - 3 1/2 Stars - filmed out in New Orleans and the Louisiana bayou and one honestly feels that one is there.
                             Nightcrawler [2014] - R / L - 3 1/2 Stars - filmed almost entirely at night the cinematography expresses perfectly the creepiness of the film  
                             Big Eyes [2014] - PG-13 - 1 Star w. Expl. - again, the cinematography makes one feel like one has entered the hyper-real comercial "Andy Warhol"-ness of the time and place (San Francisco in the 1950s-early 60s) portrayed.
                           300: Rise of an Empire [2014] - R / L - 2 stars - made in a high contrast stylized manner, again the "hyper-reality" makes you feel like you are _right there_ 
                            Dracula Untold [2014] - 3 1/2 Stars - stylized cinematography makes one feel the Balkan Christians' pain during that extremely difficult time of the Ottoman invasions.
                             Hercules [2014] - PG-13 / A-III - 3 Stars - again the stylized cinematography makes one feel that "one is there" with "Herc and his crew" in ancient Greece
                             The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies [2014] - PG-13 / A-II - 3 Stars - a "final ticket to Middle Earth" for a while.  If you like this kind of world, it has been one heck of an enjoyable ride ;-)
            For Originality / Tightness of Story -  
                      Best -  
                             Boyhood [2014] - R / L - 4 Stars - American indie film, filmed with the same principal cast over the course of 10 years to tell the story of a typical American boy growing-up
                     Honorable Mentions - 
                            Locke [2013] - R - 4+ Stars - follows the story of middle-aged man/civil engineer making some fairly key decisions about his life while "commuting home" one evening and placing the key cell-phone calls to the key players as he drives. 
                            The Grand Budapest Hotel [2014] - R / A-III - 1 1/2 Stars - tells basically the story of "the lost Hapsburg Empire" of Central Europe in a very interesting/visually stylized sort of way. 

                            My Old Lady [2014] - PG-13 - 4 Stars - originally a stage play, tells the story of a 50 or so year old man confronting (and being confronted by) the legacy of his far more successful but also problematic and, more to the point, recently deceased, father
                            The Lunchbox (orig. Dabba) [2013] - PG-13 - 4 Stars - tells the story of an entire romance of sorts, caused by the random misdirection of a lunch box delivered to the wrong person one afternoon in Mumbai.
                            Tricked (orig. Steekspel) [2012] - PG-13 - 3 Stars - a Dutch film that was recently assembled in ten 4 minute segments over the span of a year by a national television audience writing-in its suggestions as to how the story should proceed after each successive 4 minute segment was made and aired on Dutch TV.                  
                            Repentance [2014] - R - 3 1/2 Stars - a tight African American centered "indie film" set in New Orleans and the Louisiana Bayou that asks some fairly universal questions about repentence and atonement for a single tragedy / crime.
                            August Winds (orig. Ventos de Agosto) [2014] (UR would be R) - Brazil (subtitled) - 4 Stars - again a tight little story about a young couple living out their lives in a small, random coastal hamlet in North Eastern Brazil where time like everywhere else passes but also like everywhere else almost imperceptibly. 
                           The Babadook [2014] - PG-13 - 4 Stars - a great little "scary movie" for the whole family that reminds viewers again that a good scary story need not involve complex special effects.

            Best -
                      Citizenfour [2014] - PG-13 - 4 Stars - documentary about the motives / actions of former NSA contractor / leaker Edward Snowden
            Honorable Mentions -
                       The Fourth Partition / Czwarta Dzielnica [2013] - UR (would be PG-13) - 3 1/2 Stars - Excellent Chicago based documentary about Poland's immigrant community in Chicago in the late-19th and early 20th centuries and its contributions both to the building-up of the United States into the modern industrial state that it became and to the creation of a modern independent Poland following WW II.
                       Life Itself [2014] - PG-13 - 4 Stars - lovely documentary about the life and especially the final years legendary Midwestern / Chicago film-critic Roger Ebert
                       A Dream of Iron (orig. Cheol-ae-kum) [2013] - UR (would be PG-13) - South Korea (subtitled) - 3 Stars - a visual reflection on Humanity's ever increasing dominance over Nature.
                       The Celestial Wives of the Meadow Mari (orig. небесные жены луговых мари) [2012] - a documentary of sorts organized around some 20 or so folk tales of the Meadow Mari (a Finno-Ugric people) living on the banks of the central Volga.  The Maris are called "the last authentic pagans of Europe" and as such offer anthropologists today a window into the practices of pre-Christian Europe.

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