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The Best & Worst Films of 2014

by Justin Tucker

The 10 Best Films of 2014 

Everyone knows the Academy Awards ceremony is a sanctimonious, seemingly never-ending dog and pony show. Generally out of touch with audiences, the Academy will at times make questionable picks for Best Picture and ignore certain films altogether. I mean, does anybody actually believe Slumdog Millionaire is a better movie over The Dark Knight? Is Crash actually going to stand the test of time as a work of art?

I am here to cut through the crap and the pretentiousness to present the actual best pictures of 2014. They are as follows:

10. Visitors

If experimental maestro Godfrey Reggio (Koyaanisqatsi) and composer Philip Glass’ names ever appear together in the same credit sequence, audiences can surely expect to be immersed in a sonic, sensorial experience. The film, shot in stark black and white to be exhibited in the latest digital projection technology, is a nonverbal montage of faces, human and otherwise, flowing in a meditative stream. Like the Qatsi trilogy before it, Reggio and Glass skillfully combine image and sound, redefining cinema as a form of art.

9. Jersey Boys

American Sniper may be getting all the award nominations and box office dollars, but no one should lose sight of the fact that Jersey Boys is the best Clint Eastwood movie of 2014. Based on the Tony Award-winning musical, it tells the story of The Four Seasons from their humble beginnings in 1950s Belleville, New Jersey, to their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. Eastwood’s direction is deliberately old-fashioned, and the delightful performances by John Lloyd Young, who originated the role of frontman Frankie Valli on Broadway, and Vincent Piazza (“Boardwalk Empire”) as Tommy DeVito make for a mellifluous outing.

8. Guardians of the Galaxy

One of the better entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this fun and hilarious superhero space adventure follows outlaws Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) as they blast their way through the galaxy. Their goal: keep a powerful orb from entering into the clutches of the maniacal Ronan (Lee Pace), hellbent on destroying the planet Xandar. Director James Gunn (Slither) brings the comic book to life on a scale that rivals Star Wars and Star Trek. Killer soundtrack as well.

7. Interstellar

Christopher Nolan’s first film since the conclusion of The Dark Knight Trilogy is a science fiction saga that takes cues from 2001: A Space Odyssey, Contact and Solaris, exploring how the intersection of science and spirituality shape how humankind views their place in the universe. Set in a future where civilization is on the decline amid ecological catastrophe, it stars the terrific Matthew McConaughey as an astronaut who leaves behind his son and daughter--joining a NASA mission to enter a wormhole to search for a new home for humanity. Nolan once again raises the cinematic bar, telling a stirring story based on the latest science featuring state-of-the-art special effects.

6. Whiplash

Miles Teller stars as drummer Andrew Neiman, member of an elite ensemble, who is abused and humiliated by jazz instructor Terrence Fletcher (J. K. Simmons) at a prestigious New York music conservatory. Neiman is driven to zealous lengths to prove his worth to the fierce Fletcher, obsessed with perfecting his skills to become a modern Buddy Rich. Simmons gives the most memorable performance of his career, and Teller continues to grow as an actor. Based on his 2013 short subject of the same name, writer/director Damien Chazelle emerges as a bold new storyteller.

5. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

It’s no wonder that Alejandro González Iñárritu’s well-executed existential comedy about tortured artists clashing with the egos of other tortured artists won Best Picture. The Academy eats that sort of thing up. Nonetheless it’s a darkly funny tale about aging action hero Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), who hopes to stage a Broadway comeback in a dramatic role, reversing a stalled career after leaving a popular superhero franchise. He is berated by his Birdman persona, becoming increasingly consumed by his alter-ego as the pressure mounts to make his play a success. Keaton and Edward Norton, playing a maniacal method actor, give two of the best performances of the year. Iñárritu (Amore perros, 21 Grams) continues to wow.

4. We Are The Best!

One of the best things that can ever happen in one’s life is to get into punk rock. Unfortunately I wasn’t old enough to experience punk’s initial wave like the heroines of this 1980s-set Swedish coming-of-age story were able to, but the film is still a nostalgic joy. Written and directed by Lukas Moodysson (Together) and based on the graphic novel Never Goodnight by his wife Coco, it tells the story of three Stockholm teenage outcasts who form a punk rock band at their youth center to raise some hell and channel their adolescent angst, regardless of musical ability. This film is terrific because it teaches that it’s okay to be yourself —the central tenet of punk rock.

3. Boyhood

Director Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, Waking Life) has been behind some of the most iconic and innovative movies of the past quarter century. His most ambitious film to date is the epic Boyhood, shot over a twelve year span, about the journey from adolescence to adulthood of Mason Evans, Jr. (Ellar Coltrane), who becomes a man before our eyes. Also featuring knockout performances by Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke as his divorced parents, Coltrane’s rite-of-passage is an unprecedented achievement.

2. Life Itself

What better way to pay tribute to the memory Roger Ebert than a documentary from Chicago-based maestro Steven James? The Hoop Dreams director gives an insightful chronicle of the life of the legendary film critic, from humble beginnings and his fight with cancer through his relationships with his wife Chaz and partner Gene Siskel. A heartfelt and reverent homage to one of the great American men of letters.

1. The Lego Movie

It’s not hard to speculate why this masterpiece was snubbed. The Oscars are all about the craft of cinema and not the commercial aspects. The film proved that a 101 minute advertisement for toys, comics and video games can not only be fun and exciting, but also a carefully crafted work of high art. Set in the Lego world, it tells the story of Lego construction worker Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt) as he teams up with the Lego likes of Batman, C-3PO, Han Solo and Gandalf to battle the menacing Lord Business (Will Ferrell). Written and directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, the 21 Jump Street series), this dazzling, subversive work of animation stands head over shoulders against Best Animated Feature nominees Big Hero 6 and How to Train Your Dragon 2. And who wouldn’t want to see Star Wars and DC Comics together in the same movie? I am happy to see Warner Bros.’ animation wing spring ferociously back to life. Without a doubt, one of the best movies of the new millennium. If only Sergei Eisenstein were alive to see it.

Honorable Mentions: Big Eyes, Cesar Chavez, Draft Day, Finding Vivian Maier, Gone Girl, The Imitation Game, Locke, Nightcrawler, Selma, X-Men: Days of Future Past

The 3 Worst Films of 2014

Bad movies seem to be everywhere these days. Quality, originality and innovation continue to be lacking, and as a result, Anno Domini 2014 proved to be another showcase of shitty films.

It’s no secret that the major studios aren’t making movies as great as they used to. But if you get off on terrible moviemaking, let me present the most gruesome of 2014.

(Note: I have not seen Saving Christmas with Kirk Cameron yet, because I had no means to see it. I’d much rather spend my time trying to watch good movies.)

3. I, Frankenstein

Bill Nighy’s status as one of the most distinguished actors in the world today has been thrown into question thanks to this POS. Aaron Eckhart stars as Frankenstein’s monster, who is still alive and living among us today. He has also allied with angels, who are protecting Earth from demons such as Nighy’s character. And then the angel and demons fight and stuff. The plot of this Underworld offshoot is as thin and fragile as a single strand of angel hair pasta, and the special effects are even worse. If this movie is any indication, Eckhart was seemingly displeased that Harvey Dent died in The Dark Knight and he felt entitled to play another character with a crazy scar for an entire movie. Selfish asshole.

2. Left Behind

Unfortunately “Duck Dynasty” exists. Why is there so much attention given to these redneck derelicts? What’s even more unfortunate is that “Dynasty” co-star Willie Robertson has decided to enter the movie business as a producer and star in order to poison the cinema. His first credit as executive producer is the fucking horrible Left Behind, the reboot to the fucking horrible 2000 original with Kirk Cameron. Starring the increasingly pathetic Nicolas Cage, the film takes place on his pilot character’s plane during the Rapture, a prophesied Biblical event where believers are instantly taken to Heaven before the Apocalypse. Also pathetic is the acting, most notably Lea Thompson and Cassi Thomson, as well as the special effects. The most unfortunate part of his movie is the film’s intended audience actually believe an event like the Rapture is imminent. Don’t encourage these freaks; avoid this movie all together.

1. Atlas Shrugged: Who Is John Galt?

Who cares at this point? As a fan of Ayn Rand, I am very disappointed in how the Atlas Shrugged trilogy played out. Part I was no masterpiece, but it thankfully helped thrust Taylor Schilling (Orange is the New Black) into the spotlight as heroine railroad tycoon Dagny Taggart. That film failed; rejected by the very free market the novel championed. Against conventional wisdom, producer John Aglialoro recast all the characters and released Part II the following year to even less fanfare. Now we’ve got the third and thankfully final Who Is John Galt?, easily one of the worst films of the new millennium. Again completely recast with an even smaller budget than its predecessors, the film continues the story of Taggart and her fellow industrialists as they continue their strike against a tyrannical United States government. The rotten script, co-written by Aglialoro, takes the second half of Rand’s novel and distills it to whatever they could afford to shoot. It addition to being anti-climactic, it completely breaks the flow of the first two films, halting character and story arcs that have been developing over the series. Worse than the acting and chemistry of the leads are the cameos by Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity, both of whom I’m sure Rand would have fucking hated. The cast and crew of this turd must atone for their sins.

Bad But GoodGod’s Not Dead

In terms of story, character and technical merits, this Christian drama from director Harold Cronk is bad by any standard of measure. It stars Shane Harper as a Christian freshman college student who must debate the existence of God with his atheist philosophy professor (Kevin “Hercules” Sorbo) after he refuses to deny his existence in class. Also some of his fellow students consider getting saved despite objections from their families. With paper-thin characters, a melodramatic flair and made-for-television aesthetics, this cinematic piece of Christian apologetics is amusing because of its unintentional camp and extreme earnestness. I couldn't help but root for the characters to be saved. Oh! And Willie Robertson has a cameo!


ALL THAT REMAINS: Fighting A War They Cannot Win

or Phil Labonte Should Go Eat A Bag Of Dicks

Written by Neil Miller, Jr.

I normally don’t like to get involved in sociopolitical discussions because I’m of the opinion that you can’t change anyone’s mind who’s willing to argue their beliefs to you, no matter how ridiculous they may be.  But when All That Remains’ frontman Phil Labonte claims “I have nothing against gay people. It's just a word… I think the only people that have a legit grievance when it comes to any racial slurs is the black community,” I feel obligated to speak up.  Before I go any further, I should say that I do believe in free speech.  I am a journalist after all.  But even more than that, I believe that we are all equal and should be treated as such…therefore, I have quite a bit of contempt for Labonte after hearing about this and here’s why.

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Life Itself, Death, Cinema, and Chicago

By John Esther

**"Life Itself" opened in limited release last weekend (July 4th) and is currently playing at Landmark Century Theater here in Chicago — FIND SHOWTIMES.**

As someone who spoke to Roget Ebert at the Sundance Film Festivals, it was a bittersweet experience to see the late film critic at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, not at the Eccles Center or on a Park City bus, or on Main Street, but rather through the medium of film.

Making its world premiere at Sundance's MARC Theater to a sold out crowd, the latest film by noted documentarian Steve James (The Interrupters; Stevie; and Hoop Dreams), Life Itself chronicles a man who became the world’s most famous film critic.

Born and raised in Illinois, Roger grew up, studied and spent nearly all his early life in Urbana until he was accepted as a PhD candidate at the University of Chicago. At the same time, Roger was hired by the Chicago Sun-Times. It was clear from the beginning, Roger was a natural writer. Due to his work load, however, Roger never earned his PhD, which was probably a good thing for his television career later as most Americans do not care to consume film criticism offered by people with PhDs.

Although a prolific writer on various subjects, including life in Illinois (Illini History: One Hundred Years of Campus Life), this “Chicago character” began his film critic career in 1967 writing for the Sun-Times. The fact that Roger would continue to write for the Sun-Times, the same publication until the year of his death, some 46 years later, is astonishing when you consider the advent of social media, the demise of legitimate film criticism in the United States, and the treatment of popular film reviewers by corporate media.

Of course, what made Roger famous was his film reviewing on television. During the mid-1970s Ebert co-hosted a weekly film review show, Sneak Previews, produced by Chicago’s public network, WTTV. When Gene Siskel, a film critic and journalist for the Chicago Tribune, joined three years later the show was picked up by major television and broadcasted weekly on ABC.

What was initially intended to be a show about film reviewing, Siskel & Ebert & and the Movies, soon started taking its focus off of the movies and onto its odd couple film critics. Gene was a philosophical, east coast trained, conservative reviewer, who just happened to be thin and balding while Roger was a neo-liberal populist who happened to have lots of hair and few extra pounds. How they would react to each other mattered to audiences more frequently than the movies they discussed. Thanks to the show, the books, the reviews, etc., by the late 1990s Roger’s popularity grew to the point where he was the third most recognizable Chicagoan — behind Michael Jordan and Oprah Winfrey. Considering our anti-intellectual, fitness-obsessed, youth-centric culture, Roger’s popularity is quite an American anomaly for an overweight, bespectacled, gray-haired guy who reads and writes for a living.

While Life Itself offers an amusing recount of Roger’s formidable years, career and relationship with Gene, its real value comes in Steve’s documentation of his last year on earth. Originally diagnosed with cancer in 2002, for the next decade Roger would go through various surgeries, remissions and cancers. Eventually his face would be drastically altered, eventually leaving a hole in it. Rather than hide or manufacture an untrue image, Roger, and company, invites us to watch his pain, his decay and his courage in the face of death. Whatever you think of his film criticism over the years (or his liberal politics in general), it is hard not to have respect for and sympathize with this man who was generous with his time and talent.

Steve, a fellow Chicagoan, obviously admires and respects his subject, but that does not prevent him from offering criticism on Roger’s life and career. Unlike the protagonists in so many of those Hollywood movies that were the subject of his reviews, Roger was all-too human. Roger was an alcoholic; he could be arrogant; he could publish reviews that would contradict his liberal beliefs. Of course, knowing how much Roger cherished honesty found in the best of documentaries, this kind of criticism from the filmmakers on their subject would have only made Roger happy.

Filled with pathos, nostalgia, reference and joy, whether you knew Roger from near or afar, as a documentary, Life Itself offers an exceptional film-going experience.

For those who sat with Roger at Sundance, Life Itself reminds us that no longer would there be quick chats with the gregarious film critic before a sold-out screening at Sundance, or watching Roger get bombarded by elderly viewers (in terms of Sundance Film Festival goers) for Sundance Film Festival recommendations, nor would there be another incident of a film critic being photographed by strangers as he walked down Main Street, Park City, UT.

Now, Roger’s life is relegated to our memories, his work and at the movies. 



Chicago Nightlife Awards Fashion  

by Laine Pepp

Old Style and Jameson present Chicago’s first annual Chicago Nightlife Awards on Tuesday April 1st, honoring and recognizing those industry professionals that spend their nights making sure we all have a good time. With that being said, we all are looking in our closets (or at least I am) wondering what to wear for the big night.

The Nightlife Awards are a chance for us to push the limits with our fashion, certainly not a night to blend in; a night for tighter pants, shorter skirts, higher heels, and bolder make-up. With the spirit of honoring and recognizing those industry professionals that are behind our favorite drunken nights, I also want to recognize some of the hottest/best dressed and encourage that we channel our fiercest Chicagoans while getting dressed Tuesday night.

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Top 10 Films of 2013

Top 10 Films of 2013

Happy New Year, friends!

I am certainly hoping that 2014 is a much better year at the movies than the generally dismal 2013. Though it seemed most films released last year were garbage, there was luckily a handful that didn’t suck, and out of those, even a few genuine works of art.

In accordance with the New Year’s ritual, I’ve compiled a list of films of 2013 that I felt were the best. Here’s what I came up with... 

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