Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Catholic Skywalker Awards - Movies 2014

With 2014 coming to a close, it is time for us to choose what the best entertainment of the year was.  And just as the Academy Awards have their "Oscars", so too the Catholic Skywalker Awards have their "Kal-El's"

 I have gone through as many movies as possible this year. There were several that I missed and so was unable to place. So of the movies  I've seen this year, here are the winners:

(My appreciation and judgment of a film should not be taken as a recommendation. Choosing to watch any of these films is the reader's responsibility)


Captain America: The Winter Soldier

This was the most difficult best picture choice that I've had to make.  Up until the moment of writing this, I did not know if the winner was going to be Captain America or Interstellar.  I went back and forth so many times.  And while Interstellar's ambition was higher and it was in many ways an amazing movie, they didn't stick the landing and fumbled it up a bit at the end.  Whereas The Winter Soldier was a solid movie from start to finish.  Comparing it to Interstellar is not meant to short change what is one of the best comic book movies I have seen (and that's saying a lot).  This is also a movie that is about big ideas and grand themes like freedom and fear.  The story makes the wise decision of making the threat and themes universal rather than fusing it to a particular modern political ideology or party.  It is a political thriller that is apolitical enough to be approachable by all.  And that isn't to say it doesn't have a voice.  It rests squarely on openness and freedom over overarching government control while also letting the villains have their say.  I am particularly haunted by the terrible truth that people can be encouraged to voluntarily give up their freedom.   And it manages to interweave it into a tight and tense narrative that is so different from the original Captain America that I think it took a lot of people, myself included by surprise.  The action set pieces are wonderful, but what is amazing is that the movie is fraught with a tangible sense of danger.  The plot continued to thicken and I was impressed by how bold Marvel was in allowing this film to completely upend their established universe.  But even outside of that context, you had an incredibly exciting movie where a man with "old fashioned" values brings his honor and courage to our cynical age.  Captain America is an incredibly difficult character to write.  He is good and noble at his heart and this could so easily degenerate into naivet√© or doofy optimism.  In The Avengers he was treated with respect, but still a bit of joke.  After this movie, he's not a joke.  And that is a testament to it's effectiveness.  I have watched this movie several times and it has not gotten old.  And I will continue to watch it with enthusiasm and joy for years to come.

Interstellar - Such a wonderfully bold epic that falters when it tries to be 2001
Edge of Tomorrow - An exciting and original sci-fi actioner that is a wonderful reflection on valor and courage
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes - Smart spectacle that pulls you in several different ethical directions
Guardians of the Galaxy - The most fun movie of the year hands-down that was witty and original
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies - A wonderful send-off to the Middle-Earth.

Joe and Anthony Russo - Captain America: The Winter Soldier

I am a person who thinks that directing an action movie is a special art and one that is not to be overlooked.  There is a special kinetic poetry to them that not all can master.  But Joe and Anthony Russo did a fantastic job with The Winter Soldier.  Their action set pieces are incredible.  Particularly I am floored by the elevator fight scene.  That must have been a nightmare to logistically navigate and yet it is the best set piece of the movie.  But beyond the action, the Russos get terrific performances out of Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson and Robert Redford.  They so effectively take you to the interior life of Captain America.  You are so tightly woven into his perspective that you feel as smart and noble as he is.  Watch the build-up to the elevator fight and how the directors wordlessly bring you into the action.  And then kept just the right tempo of action followed by intelligent plot intrigue and then weaving both together.  


Christopher Nolan - Interstellar
Matt Reeves - Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Doug Liman - Edge of Tomorrow
James Gunn - Guardians of the Galaxy
Peter Jackson - The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Andy Serkis - Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

In the past, Andy Serkis has been denied the acclaim he richly deserves on the basis that his work as a motion-capture actor was produced not just by himself by computer animators.  But the new technology at work removes this final impediment.  In Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the performance you see is Serkis covered in (as he would put it) "digital makeup."  And his performance is fantastic.  It is the heart and foundation of this movie.  And Serkis has to communicate so much with very little.  His every look has to be potent and powerful.  It is a complex performance full of wonderful contradictions that make his Caesar human-like.  But Serkis also has to perform as a believable ape at the same time.  You feel the weight of an educated and civilized leader trying to wrestle with savagery of his people and his own rage.  An amazing performance.

Matthew McConnughay - Interstellar
Greg Kinnear - Heaven is For Real
Eddie Reyman - The Theory of Everything
Ben Affleck - Gone Girl
Bill Murray - St. Vincent

Rosmund Pike - Gone Girl

It is nearly impossible to explain why Rosmund Pike is so good as Amy Dunne, the eponymous Gone Girl, without giving away the movie's biggest twist, so BE WARNED OF SPOILERS.  Pike believably portrays the put-upon wife only to have this illusion shattered by reality.  And if you reflect on that performance, there is an air of artificiality to her character her.  Her coldness is chilling and charismatic.  I couldn't take my eyes off her even though she repelled me so deeply.  It almost became a game to watch and see how she would deceive her way out of her next situation and to think about if we found her lies convincing, which they very often were.  A great range and intensity.

Kiera Knightly - Begin Again
Kristen Bell - Veronica Mars
Kate Hudson - Wish I Was Here
Emily Blunt - Edge of Tomorrow

Martin Freeman - The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Even though he is the titular character, Bilbo Baggins as portrayed by Martin Freeman, is a supporting character in his own story.  He is the outsider/insider who can float between the different factions.  But he is not the main character but part of an ensemble.  And even though he doesn't have the screen time of a lead actor, Freeman milks every moment of screen time.  He fills Bilbo's every moment with little bits of body language and gestures that add amazing texture to his role.  With his Bilbo, there is always something more going on beneath the surface and Freeman uses those quirks as little pressure valves to let all of that intensity leak out.  

Robert Redford - Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Joel Edgerton - Exodus: Gods and Kings
Marton Csokas - The Equalizer
Jason Clarke - Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Anne Hathaway - Interstellar

As Dr. Brand, Anne Hathaway had to project fierce courage and intelligence.  Yet the script called for her to be motivated to traverse the stars by the desire to see the man she loves again.  This could have easily devolved into pure sentimentality, with rationality giving way to blind emotion.  But Hathaway never loses her potent mental strength.  She argues with a strong heart and mind and never lets her deep affections appear as something in opposition to her reason.  She is incredibly willful and decisive without appearing masculine.  A difficult acting task to pull off, but done wonderfully.

Scarlett Johanson - Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Jessica Chastain - Interstellar
Carrie Coon - Gone Girl
Emma Stone - The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Jonathan and Christopher Nolan – Interstellar

The directing did not live up to the writing, but the script for this movie was amazing.  I loved how it tried to fuse its theme and plot together by paralleling gravity with love.  And the film never lets you forget the humanity behind the story.  This is also why the script's portrayal of futuristic robots is one of the most refreshing in ages, by giving them personality without ever letting you forget that they were not people.  The story has wonderful surprises and great cathartic moments that the directing just did not capture as well as it should have.


Rob Thomas and Diane Ruggiero- Veronica Mars 
Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely - Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, and John Henry Butteroworth -Edge of Tomorrow 
Mark Bombak, Richard Joffa, Amanda Silva - Dawn of the Planet of the Apes 

Guardians of the Galaxy

A fantastic and colorful makeup job that brings bright and bold textures to the different alien races without sacrificing believability.

X-Men: Days of Future Past
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Exodus: Gods and Kings

X-Men: Days of Future Past

The use of Blink's powers and the sentinel attacks were both spectacular.  But it was the Quicksilver sequence in the Pentagon kitchen that put this over the top.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Transformers: Age of Extinction
X-Men: Days of Future Past
Guardians of the Galaxy

Hans Zimmer – Interstellar

Once again, Zimmer delivered a score that was moving, evocative, provocative, and haunting.

Exodus: Gods and Kings
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies


"The Last Goodbye" by Billy Boyd - The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

A beautifully sung final farewell to the Tolkienverse.


"Step You Can't Take Back"  Keira Knightly - Begin Again
"The Hanging Tree" - Jennifer Lawrence - The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I

Guardians of the Galaxy
A wonderfully original space opera costume set that not only clearly delineates the different factions but look absolutely vivid and vibrant

Edge of Tomorrow
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Exodus: Gods and Kings

Below are the list of all the films of 2014 that I have seen, ranked in order of excellence:

Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Edge of Tomorrow
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Guardians of the Galaxy
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
X-Men: Days of Future Past
How to Train Your Dragon 2
The Equalizer
The Imitation Game
Begin Again
Veronica Mars
Transformers: Age of Extinction
The Maze Runner
Heaven is for Real
Big Hero 6
Exodus: Gods and Kings
St. Vincent
Wish I Was Here
Cuban Fury
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Let's Be Cops
Godzilla (2014)
The One I Love
The LEGO Movie
The Fault in our Stars
Gone Girl
A Million Ways to Die in the West
Authors Anonymous
The Theory of Everything
Happy Christmas

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