Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Movies of 2014, Volume VI

All things considered, 2014 was a very good year for movies. Even the movies in yesterday’s entry that disappointed me weren’t complete wastes of time. If you didn’t see at least one movie you liked last year, you just weren’t trying very hard.

But there are always a few stragglers that simply didn’t work. At all. Try as one might to avoid lousy movies, sometimes they’re simply unavoidable, like food poisoning or Ebola. With that, I give you the movies I’d prefer to forget, the worst films I saw in 2014.

This indie horror flick from director Zack Parker is actually an interesting case. It’s one of the few films where you can literally pinpoint the exact moment it goes off the rails. And it’s a real pity because up until that moment, this is a moody and intriguing thriller (although it opens with a particularly brutal act of violence that might have you switching it off long beforehand). Without giving too much away, the twist in this movie is spectacularly ill-conceived. The closest analogy I can think of would be if Marion Crane had overpowered Norman Bates in Psycho and the movie continued to be about her instead of the far more interesting Bates. This is a bizarrely self-sabotaging movie that fails to recognize the genuinely disturbing and compelling questions its first half raises.

I feel a little bit bad about including this YA sci-fi franchise kickstarter. I didn’t hate it but it had really no impact on my brain whatsoever. I’d essentially forgotten it existed while the closing credits played. I probably wouldn’t have watched it at all if it weren’t for the presence of Kate Winslet. Her appearances can lead me to make some regrettable movie-going decisions.

The Monuments Men
George Clooney is an excellent filmmaker. If you don’t believe me, just watch Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind and Good Night, And Good Luck. Don’t watch this. I’m baffled by what happened here. It’s a very interesting story packed with a stellar cast, including Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray and John Goodman. This should have been a home run. Instead, it’s pleasant at best and downright dull as dishwater at worst. This feels like it needed a little more time at the drawing board before the cameras rolled.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
I’ve never read a single Tom Clancy book but for whatever reason, I feel compelled to watch every Jack Ryan movie. This despite the fact that they’ve all struck me as pretty generic and forgettable. However, none of them have been quite as generic and forgettable as this attempt. Chris Pine fails to bring much spark to the role and Kenneth Branagh probably should have concentrated on one job instead of two. His Russian bad guy seems like he should be giving orders to Boris and Natasha.

I think Darren Aronofsky is a terrific filmmaker and I’ve genuinely enjoyed most of his work to date. But I’m really confused who the audience for this movie is supposed to be. It’s ambiguously religious (or, if you prefer, spiritual), so it’s not likely to please the church-and-temple crowd. But it’s a reasonably faithful retelling of one of the most famous stories in the Bible, so agnostics and atheists probably won’t have much use for it, either. It’s certainly an ambitious movie but ultimately it felt like those ambitions defeated Aronofsky and his cast.

3 Days To Kill
And then there’s this. Kevin Costner goes to France to team up with co-writer Luc Besson and director McG in a bid for a piece of that Liam Neeson aging action hero pie. Costner is diagnosed with terminal cancer, retires from the CIA and attempts to reconnect with his estranged wife and daughter. Until sultry and miscast Amber Heard shows up to lure him back into the spy game with the promise of an experimental miracle drug if he helps her take down some bad guys. This isn’t so much an action movie as it is a jigsaw puzzle that’s been tossed into the air and haphazardly assembled by an indifferent child in a hurry. As usual, I had some trouble figuring out the exact placement of some of the movies on these lists. But there was never any question what movie was going to be dead last. If there was a worse movie than 3 Days To Kill released in 2014, I pray to all the major and minor deities that I never see it.

That’ll finally do it for 2014. I’ll be back again soon to talk about…I dunno, other stuff. This blog is still a bit of a blank slate, so it’ll be fun figuring out what to use it for. I hope you’ll come along for the ride.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Movies of 2014, Volume V

I’d like to believe that every movie gets a fair shake with me and they all start out on a level playing field. Every time I sit down to watch a movie, I’m rooting for it to succeed. But in reality, we all go into every movie with different sets of expectations. We anticipate that Movie A will be awesome or that Movie B can’t possibly be awesome.

If we’re lazy, those expectations turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Sometimes, lowered expectations work to a movie’s advantage and high hopes can be left unfulfilled. Unfortunately, the latter is the case with most of today’s movies. About half of them were major disappointments. As for the rest, I didn’t really expect much and that’s exactly what I got. They’re this year’s fast food movies, consumed and forgotten quickly.

Usually if your hopes are too high for a movie, you’ve got no one to blame but yourself. But in this case, Christopher Nolan shoulders some of the responsibility. Keeping the movie cloaked in an unnecessary shroud of  secrecy and proudly touting the movie’s scientific accuracy primed audiences to expect the greatest science fiction film since 2001 (the movie). It isn’t even the greatest science fiction film since 2001 (the year). It’s OK but while Nolan was busy sweating out the technical details, he overlooked some fundamental storytelling flaws that sank the entire endeavor for me. This is a swing and a miss from the usually reliable filmmaker.

The Congress
Ari Folman’s partially animated sci-fi head trip stars Robin Wright as Robin Wright, an actress who signs control of her virtual self over to a movie studio. The movie has some great ideas and stunningly beautiful animation, especially in its second half. But those ideas end up having very little to do with its ponderous set-up which isn’t nearly as clever as it thinks it is. This is an interesting misfire but make no mistake, it is very much a misfire.

The grizzling of Liam Neeson continues with this utterly ridiculous airplane thriller. A wildly overqualified supporting cast (including Julianne Moore and Lupita Nyong’o) help make this bucket of cheesy corn go down easy but you’ll never once lose sight of just how ludicrous this movie is. It’s a reasonably diverting but forgettable way to spend 106 minutes on a rainy Sunday.

Only Lovers Left Alive
I’m a big Jim Jarmusch fan, so I was surprised that his moody vampire flick didn’t really do anything for me. Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston are fine, if a little one-note, as the immortal lovers. Their been-there, done-that attitude extends to the movie itself, resulting in a movie that feels a lot longer than it really is. It briefly comes to life when Mia Wasikowska and Jeffrey Wright are on screen but not enough to overcome the dead weight at its center. This is one of Jarmusch’s art-snobbiest efforts, a movie seemingly designed to show off how much smarter it is than you are.

300: Rise Of An Empire
Audiences were blessed with not one but two sequels nobody asked for to Frank Miller properties this year. I haven’t seen the Sin City follow-up yet but if it’s anything like this, it provides more of the same with slightly diminished returns. There are some OK moments in here and Eva Green is a lot of fun, although it’d be really nice if somebody could cast her in a legitimately good movie for a change.

How To Train Your Dragon 2
Speaking of more of the same. The first Dragon movie was a pleasant surprise and a big hit, so I can’t say I’m surprised that the sequel does nothing to shake up the formula. But it’s not like that first movie was some sort of modern classic, either. I don’t really understand why these movies are so acclaimed. To me, they’re textbook examples of movies that seem like they could have been much, much worse.

We’ll stop here today. I don’t have a lot of good things to say about the rest of 2014’s movies. Come on back tomorrow for my least favorite movies of the year! Hopefully they’ll be more fun to write about than they were to watch.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Movies of 2014, Volume IV

Last week, we focused entirely on movies that I either flat-out loved or liked very, very much. Hey, 30 very-good-to-great movies in one year is nothing to sneeze at, especially when you consider how many are still out there that I’m looking forward to catching up with (especially Whiplash, Birdman, Big Eyes and Selma, so if you’re wondering when they’re going to show up, they’re not going to).

This week is going to be a little different. Don’t get me wrong, I liked all ten of today’s movies to varying degrees. But in some cases, I didn’t love them the way a lot of other folks seemed to. So if I spend more time talking about what I didn’t like about them, forgive me. These are all fine movies and don’t let me discourage you from checking them out. But don’t be mad if your favorite movie of 2014 wasn’t my favorite movie.

Dom Hemingway
This was fun. Jude Law is excellent and is clearly having a good time as a washed-up, egomaniacal safecracker trying to get back on his feet. And it’s been way too long since we’ve seen the indispensible Richard E. Grant in a role this good. It may be a little too indebted to Guy Ritchie’s early movies but it’s still entertaining.

The Lego Movie
Although I ended up enjoying this movie, I never entirely got over my initial negative reaction to the mercenary nature of this project. This is absolutely the best-case scenario for a movie that is, let’s be honest here, a feature-length commercial for Legos. It really is. At the end of the day, it should be placed at the opposite end of the spectrum of Mac And Me (representing the worst-case scenario of a feature-length commercial). Exceeding expectations doesn’t impress me much when those expectations were less than zero.

Jodorowsky’s Dune
It may surprise some people that this documentary didn’t rank higher on my list. It’s extremely well done and the story of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s unmade version of Dune deserved to be told. In this case, it’s not the movie, it’s me. I already knew a lot about this project and the movie didn’t really reveal anything I hadn’t heard before. And it’s great to see the artwork and hear from the people involved but I could have done with a bit less talk from people who weren’t directly associated with it discussing its influence.

When American actresses complain that there aren’t enough good roles for actresses over 40 or 50, this is the kind of movie they’re saying they’d like to see more of. Naturally, it comes from Chile, not the US. Paulina Garcia is excellent as the title character, an over-50 divorcee who spends her evenings at singles mixers. The movie is occasionally a bit slow-going but the final scene is transcendent.

Stranger By The Lake
A secluded gay cruising spot is the ideal setting for a Hitchcockian thriller. Everyone in this movie could be the title character. Anonymity is the whole point. Franck falls for a handsome guy named Michel but Michel’s current boyfriend is extremely jealous. After Franck witnesses the boyfriend’s maybe-maybe-not-accidental death, he hooks up with Michel anyway, despite (or because of) the danger. Writer/director Alain Guiraudie takes his time but succeeds in creating a sultry and dangerously atmospheric film.

Obvious Child 
Indie dramedies about struggling twenty-somethings trying to find their place in the world can often remind me of the worst parts of going to college. And Gillian Robespierre’s movie about an aspiring stand-up (Jenny Slate) coming to terms with an unplanned pregnancy occasionally comes close to disappearing up its own navel. But by the end, the movie reveals itself to be a sharply observed and level-headed portrait of a talented and funny young woman and I had been won over.

Gone Girl
I think David Fincher is a fairly overrated filmmaker in general, so it shouldn’t come as a great surprise that this one didn’t exactly wow me. And I thought Gillian Flynn’s novel was an OK page-turner (up until the ending, which I really disliked). To me, this was just an OK adaptation of an OK book, really no more remarkable than 80s and 90s thrillers like Fatal Attraction and Basic Instinct. Although I do have to give it up for Kim Dickens, who I thought was great as Detective Boney, and this is by far the best Tyler Perry movie I’ve ever seen.

Tom Hardy is one of the most magnetic actors to hit movies in a long time. I doubt many other people could have carried off Steven Knight’s daring drama, which is just Hardy driving a car for 85 minutes, on the phone trying to put out a wide range of fires on what may be the most trying evening of his life. Knight and Hardy can’t quite sustain the premise entirely but the fact that the movie is compelling at all is pretty impressive.

Under The Skin
I was hoping to like this a lot more than I did. Scarlett Johansson gives an impressive performance and director Jonathan Glazer creates an impressively eerie, otherworldly mood. Some have likened it to Kubrick but it struck me as more of a Man Who Fell To Earth vibe. But the movie’s glacial pace worked against it, at least for me. I feel like I got the point about halfway through and while I kept expecting there to be more to it, at the end, there was just no there there. Not bad but pretty disappointing.

The Interview
After all of the sturm und drang surrounding the release of this movie, it would be nice to report that Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg and James Franco had really upped their game and crafted a biting satire for the ages. Of course they did not. I like Seth Rogen and I feel bad that his goofball little movie caused such a fuss that it could never possibly live up to. I got some laughs from this but not as many as I’d hoped. I’ll give Rogen and Goldberg one thing, however. I admire them for continuing to develop their own unique visual style. A lot of comedy filmmakers go their entire careers without even thinking about it. I appreciate that Rogen and Goldberg are making comedies that don’t look like comedies.

We’re down to the last two entries! Tomorrow, I’ll take a look at the disappointments and meh’s of 2014. Then come back Wednesday for the movies I simply did not like. That’s always a fun one.

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Movies of 2014, Volume III

Who’s ready for another round? Let’s see what ended up in slots #21-30 on my personal ranking of the various kinetoscopes and peep shows of 2014.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Critics may have gotten a little bit carried away when they started comparing this Marvel sequel to the great conspiracy thrillers of the 1970s. Don’t get me wrong, it’s very good. It just maybe isn’t Parallax View-good. Regardless, this is a superior follow-up and a terrifically entertaining superhero movie that did an excellent job broadening and shaking up the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And Chris Evans deserves a lot of praise for his work as Cap, taking what could be a one-dimensional character and instilling it with a great sense of purpose and soul.

It may be hard to believe these days but the Academy did not hand Nicolas Cage a Best Actor Oscar as a prank. David Gordon Green’s rural drama reminds us what Cage is capable of when he actually gives a damn. He’s remarkable as an alcoholic ex-con who just wants to be left alone until he becomes a reluctant mentor to a teenager who’s even worse off than himself. Green captures the low-income environment extremely well and it’s a little scary how seamlessly Cage blends into it.

Expectations for another Americanized Godzilla movie couldn’t possibly have been lower, which certainly helped make this a nice surprise. But Gareth Edwards delivered an extremely fun kaiju movie with a solid (and arguably overqualified) cast giving the proceedings gravitas. I’m looking forward to a return trip to Monster Island.

Nymphomaniac: Vol. I
Like I said in part one of this series, this movie doesn’t really stand on its own merits without its companion piece. It’s an interesting journey but you don’t discover the destination until Vol. II. But it’s definitely a compelling set-up that makes you want to see the rest. And Uma Thurman deserves some sort of MVP award for her brief but unforgettable appearance in this.

Alan Partridge
Steve Coogan’s most famous character comes to the big screen in this somewhat disposable but often hilarious adventure (titled Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa everywhere in the world except here). The good news is that if you aren’t familiar with Partridge, this is a pretty decent introduction to the character that’ll probably make you want to track down his TV appearances. It’s no classic but it’s a much better TV-to-film transition than, say, Ali G Indahouse.

X-Men: Days Of Future Past
First Class was the kind of reinvigorating fresh start that gives reboots a good name. Bringing all the X-Men, past, present and future, together into one super-colossal epic was an ambitious move that mostly paid off. It offers some of the year’s best superhero setpieces and entertaining character bits. The movie’s biggest flaw may be that its mythology is getting a little too convoluted at this point. It doesn’t seem like you should have to do so much homework just to enjoy an X-Men movie.

An orphaned girl raised in a convent is forced to postpone taking her vows when she learns her real family history from an aunt she never knew she had. Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski and shot in stunning black and white, the film takes you on a journey into the heart of identity and family. It’s an impressive work, deserving of its recent Oscar nominations.

Ernest & Celestine
A lot of the most interesting animated movies these days are coming from overseas. This gentle French movie about the unlikely friendship between a bear and a young mouse pairs lovely hand-drawn animation with a clever, imaginative story. The movie gets dangerously close to being too soft-spoken for its own good but at its best, this is a winning and engaging family film.

Seth Rogen certainly had an interesting year, didn’t he? I wasn’t really expecting much from this raucous comedy about a war between would-be cool dad Rogen and frat boy Zac Efron. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get some big laughs out of this. Rogen and Rose Byrne are a believable and very funny couple and Efron (who honestly I knew more by name than his actual work prior to this) is a terrific foil.

The Missing Picture
On the opposite end of the fun spectrum is this Cambodian documentary from director Rithy Panh. Using carved figurines and miniature sets, Panh tells the harrowing story of growing up under the regime of Pol Pot in the 70s. It’s an innovative, dark but compelling film worth seeking out.

I’ll be back on Monday with ten more that I liked but didn’t love, then it’s on to the year’s disappointments and stinkers. Stick around, the worst is yet to come.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Movies of 2014, Volume II

Let’s continue looking back at 2014 with #11-20 on my personal list of faves. There’s still plenty of good stuff here to load up your Netflix queue. We won’t start getting to the real duds for awhile yet.

You don’t need a lot of money to make a smart, gripping science fiction movie. Shane Carruth proved that with Primer and Upstream Color. This year, James Ward Byrkit followed in his footsteps with this twisty thriller about a dinner party gone seriously haywire. I wasn’t sure where this was headed for quite awhile. Even after I started to figure out what was going to happen, I had a great time seeing if I’d be proven correct or not.

The Lunchbox
Maybe last year’s most pleasant surprise, this is a gentle, extremely winning romance. Nimrat Kaur stars as a lonely wife trying to capture her emotionally distant husband’s attention by making him a special lunch. But the lunchbox is delivered to the wrong address, ending up in the hands of widowed Irrfan Khan. Soon, a friendship blossoms between the two via handwritten notes. Ritesh Batra directs this lovely little sleeper.

Richard Linklater’s 12-years-in-the-making intimate epic is absolutely a remarkable accomplishment. I didn’t exactly fall in love with it like everybody else seemed to. It gets better as it goes along but the first hour definitely feels like Linklater is trying to figure out what story he’s telling. I’m sure in this case he really was but most of his movies feel like that to me. But at its best, Boyhood provides some of the year’s most powerful and emotional moments.

Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes
Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes was one of the best franchise reboots I’d ever seen. Despite this, I didn’t dare get my hopes too high that lightning could strike twice. But Matt Reeves pulled it off capably with eye-popping visual effects, thrilling action and a bracingly grim tone. The bar for the next installment has been set very high.

Witching And Bitching
Alex de la Iglesia, Spain’s maddest filmmaker, returns with a movie that couldn’t possibly be the work of anybody else. A jewel heist performed by Jesus Christ, a plastic soldier (or men disguised as them, anyway) and a young boy goes awry and the crooks take it on the lam, ending up in a house owned by three generations of witches. This movie starts off over the top but somehow manages to keep turning corners and find new levels of crazy to climb.

A complex and compelling Israeli drama that does a remarkable job of illuminating the friction between the Palestinians and the Israelis through the story of an Israeli Secret Service officer and his young Palestinian informant. It’s both a tension-filled spy thriller and a gripping drama and well-worth seeking out.

The Trip To Italy
Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are back, eating sumptuous meals, staying in beautiful hotels and engaging in frequently hilarious conversation. Not quite as good as the first Trip but so much fun that it almost doesn’t matter.

The Immigrant
James Gray’s period drama went mostly unnoticed for some reason, which is a shame because it’s actually quite good. Marion Cotillard is excellent as a Polish immigrant who reluctantly becomes a prostitute under the thumb of Joaquin Phoenix to provide for her sister, quarantined on Ellis Island. Back in the 70s, this kind of well-mounted, intelligent production was commonplace. It deserved a wider audience.

Night Moves
Kelly Reichardt’s films are very deliberately paced but if you stick with them, they’re extremely rewarding. Jesse Eisenberg, Peter Sarsgaard and a virtually unrecognizable Dakota Fanning are eco-terrorists whose sabotage of a dam leads to unexpected consequences. Not Reichardt’s best work but never less than engaging.

Godfrey Reggio’s latest and most challenging work is probably not best experienced at home. The movie’s ultra-long takes and Philip Glass score may well put you to sleep if you’re watching it on your sofa. But on the big screen in a theater without outside distractions, the movie’s effect is actually rather hypnotic. I don’t imagine this will develop the same following as the Qatsi trilogy but on its own terms, it’s a unique and often extraordinarily beautiful film.

I’ll be back tomorrow with ten more. Hey, maybe your favorite movie of 2014 will be one of them! Unless your favorite movie of 2014 was Veronica Mars, in which case you shouldn’t get your hopes up.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Movies of 2014, Volume I

Hi. Told you I’d be back.

Welcome back (or, possibly for many of you, for the first time) to The Doctor Is In. I started this blog back in 2009 as a place to collect miscellaneous thoughts that didn’t exactly fit at The Digital Bits. It didn’t last long before I got busy with other work and essentially forgot all about this. It happens.

For now, this will be my temporary home until I can bring back the stand-alone Jahnke’s Electric Theatre blog. Or, it’ll be my permanent home until I get busy with other work and essentially forget all about this. We’ll see what happens.

Some of you may be wondering why I left The Bits in the first place. I’ll get into some of that later on, as well as what will hopefully make this different from what I was doing over there. But before Baby New Year turns into Surly Teen New Year, I’d like to take one more look at the movies of 2014.

I didn’t want to start this back up with just another top ten list. For one thing, there are so many 2014 movies that I haven’t seen yet that any attempt at a top ten would be ludicrously limited. According to The Big Checklist assembled by The Dissolve’s Scott Tobias, I’ve only seen 25% of the movies that matter in 2014. Granted, this is the internet and rock-solid opinions are established regularly on far less information but still.

Like a lot of people, my movie-watching habits have changed a lot in the last few years. I confess that I don’t make it to the cinema as often as I’d like. This is primarily due to laziness on my part but also because there are only a handful of theatres I can stand. If I didn’t live in Los Angeles, there’d probably be even less. I’ve been slow to embrace on-demand exhibition because I don’t have cable or satellite TV and I refuse to watch anything longer than 15 minutes on my computer. I did get a Roku this past year, so I’m finally catching up to the wave of the future. And unlike most other people who publish a top ten, I’m not a member of any critics’ association or guild that has year-end awards to bestow, so no screeners for me.

But if you’re doing a year-in-review thing, it’s kind of hard to avoid it becoming a list. Doesn’t matter if it’s 5, 10, 25 or 100, ranked by merit, release date or running time, a list’s a list. I thought about listing everything alphabetically but that seemed like kind of a dick move, so over the next few days, I’ll be writing about all of the 2014 movies I’ve seen, ranked in roughly my order of preference, subject to wiggling around depending on my whims. If you’re wondering why I left off Movie X, it’s because I haven’t seen it yet. Simple as that. (Now if you’re wondering why I haven’t seen Movie X yet, that’s a different story.) I’ll do ten a day to keep it manageable, so if you absolutely must have a top ten, you can stop reading after today’s entry.

The Grand Budapest Hotel
By now, most people seem to have a firmly entrenched opinion on the films of Wes Anderson. Either they find his style insufferable and swore off them long ago or they look forward to the arrival of each new movie like it’s a Christmas present from their most imaginative friend. I’m solidly in the latter camp but even I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this. Beyond the usual, expected delights of Anderson’s sumptuously detailed sets, wonderful music and witty dialogue, there’s a surprisingly dark and even moving story. Anderson’s skill at assembling extraordinary ensemble casts hasn’t been in doubt for some time but he outdoes himself here, led by a superb comic performance from Ralph Fiennes. This might not be Anderson’s best film but it’s certainly one of his most enjoyable.

Guardians Of The Galaxy
It’s been a long time since the top-grossing movie of the year came within spitting distance of my personal top ten. But Marvel’s bold move out into the cosmos proved to be the exact right antidote to superhero overload. Kudos to Marvel (and their new corporate overlords, Disney) for giving James Gunn the keys to such a sweet ride and the freedom to drive it as fast and as far as he could.

Blue Ruin
I’d been looking forward to the second film from writer/director Jeremy Saulnier ever since I fell in love with his low-budget debut, Murder Party, five or six years ago. Macon Blair’s performance as a hapless loser whose life is turned upside down by an ill-advised quest for revenge is on par with William H. Macy’s in Fargo. This is one of the best neo-noirs of recent years.

A lot of folks seem to enjoy picking the logic of this movie apart, probably because it’s pretty easy to do. And sure, there is a lot about the last surviving members of humanity trapped aboard an eternally-moving, circumnavigating train that doesn’t make a whole let of sense. But guess what? There’s a lot about Fritz Lang’s Metropolis that doesn’t make much sense and nobody seems to complain about that one. Bong Joon-ho’s sci-fi vision is wildly imaginative and thrillingly exciting. And if its central metaphor is a little heavy-handed, at least it has one.

The Babadook 
My vote for horror movie of the year goes to Jennifer Kent’s amazing slow-burn thriller. Essie Davis is brilliant as a single mother whose son and sanity are threatened by a smart-dressed boogeyman manifested from a disturbing children’s book. This one gets under your skin and lodges itself there for days.

Inherent Vice
Give Paul Thomas Anderson this much credit: over the course of his career, he has consistently and steadily increased his difficulty level with each new film. Most filmmakers have steered well clear of adapting the works of Thomas Pynchon to the screen but Anderson jumps right into the deep end, delivering a dense, funny and atmospheric movie that’s all but guaranteed to reward multiple viewings.

20,000 Days On Earth
If you’ve already decided you don’t like Nick Cave, this mythology-perpetuating sorta-documentary isn’t going to change your mind. But it may win you over if you aren’t familiar with him and if you’re a longtime fan, like me, it’s essential. Directors Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard dig deep into Cave’s creative process. If you’re an artist or aspire to be one, this may be the most inspirational film you’ll see all year.

The Boxtrolls
The stop-motion animation wizards at Laika Entertainment continue their winning streak with this funny, gleefully gross concoction reminiscent of the works of Roald Dahl. Bonus points for what may be the best post-credits bonus scene ever filmed.

The Battered Bastards Of Baseball
I’m not much of a sports fan but I do have a peculiar fondness for sports documentaries. While the game is being played, it doesn’t mean much to me. But if a filmmaker can frame that event in the context of a larger story, then you’ve got my interest. Chapman and Maclain Way have got one hell of a good story in the little-known tale of Bing Russell’s Portland Mavericks, an independent minor league team that shook up the status quo of Major League Baseball. This crowd-pleaser is almost certain to become a Major Hollywood Motion Picture but don’t fail to check out the real deal first.

Nymphomaniac: Vol. II
I was surprised by the number of reviews I saw that felt the first part of Lars von Trier’s Trojan Magnum Opus was far superior to the second. I liked Vol. I just fine (more on that later) but Vol. II justifies the project and raises it to a different level. It’s a bold and provocative film and arguably one of von Trier’s most feminist statements to date. 

My magical mystery tour through the past 12 months continues tomorrow, so y'all come back now, y'hear?