Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 in Review: My Top 10 Movies of the Year

I am a firm believer that's there no such thing as "bad" movie years. (If you can't find a sufficient amount of good films, you just need to do a little more exploring.) But I will confess that 2014's overall crop wasn't as strong as previous years'. Part of that feeling comes from measuring the amount of straight-As that I gave out in 2014 as opposed to 2013 and 2012, but it's also reflected in the number of movies I thought had a legitimate shot of being considered in my end-of-the-year Top 10. There were plenty of very good movies in 2014, but not as many absolutely astounding ones.

That said, I'm unhappy a handful of standouts couldn't make the list. (And I'm also sad about a few films that I need to catch up on, including The Last of the Unjust, Jealousy, The Story of My Death, the second half of Nymphomaniac, and What Now? Remind Me. And I would have loved another crack at The Immigrant, which I haven't seen since Cannes last year.) But without further ado, here's my Top 10 of 2014....

1. Boyhood 
2. The Overnighters 
3. Under the Skin
4. The Unknown Known
5. Mr. Turner 
6. Foxcatcher 
7. Night Moves 
8. The Grand Budapest Hotel 
9. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
10. Manuscripts Don't Burn

I go into more detail about films 10-6 here. And I wrote about films 5-1 here. (And if you're interested, here's my full ballot from the Village Voice film poll.)

As for my list, I'm reminded yet again how fluid such determinations can be. Coming out of Sundance, I ranked Boyhood second behind The Raid 2 from the festival, although even then I knew that could change. As I wrote at the time...
My head tells me that Boyhood is going to eventually overtake The Raid 2 on my end-of-the-year list. Linklater's film feels like one for the ages, while Gareth Evans's achievement may diminish with multiple viewings. They couldn't be more different films: Boyhood caresses the heart, while The Raid 2 pummels the senses and rearranges your nervous system -- and for this moment in time, it's the grander achievement. But ask me again in about 11 months.  
Multiple viewings convinced me of Boyhood's greatness -- not to mention multiple conversations with people who found the film boring or couldn't see what "the big deal" was. The Raid 2 ended up No. 14 on the year. (It's a sign of how strong 2014 was that I'd sit down and watch that orgy of brilliant action again in a heartbeat.)

A few final notes...

* Three of my top four films screened at this year's True/False. It was an inspired choice on programmers Paul Sturtz and David Wilson's part to include Linklater's film as one of their rare fiction selections since the movie documents time in an innovative way.

* The fantastic Manuscripts Don't Burn, the only foreign-language film in my Top 10 (unless you count all the grunting in Mr. Turner), was one of the last movies I saw in 2014. Its deceptively dispassionate approach to government thuggery was stunning, strong enough to upend the film I thought was going to be my No. 10, the wonderfully meditative and life-affirming Manakamana (No. 11).

* Two of 2014's best films were seen in 2013 -- and both are underrated. When they made their way across the fall festival season last year, both The Unknown Known and Night Moves were labeled as disappointments, not up to the level of their makers' (Errol Morris and Kelly Reichardt, respectively) previous high-water marks. Clearly, I disagree.

* Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the sole representative in the Top 10 from a pretty stellar slate of blockbuster filmmaking in 2014. X-Men: Days of Future Past, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Edge of Tomorrow and especially The Lego Movie (No. 16) were all a kick.

* If you're looking for the best under-the-radar picks from the year gone by, I can't recommend highly enough National Gallery (No. 13), Stray Dogs (No. 15), The Strange Little Cat (No. 17), Policeman (No. 22), Child's Pose (No. 24) and It Felt Like Love (No. 25).

* The above still is from Goodbye to Language (No. 19), Jean-Luc Godard's playful, hypnotizing experiment in 3D. It's the sort of provocation that you're lucky to get one or two of every year. (You know, the more I think about it, 2014 really was amazing.)

On a personal note, this past year saw me travel to the Middle East for the first time: In October, I attended the Beirut International Film Festival. A month later, I was back in Los Angeles as part of the New Auteurs jury for AFI Fest, which was a treat. I couldn't make Cannes this year, sadly -- a book project kept me away -- but Sundance, True/False, Toronto and others kept me plenty busy. 

I want to wish you a happy, prosperous 2015. Many have complained that, out there in the real world, 2014 was overwhelmingly depressing. And it was -- but just like I don't believe in bad movie years, I don't believe in bad years. I don't want to diminish anyone's personal miseries -- we all had plenty in 2014 -- but hope and light always coexist with tragedies and irritations. Remember what Lou Reed once said: "There's a bit of magic in everything/And then some loss to even things out."

Saturday, December 27, 2014

D'Angelo and the Vanguard - "Another Life"

Yes, Friday Video is a day late this week. (I'm on vacation: Cut me some slack.) It seemed appropriate, then, that I selected a song from the most long-delayed album of 2014. It's "Another Life," the final track off Black Messiah. It's a record that can't possibly be fully processed until some point in 2015.

Friday, December 26, 2014

2014 in Review: The Year's Worst Movies

Next week, I'll reveal my Top 10 movies of 2014. (If you can't wait that long, it's actually available on the Web at a couple different locations.) But for now, Will and I each pick our five worst movies of the year, which you can read about here.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

2014 in Review: The Year's Best Forgotten Movie Performance

Back in August, it seemed like a no-brainer that Chadwick Boseman would be in the running for a Best Actor nomination for Get on Up. After all, actors playing musicians like Jamie Foxx (Ray) and Joaquin Phoenix (Walk the Line) had gotten attention from the Academy. Instead, Boseman's great turn as James Brown has all but been forgotten. I sing his praises in this piece for Deadspin, where Will and I both reveal our choices for the year's best forgotten performance.

2014 in Review: The Year's Best Movie Scene

I've been raving about The Raid 2 since Sundance, so there's no reason to stop now. For Deadspin, Will and I both picked our favorite movie scene of 2014, so I went for something from the Gareth Evans opus. You can read both our picks here. (Will's is top-notch, too. Ironically, I also saw his pick at Sundance.)

My Interview With Christoph Waltz

For Rolling Stone, I spoke with Christoph Waltz, who is a highlight of the forthcoming Big Eyes. I like a subject who's thoughtful with his answers, who doesn't just give me the same rehearsed spiel he'd delivered to everyone else. That didn't feel like the case when he and I talked: He seemed genuinely mystified by journalists' fascination with the acting process, and he wanted to have a conversation about it. You can read my profile of Mr. Waltz here.

Monday, December 22, 2014

'Unbroken' Review

It is hard to express how strange it is watching Unbroken, a movie about an extraordinary life that's nonetheless very uninvolving. Louis Zamperini was an Olympic athlete and World War II veteran who suffered terrible torture and survived. But director Angelina Jolie's film just never comes to life. I reviewed the Oscar-seeking film for Deadspin.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Taylor Swift - "Welcome to New York"

My understanding is that some people hate "Welcome to New York," the opening track off Taylor Swift's 1989. Apparently, Swift should be caned because, as a pop singer, she had the audacity to write a song about New York as an idealized place where young people can reinvent themselves, find love and perhaps live happily ever after. Doesn't she know there is a lot of crime and economic inequality in New York??!?!? What's wrong with her??!?!? Swift, who just turned 25 and was never expected to be an expert on economics, responded to the criticism exactly right....
[W]hen you write a song, you're writing about a momentary emotion. If you can capture that and turn it into three-and-half minutes that feel like that emotion, that's all you're trying to do as a songwriter. To take a song and try to apply it to every situation everyone is going through -- economically, politically, in an entire metropolitan area -- is asking a little much of a piece of a music.  

I'm as optimistic and enthusiastic about New York as I am about the state of the music industry, and a lot of people aren't optimistic about those two things. And if they're not in that place in their life, they're not going to relate to what I have to say.
I've never lived in New York, but I can't think of a song in the last few years that's so captured that giddy rush of being young and living in a big city -- of thinking that the whole world is in front of you and oh my god, it feels amazing. "Welcome to New York" conveys that sensation perfectly. It's what being in your mid-20s sounds like.

In fact, the track reminds me of two very different artists: PJ Harvey, whose own New York album, Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea, opens with a "Welcome to New York"-like tune called "Big Exit" and is full of similarly euphoric romantic abandon; and Liz Phair, whose 2003 self-titled album opened with "Extraordinary," which like Swift's "Shake It Off" is about the woman she is versus the woman other people assume her (or want her) to be.

I haven't finished filling out my Pazz & Jop ballot yet, but "Welcome to New York" might make the cut. I can say for sure, though, that it always sounds great blasting out of my speakers on the freeway. Here she is performing it on Late Show With David Letterman -- right, in New York.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

'Into the Woods' Review

Into the woods, into the woods, into the woods!

If you see only one musical this holiday season......absolutely don't let it be the atrocious Annie. And while Into the Woods isn't terrific, it's perfectly, pleasantly solid. My review of the big-screen adaptation of the James Lapine/Stephen Sondheim classic is up live over at Screen International.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

'Selma' Review

For Deadspin, I reviewed Selma, which recounts Martin Luther King, Jr.'s 1965 attempt to organize a peaceful march from Selma to Birmingham to raise awareness for voting equality. It's a strong, solid drama that has its shortcomings. But my review ponders whether such nitpicking matters in the face of American history: both 50 years ago and right now. You can read my piece here.

'Mr. Turner' Review

With Vera Drake, Happy-Go-Lucky, Another Year and now Mr. Turner, writer-director Mike Leigh has been on a 10-year hot streak. His latest is his long-in-the-works portrait of 19th century artist J.M.W. Turner, which stars a singular Timothy Spall. I loved this movie -- and if you can see it on the big screen, do it. I reviewed Mr. Turner for Paste.

Monday, December 15, 2014

What's the Best Recurring Segment on 'The Colbert Report'?

Is it "Better Know a District"? "Difference Makers"? "The Word"? "ThreatDown"? For Rolling Stone, I counted down the 30 greatest regular features of The Colbert Report. I spent way too much time on this, and it was totally worth it. The whole list is here.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

'Annie' Review

My final review of the year for Screen International is a huge lump of coal. The Annie remake is positively dreadful. (Thank goodness for Rose Byrne's warm presence.) You can read all about it here.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

SAG Foundation: My Conversation With Timothy Spall

On December 4, I sat down with Timothy Spall, the star of the mighty Mr. Turner, to discuss the film at a SAG Foundation screening. We only had about 25 minutes, but he was terrific. This is one of those Q&As where my guest does all the heavy lifting: Spall spoke at length, and articulately, about his approach to playing the painter J.M.W. Turner and his relationship with writer-director Mike Leigh, whom he refers to as a "forensic filmmaker." Needless to say, I was honored to get to speak with him. The video is below.

Friday, December 12, 2014

'Inherent Vice' Review

Inherent Vice isn't as magnificent as Punch-Drunk Love, There Will Be Blood or The Master. It's pretty damn fantastic anyway. I reviewed Paul Thomas Anderson's latest for Deadspin.

2014 in Review: The Year's Best Lists

This was very fun: For Rolling Stone, I compiled the best lists of the year. Yes, it's a list of great lists. I brought science, reason and careful objectivity to a deeply silly enterprise. (Full disclosure: I had a blast.) You can read about the 20 best lists of 2014, including Grantland's countdown of all the NBA home court designs, right here.

Can - "Vitamin C"

After you see Inherent Vice, you'll want to hear this song on a loop.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

2014 in Review: The Year's Biggest Comebacks

Before we salute 2014's best (and worst), let's take a moment to salute the people and things that came in from the cold this year, becoming relevant again for the first time in forever. That includes Beck, the Kansas City Royals and (sigh) the Republican Party. I picked 20 of the year's biggest comebacks for Rolling Stone.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

My Interview With Krysten Ritter

For Backstage, I sat down with Krysten Ritter, one of the stars of Big Eyes. We talked about the movie, being a longtime Tim Burton fan, and why auditions and talk shows make her nervous. You can read the whole interview here.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Movies for Hard Times

With the recent events in Ferguson and Staten Island, what films should people watch to work through their grief and anger? That's the question posed in this week's Criticwire survey. I answered it in a sorta roundabout way. You can read my response -- as well as other writers' -- right here.

'Top Five' Review

Chris Rock is the man behind Top Five, serving as writer, director and star. And he's come up with his best film, a very funny, very shrewd romantic comedy about a Hollywood A-lister who's trying to be taken seriously with his next project, a super-solemn historical drama. I reviewed the film for Deadspin.

Friday, December 05, 2014

'Press Play With Madeleine Brand': Reese Witherspoon and Julianne Moore

I was very happy to be back on Madeleine Brand's daily KCRW show today, talking about Wild and Still Alice with fellow critic Matt Atchity. (We also took a look at Black or White and Life Partners.) You can hear our segment of Press Play right here.

TV on the Radio - "Happy Idiot"

I always love danceable TV on the Radio, and the first single off Seeds certainly qualifies. Still processing the rest of the album, but this puppy hooked me instantly.

Monday, December 01, 2014

'The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies' Review

I've never seen eye-to-eye with my colleagues when it comes to Peter Jackson's Tolkien films. I liked the Lord of the Rings movies but never loved them. (Well, The Return of the King is pretty terrific.) And I never hated The Hobbit like many critics did. This December, the final Hobbit film, The Battle of the Five Armies, arrives. I found it as entertaining and limited as the first two Hobbit movies. Expect a Return of the King and you'll be disappointed; prepare for battles galore and you'll have a fine time. My review is up at Screen International.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

'Exodus: Gods and Kings' Review

Holy Moses! Avoid Exodus: Gods and Kings like the plague! Now that I've got the bad jokes out of my system, please feel free to read my review of Ridley Scott's latest. It's up at Screen International.

And as an addendum, I'd like to quote the opening of Roger Ebert's review of Gladiator:
A foolish choice in art direction casts a pall over Ridley Scott's Gladiator that no swordplay can cut through. The film looks muddy, fuzzy and indistinct. Its colors are mud tones at the drab end of the palette, and it seems to have been filmed on grim and overcast days. This darkness and a lack of detail in the long shots helps obscure shabby special effects (the Colosseum in Rome looks like a model from a computer game), and the characters bring no cheer: They're bitter, vengeful, depressed. By the end of this long film, I would have traded any given gladiatorial victory for just one shot of blue skies.
Exodus isn't as muddy, per se, but the dependence on CGI is just as evident. That didn't bother me so much in Gladiator because of the performance and storytelling. With Exodus, though, the problem is far more noticeable.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Joni Mitchell - "Banquet"

The opening song off Joni Mitchell's criminally underrated For the Roses seems an appropriate tune for the day after Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 24, 2014

What Movie Would I Want to See Over and Over Again in a Theater?

This week's Criticwire survey asks the question: If you had the clout to have one movie screen at a theater whenever you wanted, what would it be? "None," I would probably say: I don't like seeing the same movie (even my favorites) that often. But then I thought about it some more, and I arrived at an answer. You can read my response here -- along with my fellow critics'.

Friday, November 21, 2014

'A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night' Review

The Iranian Vampire Western A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night hits select cities today. Good lord, it's a gorgeous-looking movie -- so gorgeous, in fact, that you may not mind the film's limitations. (I know I did.) My review is up at Paste.

Flying Lotus (featuring Kendrick Lamar) - "Never Catch Me"

As I'm focusing on movies for end-of-the-year voting, I'm also taking some time to catch up on some must-hear records in order to be ready for Pazz & Jop. Next up: You're Dead! from Flying Lotus. Here's the single "Never Catch Me," which features Kendrick Lamar, a man whose voice enlivens everything it's on. (Compare this track to, say, Schoolboy Q's "Collard Greens." Totally different sonic worlds.)

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1' Review

I've never quite been able to get behind the Hunger Games franchise. I like Jennifer Lawrence a lot, but the movies' post-apocalyptic landscape doesn't do much for me. And there's also the fact that the filmmakers keep stringing us along, promising big moments in future installments. I reviewed Mockingjay - Part 1 for Deadspin.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

SAG Foundation: My Conversation With Zach Braff

I had a fine time speaking with Zach Braff, the writer, director and star of Wish I Was Here, which was easily the most divisive film at Sundance this year. (I found it uneven but quite moving. A friend and colleague sitting next to me loathed it.)

In this 45-minute conversation, we talked about Braff's experience with the film since that festival premiere. We also chatted about the courage required to be sincere, the whirlwind of starring in the Broadway musical adaptation of Bullets Over Broadway and what it's like to write a screenplay with your brother.

Friday, November 14, 2014

'Big Eyes' Review

With the exception of Ed Wood and Mars Attacks!, the last two decades haven't been very kind to Tim Burton. So what a relief it is to say that his new movie is a kick. Based on the life of painter Margaret Keane, Big Eyes features very good performances from Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz. Plus, it's a fun little treatise on artistic expression. My review is up at Screen International.

AFI Fest 2014: The Final Rankings

I can't think of a festival in Los Angeles that's ever been more of a whirlwind than this year's AFI Fest. Partly, that was because I was part of the New Auteurs jury (alongside Alonso Duralde, Eric Kohn and Anne Thompson), but mostly it was due to the fact that a mad rush of world premieres (some of them announced at the last minute) kept me watching and reviewing highly-anticipated Oscar contenders just about every day. I wouldn't have traded a moment of any of it.

Before I get into the rankings, I'd like to thank the AFI Fest staff, especially Jacqueline Lyanga, Lane Kneedler, Jenn Murphy and Landon Zakheim, who all took such good care of me. They run a fine festival.

Now, to the list. I should say that all 10 films in the New Auteurs section, which focuses on first- and second-time international directors, were all good enough to recommend. (You can see our list of winners right here. I co-sign on all of them.) I've been on juries before, and I know that this isn't always the case: Normally, you have to suffer through some real dogs. So, again, my thanks go out to the programmers for finding the wheat among the chaff.

As always with my rankings, they include films I saw before the festival elsewhere. (I decided to leave off Cinema Paradiso since I haven't seen it in years and barely remember it.) I already can't wait to see my No. 1 film again next year when it gets its official release. I've been intrigued by it since May: I'm happy to report that it lived up to the hype.

28. The Gambler
27. The Wonders
26. Viktoria
25. The Homesman
24. Güeros
23. Red Army
22. Flapping in the Middle of Nowhere
21. Blind
20. Happy Valley
19. Tales of the Grim Sleeper
18. Clouds of Sils Maria
17. Leviathan
16. A Most Violent Year
15. American Sniper
14. Run
13. Black Coal, Thin Ice
12. Thou Wast Mild and Lovely
11. Self Made
10. Violet
9. The Duke of Burgundy
8. Wild Tales
7. Jauja
6. Alive
5. Two Days, One Night
4. Still Alice
3. Eden
2. Foxcatcher
1. The Tribe

Drive-By Truckers - "Pauline Hawkins"

For most of the year, I pegged the mighty Drive-By Truckers' latest album, English Oceans, as merely good. In the last month or so, though, I've turned the corner on it. Full of rich stories -- even more so than usual with these guys -- the record is especially dark, which, again, isn't necessarily new for this band. Maybe that's why it took me a while to warm up to it: Their sustained greatness risks fans like me taking it for granted.

"Pauline Hawkins" is almost unfathomably mysterious. Patterson Hood's narrator lets his lover know just how little he thinks of her, but the intensity of his insistence makes me think he protests too much. Sounds like a guy convincing himself that he's too tough or smart for love. Plus, the musical coda at the end is a killer.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

'Red Army' Review

Red Army is a perfectly likeable documentary -- it just won an Audience Award at AFI Fest -- but I confess I couldn't summon up much enthusiasm for it. Partly, that's because I've seen this sort of thing done often -- and sometimes better -- as part of ESPN's "30 for 30" series. I reviewed Red Army, which looks at the Soviet Union's famed national hockey team, for Paste.

'Dumb and Dumber To' Review

After being a vocal champion of The Three Stooges -- the movie, I mean -- I'm sad to say that the Farrelly brothers' Dumb and Dumber To is a bust. I reviewed the mediocre sequel for Screen International.

'Foxcatcher' Review

Foxcatcher knocked me sideways. I explain why in my Deadspin review.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

'The Homesman' Review

Watch out, Hilary Swank: Tommy Lee Jones has a fork!

I reviewed The Homesman for Paste.

'American Sniper' Review

I need to ponder it a little longer, but my favorite Bradley Cooper performance may be in American Sniper, his new movie in which he plays real-life Navy SEAL Chris Kyle. A fun-loving Texan who joins the military in response to terror attacks against America around the globe, Kyle soon became a legend on the Iraqi battlefield for confirmed kills by a sniper. Clint Eastwood's film lacks some of the moral complexity that made his best movie about warfare, Letters From Iwo Jima, so special. But it's affecting nonetheless. I reviewed American Sniper for Screen International.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

AFI Fest 2014: 'The Gambler' Review

No, this is not a remake of the Kenny Rogers film.

Yes, it is a remake (of sorts) of the James Caan film.

Yes, I have shaken hands with Mark Wahlberg not once but twice at church.

No, that has no bearing on how I felt about The Gambler.

Yes, I was a big fan of the very divisive The Counselor from last year.

Yes, I wish The Gambler was more like The Counselor.

My review is over at Screen International.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Matthew McConaughey's Greatest Performances

In honor of Interstellar, I put together a list of Matthew McConaughey's best performances, for both film and television. Making a Top 20 is difficult because of the ups-and-downs in his career, but it did give me a chance to stick up for Amistad and give shout-outs to underrated gems like Frailty. You can see the list and argue endlessly about it over at Rolling Stone.

Friday, November 07, 2014

'Big Hero 6' Review

The very sweet, very likeable Big Hero 6 opens today. For me, it's a perfect gateway drug to get kids hooked on comic-book/action/blockbuster movies. Plenty of it is familiar, but it's all done well enough. (And Baymax sure is cute.) My review is up at Deadspin.

Marvin Gaye - "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)"

Because I see so many movies, I get a little numb to the obvious song choices that will show up again and again in them. So I was knocked back a bit when A Most Violent Year kicks off with this Marvin Gaye gem. Now it's stuck in my head.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

AFI Fest 2014: 'A Most Violent Year' Review

Oscar Isaac had been doing fine supporting work for years before raising his profile considerably with last year's Inside Llewyn Davis. He returns with A Most Violent Year, an ambitious, muddled film in which he is superb. I went long on this review for Screen International, discussing what works and what doesn't in filmmaker J.C Chandor's latest.

SAG Foundation: My Conversation With Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne

I was deeply moved by The Theory of Everything when I saw it in Toronto in September. In November, I got to speak to its stars, Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne. They couldn't have been more charming. This conversation took place at the Linwood Dunn in Hollywood. My thanks to the SAG Foundation for inviting me to host this chat.

'The Better Angels' Review

I was excited for The Better Angels after being told good things from colleagues who had seen it at Sundance. Alas. The movie, which dives into Abraham Lincoln's boyhood, has a serious case of the Malicks. I explain in my Paste review.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

On Christopher Nolan and 'Interstellar'

Two years ago, I wrote a glowing overview of Christopher Nolan's career. Then came The Dark Knight Rises and Interstellar. Those movies aren't bad--in the binary language of film criticism, they both get thumbs-up--but there's something missing. I get into it over at Deadspin.

Monday, November 03, 2014

'National Gallery' Review

I've sung the praises of Frederick Wiseman before, but the man keeps making great movies. His latest is National Gallery. It may be a notch below other high-water marks like At Berkeley and Boxing Gym, but it's plenty enthralling. I review the documentary, which investigates the inner-workings of London's National Gallery museum, for Paste.

'Jessabelle' Review

Just in time for Halloween -- oh, whoops, that was last week -- comes Jessabelle, a rather ordinary horror movie. A woman returns to her childhood home, only to discover a phantom keeps bugging her. What does the ghost want? And how soon until this movie is over? I reviewed Jessabelle for Screen International.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Beirut 2014: 'Bird People' Review

A little bit of catch-up: Here's my review of Bird People. I missed it during its U.S. run, but I was able to see it while I was in Beirut. Glad I did: Although the movie is a misfire, it's the sort of misfire well worth seeing. My review is up at Paste.

Rock Stars Hanging Out in Horror Movies

Some fun silliness here. For Rolling Stone I helped contribute to a rundown of some of the more memorable appearances by rock stars in 1980s horror movies. Tom Waits! Debbie Harry! Even Wolfman Jack! You can read it all here.

Friday, October 31, 2014

First Aid Kit - "Cedar Lane"

Imagine if the Carpenters tried to do a cover of "Rainbow Connection" but didn't get it quite right. That's one way to describe First Aid Kid's "Cedar Lane," which I find rather enchanting.

Monday, October 27, 2014

'Interstellar' Review

It's one hell of an experience. Interstellar, the latest from filmmaker Christopher Nolan, wants to be the biggest, grandest, most emotional sci-fi extravaganza ever. The storytelling isn't nearly as impressive but, to be honest, I was willing to forgive that -- up to a point, anyway. My review, which wrestles with the film's strengths and weaknesses, is up at Screen International.

Friday, October 24, 2014

'White Bird in a Blizzard' Review

Most who caught White Bird in a Blizzard at Sundance seemed to have been left cold by it. (Har har har.) But I found this Gregg Araki film, about a teenage girl coping with the disappearance of her mother, to be uniquely affecting. Shailene Woodley continues to demonstrate why she's one of our best young actors. My review is up at Paste.

Phish - "Waiting All Night"

Like lots of people, I enjoy mocking Phish and their fans. It's easy sport, even easier because I don't think I've heard more than, like, three Phish songs in my life. So, in the interest of fairness, I'm posting "Waiting All Night," off their new album Fuego. It's perfectly pleasant.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

'Citizenfour' Review

Over at Deadspin, I reviewed Citizenfour, which was a sensation at the New York Film Festival. A documentary that takes you behind the scenes when Edward Snowden first blew the whistle on the NSA, Citizenfour is quite good ... but I have a few reservations. I get into those right here.

'Force Majeure' Review

Sweden's official entry for the Oscars, Force Majeure kick-starts its plot on a split-second decision a husband makes that radically changes how his wife feels about him. (We've all been there, buddy.) My review of this character drama (or is it a dark comedy?) is live at Paste.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Beirut 2014: 'Tom at the Farm' Review

Xavier Dolan's Mommy was one of the divisive films at this year's Cannes. I haven't seen it yet, but while in Beirut I got a chance to see the movie he made right before it, Tom at the Farm, which has yet to be released in the U.S. It stars Dolan as a man grieving for his dead lover by going to the deceased's family farm. This turns out to be a very bad idea but a pretty sly film. I reviewed Tom at the Farm for Paste.

Beirut 2014: 'The Blue Room' Review

While at the Beirut Film Festival, I got the chance to catch up on a few movies that I had let fall through the cracks. One of those was The Blue Room, Mathieu Amalric's romantic thriller that just opened in the States. A whodunit with a somber air, the film plays like an unlikely companion piece to Gone Girl, which I talk about in my Paste review.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Best Non-Disney Animated Movies on Netflix

For Playboy, I decided to to put together a handy-dandy list of great animated movies that are currently streaming on Netflix. (The catch: They couldn't come from Disney.) Some observations:

1) There are plenty of great candidates that currently aren't on Netflix.

2) Many of these are geared more to adults than kids.

3) It's a cheat, I admit, but I had to include Team America: World Police.

You can read the list here. (Don't worry: The site is SFW.)

Friday, October 17, 2014

tUnE-yArDs - "Wooly Wolly Gong"

Don't ask me my opinion of tUnE-yArDs: I simply have never been able to get a grasp on Merrill Garbus's much-acclaimed indie-rock project. Nikki Nack, her latest, continues to bewilder me months after its release--it's enchanting, sometimes aggravating, always vibrant--so this week's Friday Video is dedicated to the one song of hers I unquestionably love. It's "Wooly Wolly Gong," off 2011's Whokill.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

AFI Fest 2014: Jury Duty

I'm very happy to say that I'll be part of the New Auteurs jury at this year's AFI Fest. And I'm especially pleased to be in such good company alongside Alonso Duralde, Eric Kohn and Anne Thompson. It looks like a great slate, as always. Looking forward to seeing what else is added to the festival's program in the next week or so.

My Trip to the Beirut Film Festival

Late last month, I went to the Middle East for the first time. My trip was in connection to my attendance at the Beirut International Film Festival. (I was invited by the festival to cover the goings-on.) I'll have more coverage coming soon, but in the meantime, here's an essay about my experience at the festival, which brings together Middle Eastern and Western cinema under one roof. I recommend a few gems and take in the atmosphere in this Screen International piece.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

'Birdman' Review

For the first reel of Birdman, I was wowed but a bit resistant. A whole film made to look like one shot? Another story about an artist at a personal and professional crossroads? Another film from once-mighty director Alejandro González Iñárritu? Soon enough, though, I was won over. My Birdman review is up at Deadspin.