Category Archives: Movies

Let’s Get a Few Links Off My Chest: The Challenge Hibernation Edition

To my few loyal readers who may not be as interested in the minutia and the “inside the competitor’s studio” unrelenting coverage of all things The Challenge, do not fear: my pop culture and sports identity has not lost its mojo (a fair presumption). The reality of covering the “Fifth Major American Professional Sport” (that also happens to be a TV show) full-time is that other writing takes a little bit of a backseat. With so much going on (NBA Playoffs! Game of Thrones! Colbert taking over Late NightThe remarkable cultural ascendancy of Billy on the Street!), I thought I could at least send you to the right places.

Without further ado, let us get a few links off my chest…

I am not sure I would call this the “greatest shot in playoff history” as some have suggested…

(greatness demands higher stakes than Game 2 of a first round series), but I would be hard pressed to find a more incredible basketball play and the replays only make it look better.

Beno Udrih’s reaction non-reaction (at 0:18) says everything.

For the record, this remains my favorite playoff basketball play that I ever seen (you are really watching what greatness is all about)…

Speaking of Larry Legend, Jalen and Bill have an interesting chat about LeBron’s place in the “greatest forward of all-time conversation…

They both reluctantly argue (and subsequently mourn) that if LeBron wins his third championship this season, he passes Bird on the all-time forward list. I may not be there yet, but this is not an erroneous argument by any means. LeBron, beginning the playoffs in his eleventh season, is already right there. Incredible.

While were still in the land of Larry, somebody finally got into a fistfight with Lance Stephenson, and, not so surprisingly, it was Evan Turner (not exactly anyone’s favorite teammate). Despite a decisive game 2 victory against the Hawks, Pacers championship aspirations are in a whole lot of trouble. At least Roy Hibbert isn’t for sale on Amazon.Roy-Hibbert-Cover

I had the pleasure of watching the epic game 1 showdown between Houston and Portland. Is there a more fun glue guy/crowd pleaser/enforcer in the league right now than Patrick Beverley? This is his response to being hit with a Mo Williams flagrant foul.

Thunder fans may object, but you have to love what this guys brings to the table.

If Patrick Beverley had played in 1980s, he would have been a perfect insertion to the Pistons. I certainly loathed the “yellow, gutless way” they did things, but it is hard not have some respect for the Bad Boys of Detroit as a compelling and dynamic basketball team (I had forgotten how eloquent Isiah Thomas is and how bizarre Adrian Dantley seems to be).

There have been many great 30 for 30 documentaries, but I am not sure one resonated (or provided a greater opportunity to relive and reminisce) more than this one.

Thank goodness for Robert Parish’s revenge enactment (start at 0:17). Amazingly, he was not ejected. Respect.

That’s what you do, Paul Pierce. That’s why the Celtics miss you so much.

On to the other spectrum popular culture, Season 4 of Game of Thrones has already been responsible for its share of reactions (SPOILER ALERT!) and has further proved why Westeros is apparently the worst place to have a wedding. This week brought out some mixed opinions about the transfer of a book scene to television. I am still ruminating on the ramifications of the scene in question and as a television viewer first and foremost (I have only read the first book and aim to stay at least two books behind because I enjoy watching the television show too much), I will wait to see where Mr. Weiss and Benioff take me, but for now, if you are watching, read Andy Greenwald because he writes amazing things about an amazing television show.

My feeling after watching this video: I think we may be witnessing the birth of a political star…

The future of late night is bright with these two. John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight debuts Sunday night on HBO. I remember his final The Daily Show with a nostalgic fondness.

Speaking of Late Night television, I admittedly have never been a Letterman guy. This is entirely a byproduct of my age (too young), my sensibility (I appreciate a different type of comedic irreverence), and my late night habits during formative late night habit-forming years (I have been a loyal follower of The Daily Show, an affinity that first awakened to the brilliant laughter and learning combination in college). Notwithstanding, I get it. I get why and how Letterman inspired a generation and why he is justifiably a comedic and television legend. Bill Simmons carves out a beautiful piece of prose to put all in perspective. Stephen Colbert (a Daily Show disciple on his own right) is the worthiest of replacements and will add to the already thriving renaissance of the medium.

Yes, they may not be the most incredible pre-publicity images I have seen, but they are still images from Jurassic World!Jurassic World

Bryce-Dallas-Howard Director-Chair

While on the subject of Steven Spielberg properties…will a collaboration with Tony Kushner be his next project or will it be a collaboration with Tom Hanks? I will gladly take both.

Coldplay is making me very excited for their new album, Ghost Stories, out May 19-20. Every song they have put out thus far simultaneously sounds entirely unique and yet eerily connected to one another as if from some carefully constructed masterwork. The latest release (as a live BBC performance) of “Oceans” furthers this trend:

I have tried and failed to read J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter follow up, The Casual Vacancy, four times now. The “right timing” stars have never aligned. Maybe this just announced HBO miniseries will quell the trend.

The Leftovers debuts this summer on HBO and has Damon Lindelof’s stamp written all over it. The long awaited return to television by The Lost showrunner presents something extraordinary.

Finally, two games in, and LaMarcus Aldridge’s 2014 postseason is OUT OF CONTROL. Whether the Blazers win the series or not (Houston is heading back to Portland down 2-0), Aldridge’s rise to one of the game’s elite players (and mid-range jumper master) has already happened.

5 Things You Need To Know: Muppets Most Wanted

When I see a movie in theaters, I will write the five things you need to know about it.

5 Things You Need to Know About…


1) Nostalgia for pop culture can be a tricky thing. Formidable memories and experiences from an early age (or at least an earlier age) retain a certain degree of romantic appreciation and unavoidable bias. We remember all of the good, barely any of the not so good, and see the given movie, television series, franchise, or album through an impenetrable lens of celebratory devotion. While both our tastes and preferences evolve with the inevitable progress of a given medium, our most beloved entities are captured in time, protected from objective critique and heightened discernment. This is not to say that by looking back in a haze of rose-colored love, what we remember is somehow lesser than. As objectively considered as possible, The Wizard of Oz will always be great, The Godfather and The Godfather II remain pillars of film history, and The Wire still holds the “best television series I have ever watched” crown (Breaking Bad‘s final season had more than something to say about this). Greatness is greatness in any context, era, or through any cloud of nostalgic bias. It was of tremendous and satisfying relief last April when my Jurassic Park 3D experience held up against that voracious fandom of my youth. Jurassic Park remains a phenomenal cinematic experience, whether 1993 or 2013. As “they” (people who consider these kind of things) say, it has aged well. It is through this starry-eyed vision that I consider the Muppets. The Muppets are my original, longest-standing, and most beloved franchise. I have been a consumer of their blissful humor and irreverent joy since before I could read the opening credits of their movies. There is a video recording that exists showcasing my four-year-old self’s voice acting and singing prowess on the song “Saying Goodbye” from The Muppets Take Manhattan (I was particularly good at Floyd and Gonzo and particularly challenged by lyrical accuracy). Jim Henson’s tragic death in 1990 remains one of the handful of saddest days of my life and still, all these years later, is one of my profoundest “I remember every detail of that day” experiences. I even have recordings of every Muppets Tonight! episode on VHS (not the most successful or well-received of ventures with Muppets in the title), my apartment is adorned with Muppets figures and replica models of Kermit, Animal, and Gonzo, and I sometimes watch the DVDs of Jim Henson’s funeral as a reminder for what it really means to creatively collaborate (as becomes abundantly clear through the inspirational and beautiful tributes by the other Muppet performers). The Muppets are ingrained in my consciousness, imbedded in my psyche, and central to the development of my soul. Jason Segel’s 2011 Disney restart, The Muppets, a nostalgic ode and love letter to fans brought to fruition by one of the biggest out there, put Kermit, Fozzie, Miss Piggy, and the other Jim Henson furry creations back on the map (as unrealistic as traveling on a map in the movie may be – we have to move right along with travel time exposition, naysayers). It was at times inspirational and muppetational, although often more for its existence (a new Muppet movie in 2011!) and awareness of fan desires (renewed focus on classic characters like Rowlf, Scooter, and Dr. Teeth who had been sidelined or retired after the deaths of Henson and RIchard Hunt, another core Muppet performer), than for its storytelling prowess. It was still the Muppets and as musical numbers like “Man or a Muppet” proved, the Muppets can still be amazing. When I spoke to Jason Segel a few months ago and asked him why he would not be returning for the sequel (there was disappointment from this fan), he intimated that his intention was always to facilitate a Muppet return and cultural rebirth, but then hand the property to others (fueled by the power of the Disney marketing albatross) to tell subsequent stories.

Nostalgia can be a tricky thing, and, fully (and admittedly exhaustively) acknowledging the hyped-anticipation and blinders of adoration that surround my viewing, Muppets Most Wanted was a neatly packaged, cleverly executed, mostly enjoyable ride of a movie that certainly quenched my Muppets thirst, but still left me ravenously hungry for the days of Jim Henson.

2) There is a lot of wonderful to take away from the Muppets Most Wanted movie experience. Walter is already fully immersed in the Muppet world and feels like he has been around a lot longer than three years. With Kermit separated from the gang for most of the movie, Walter fills in the sentimentality gaps quite nicely. Constantine, through an awesome performance from Matt Vogel and a series of great bad Kermit impressions, is one of the movie’s great successes. He is not a good frog, but through a campy, villainous persona, he is a joy to root against. Core Muppet characters are featured once again (Rowlf and Scooter especially) and it seems like everyone this time has at least one moment to shine (One of the best scenes of the movie lets Rizzo and Robin, relegated to sideline status in this Disney reboot after so many years of being featured players, openly vent about their apparent demotion). The pacing never drags, the songs are just the right length and levity, and there are enough mystery plot tropes (albeit predictable) to carry a coherent story. I exited the movie refreshed, amused, and with a smile on my face.

3) In Muppets Most Wanted, Muppets look like the Muppets, they sound like the Muppets (special recognition goes to Eric Jacobson for doing such credible and incredible vocal performances of all of the characters of Frank Oz), but tonally, something feels a bit off. I recognize that the times have changed, that our comedy attention has diverted to a more pithy, sardonic, single-camera sensibility, but there was always a padded layer of warmth behind the Muppet zaniness. There is some of that here, but something just doesn’t feel totally right. It’s almost as if the central conflict of Constantine’s unrecognized Kermit imposter impersonation is a metaphor for the movie at-large. I feel like I am Animal (way to go, old friend), and later Walter and Fozzie, who see through the surface level impression to know that this isn’t the real Kermit. By no means is this a deal-breaker or a lack of appreciation for what is mostly a funny and entertaining experience, but it definitely discolors the post viewing consideration. So, what is missing? And what role is Disney playing in all of this? The answer to the former is on one level quite obvious. Each passing year takes us further from the glory years of The Muppet Show and subsequent three Muppet movies (of which The Muppet Movie is the best). Jim passed twenty four long years ago. Richard Hunt (Scooter, Janice, Sweetums) passed in 1992. Frank Oz is retired and hasn’t performed with the Muppets in over a decade. Jerry Nelson (Robin, Floyd, Crazy Harry) passed last year and hadn’t performed prior to his passing several years before that. Only Dave Goelz (Gonzo, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew) and Steve Whitmire (Rizzo the Rat, Kermit and other Jim characters since his death) remain from the original troupe. The new guys (Bill Barretta, Eric Jacobson, David Rudman, Matt Vogel, Peter Linz) are all super talented and give credible essence performances on all original characters, but they are still new guys. The next level answer to the first question may lie with the role of Disney in all of this. If you are marketing a reboot of a franchise, you want Disney on your side. They put out in their marketing onslaught unlike any other big boy at the table (it has been hard to get through a half hour of TV in 2014 without coming across some type of Muppets advertisement or promotional material). Their belief and support in the Muppets has been much appreciated, but at what cost? As just another arm on a tree of Disney properties (Marvel! Princesses! Pixar!), the Muppets lose some of their inherent individuality. Don’t get me wrong – it is much much much better to have Muppets around, even if slightly off, than no Muppets around at all, but I just wish that Animal’s metaphoric drumming was more off the beat.

4) Most of the humanity in Muppet movies usually comes more from the Muppets than the humans, but Muppets Most Wanted, as The Muppets did before it, uses the human characters most effectively. All three human stars – Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey, and Ty Burrell – fit seamlessly in a Muppet world. Gervais portrays Dominic Badguy, frequently reminded of his “Number 2” villain pecking order status behind Kermit doppelganger (add the mole) and “Number 1” villain, Constantine, with a fair share of David Brent cadence whimsy. I do wish he were given more improvisational freedom (the plotted script seems very deliberate), but his onscreen time is always comedically appreciated. Tina Fey’s Nadya character, a Gulag guard turned variety show supporter, gives this modern comedy heavyweight some fun material. Her burgeoning crush on the mistakenly incarcerated Kermit is a lovely B plot. Ty Burrell’s Interpol agent, Jean Pierre Napoleon (Inspector Clouseau inspired), odd couple with Sam the Eagle, playing a CIA agent, is a wonderful conception. Their interrogation song may have been one of the movie’s best moments. The random collection of other Gulag prisoners (Ray Liotta! Danny Trejo!) and their “A Chorus Line” aspirations is a whole bunch of funny fun. The incessant line of cameos is the one major misstep of the human experience in Muppets Most Wanted. Each inclusion (especially Salma Hayek, Lady Gaga, Usher, and P. Diddy) seems a little bit desperate, a little bit pandering, and a little bit unnecessary (another downside of the Disney commercial train). I have been trying to erase the closing musical number (in which the human cameos all come back in the worst display of CGI in the history of cinema) forever from my memory. I am just going to pretend that it didn’t happen.

5) Muppets Most Wanted is a movie that taps into our collective nostalgic heartstrings, but plays an everso slightly different melody that’s enough to keep us both satisfied and wanting more. It is a privilege for new audiences to be able to experience the Muppets for the first time in a 2014 movie theater and Muppets Most Wanted will be a serviceable entry point, it is just hard for those of us who have been devoted fans not to actively reminisce about the good old times.

5 Things You Need to Know: Veronica Mars

When I see a movie in theaters (or in this case, as an iTunes rental), I will write the five things you need to know about it.

5 Things You Need to Know About…


1) As a loyal fan of the sardonic, snappy-witted television series (although I connected much more with UPN’s season 1 and 2 than the newly merged CW’s season 3) of the same name, there was real excitement to see more of the Veronica Mars character. Commercially, and at times creatively, at the raw end of the network gene pool, Veronica’s cult status was always due in large part to her “location on the dial” circumstances. If she had been given a CBS procedural factory time slot to grow and prosper, show runner Rob Thomas’ (the other Rob Thomas, not the crooner from Matchbox Twenty) modern telling of “all that made Nancy Drew great” mixed with pop-cultured referential writing would have reached its mainstream stride. Unfortunately, at the time, a hit on the UPN was a relative term, and the CW had yet to find its YA/tween calling when it made its fall of 2006 network debut. Failed attempts to rebrand Veronica Mars as an FBI agent (cleverly referenced in the movie) on another network never elevated from failed pilot purgatory, but Thomas and star (with a capital “S”) Kristen Bell persistently kept the dream alive. Fast forward to March of 2013 and the launch of a Veronica Mars Movie Kickstarter campaign that hoped to raise two million dollars toward a movie and enough momentum and consumer demand to justify a studio to fill in the other financial gaps. When the Kickstarter fundraising period closed a month later in April of last year, over 91,000 people had donated and over $5.7 million had been raised. The Veronica Mars movie was a thing, there was buzzy publicity for this unorthodox fundraising pioneer, and palpable anticipation for Veronica’s return to the screen (albeit in a wider form).  Ironically, I watched Veronica Mars on my television yesterday as an iTunes rental (released on both iTunes and in theaters on Friday) and was pleased to have not paid the increased cinema price on this disappointing film.  As a tribute to fans of the Veronica Mars television series, the movie valiantly attempts to hit every single self-referential point (most of which I had forgotten the details to), but lost in the page-turning of the Neptune High School yearbook is the well-executed central mystery that made the show so entertaining.  It may be fun to see the gang back together again, but without any passion for the story, why take the case in the first place?

2) Veronica Mars should never have been a movie. With an emphasis on nostalgic re-living (even down to Veronica’s increasingly grating decision making throughout the movie) rather than story-telling, Veronica Mars feels simultaneously too long (there were way to many clock glances) and too short (after so many years, that was it?). What if Veronica had been redesigned as a Sherlock-lite, a limited series told over the course of three, ninety minute installments that give enough fan appreciation catering to satisfy the diehards and enough plot “raison d’être” to justify a new story.  Instead, the movie does neither well and feels like it is both not good enough to be a movie and not good enough to have been part of the television series. Ouch.

3) Despite its failings and despite her increasingly troublesome actions and inactions (it all seemed more fun when she was in high school – as an aspiring high-powered lawyer, the casual “law breaking” and “heart breaking” is too much to take), Veronica Mars and Kristen Bell’s performance thereof remain compelling to watch. Still owning her youthful looks, she pulls off late twenties in the movie (Bell is in her mid-thirties) as successfully as she pulled off late teens (when she was in her mid twenties) on the show. Bell’s fiery spirit and sharp delivery have always given Veronica her edge and her honest, humanity has always given Veronica her heart. It is a pleasure to see both again, older and unencumbered by network FCC standards and practices (PG-13 language is in full force), even if her motivations lose credibility throughout.

4) Veronica is not the only one returning home. If all you want out of the Veronica Mars movie is a Neptune reunion, then you will love Veronica Mars.  It seems like everyone is back and this potentially dangerous convention could have been a massive failure, but Rob Thomas and friends manage to recreate some of the world and character dynamics that make the show such a joy. I particularly appreciate Dick Casablancas (played by Ryan Hansen), ever true to his douchebaggery, Wallace Fennel (Percy Daggs III) teaching and coaching (perfect!) at Neptune High, and Keith Mars (the always appreciated Enrico Colantoni), still trying to figure out what he did wrong with Veronica while providing the firm, yet tender conscience of the Veronica Mars world. One notable exception to this reunion bliss comes from Jason Dohring’s performance as Logan Echolls. Either Dohring doesn’t play Echolls as well as he used to or my quality acting discernment back in the day left something to be desired.  Logan, and the actor playing him, seems a little dazed and confused throughout.

5) Veronica Mars is a “made-for-movies” movie that feels more like a “made-for-TV” movie (in quality and execution) that should have been made for television in the first place.  If you watched the show, rent it at home.  If you didn’t watch the show, watch the television series instead. Veronica Mars is a character worth taking on, just not in this form, and certainly not as a paying patron of a cinema.

5 Things You Need To Know: Non-Stop

When I see a movie in theaters, I will write the five things you need to know about it.

5 Things You Need to Know About… 


1) As the recent 21st Century early calendar year movie release schedule has come to dictate, Liam Neeson, the sixty-one-year young modern movie action star, will star in a movie where his character gets to show a motley crew of brooding, ill-advised international bad guys, wolves, and unknown kidnappers his specific set of skills. For the bad guys nefarious, criminal aspirations this is the worst of news – one can expect beatings will be taken. For the audience of such films looking for a mindless and purely entertaining respite from awards season seriousness, Liam Neeson has come to deliver punch after punch. Non-Stop, a classically compelling (in a mid 90s In the Line of Fire/Air Force One kind of way) thriller featuring Neeson as an United States Air Marshal attempting to save every “character actor” soul on board of an increasingly dangerous transatlantic flight, is the best of these “Neeson saves the day” pictures since Taken and a most enjoyable, appreciatively plausible (my scornful eyes are squarely on you, Taken 2), “who done it” thinker of a ride.

2) Much of the success of Non-Stop is driven by its “Hitchcockian,” “everyone could be a suspect,” “Agatha Christie mystery-like” suspense. Plot twist after red herring reveal after bad guy profiling tropes keep you fumbling guesses of culpability until the climactic end. The screenplay team, led by John R. Williams, create a variety of potential guilty party narratives that all could work. Oftentimes the journeys on mystery thrillers can be fun, but once you get to the last chapter, the resolution comes out an unrealistic mess. Non-Stop manages to avoid these pitfalls by giving the audience a healthy dose of dramatic irony filled up by the unapologetic first person point of view of Neeson’s Bill Marks character. We never doubt his motivations (as many rowdy passengers, TSA agents, and F16 pilots do), freeing us to spend the movie suspect hunting alongside Neeson’s native 6’4” Belfast frame.

3) If you are going to spend an entire movie with a finite group of characters on a plane facing imminent danger, you best fill it, cockpit to coach, with some reliable talent. With Julianne Moore (aging, both in roles and in looks, so beautifully) and Corey Stoll (after two seasons, his performance is still the best thing about House of Cards) as passengers, Michelle Dockery (I promise, 2014 will be the year I finally indulge in Downton Abbey) and Academy Award winner (!!!!) Lupita Nyong’o as flight attendants, and Linus Roache (Thomas Wayne and Liam Neeson’s Batman Begins co-star) and Jason Butler Harner (a “that guy TV award” candidate) as pilots, your chances of making a successful movie are greatly enhanced.

4) Liam Neeson does not disappoint in Non-Stop (at this point, not that anyone would expect him to). This action star niche, third act of a career reinvention is just remarkable. Although he continues to carry the trustworthy gravitas of earlier performances like Oscar Schindler and Qui-Gon Jinn, seemingly each of his recent characters have an infectious “don’t mess with me, I have nothing to lose” abandon that has transformed him into the go-to (Neeson is now a United States citizen) symbol of the American Action Hero (as this week’s SNL cold open suggests, Mr. Putin). Neeson wears this distinction with a power, weight (his height only helps), and earned credibility that his predecessors (Stallone, Willis) may not have ever achieved. This obviously kind and generous (as every interview I have seen him do suggests) widower dad of two boys has become our real-life Superman. Be warned fictional bad guys everywhere – you don’t want to mess with a character played by Liam Neeson. (Even his late night talk show talking point wrath directed at New York Mayor Bill De Blasio’s proposed policies to destroy the horse and buggy industry gains traction through his action movie star cred. You want to see the stables? He’ll show you the stables.)

5) Non-Stop is a unabashedly fun, exhilarating, throwback movie thriller. You are taken on a suspenseful ride through turbulent twists and turns in which you can only trust two things: everyone is a suspect and you never want to mess with Liam Neeson’s specific set of skills.

TV Moment of the Week: The Adele Dazeem Incident

There is really no way around this unintentionally comedic gift that, now five days out, keeps on giving. I could “let it go” and at some point soon I will, but I am just not ready yet. My new favorite part: Mr. Travolta’s diction on “wickedly.” If you are going to take a journey into the realm of pronunciation absurdity, you might as well be giving it your all. See what Mr. Travolta may have done to your name and enjoy this ten seconds of joy again (or in my case, repeatedly).

Oscars 2014 – The Good, the Bad, and the Unintentional (Comedy)

The 2014 Academy Awards are now over.  After a pre-awards season of prognostication and prediction, anticipation and apprehension, and universal love for the Frozen phenomenon, the results are in and, short of a few surprises in some of the categories that do not espouse as much water cooler hashtag chatter, winners were mostly what we expected.  Frontrunners like Matthew McConaughey and Lupita Nyong’o held off late surges from competition, foregone conclusions (as we were told) like Cate Blanchett and Jared Leto confirmed the power of inevitability, and Best Picture heavyweights 12 Years a Slave and Gravity split the Best Picture and Best Director (Alfonso Cuarón!) categories as many suggested they would.

As we all know, the awards are just the icing on the cake-like deliciousness that can be the Oscars telecast and last night was no stranger to the creation of lasting cultural memories.  Here is the good, the bad, and the (rampant) unintentional comedy of the 86th Academy Awards experience.


Alfonso Cuarón won Best Director for Gravity: The Oscars culminate a year in movies and every year you hope there are a number of pictures and performances that deserve to be at the gates of this celebrated identifier of movie immortality.  Some years awards are handed out to people that either may not be as deserving or pictures that are soon forgotten (I am looking squarely at you, Crash.  You are not getting by me either, The Artist.).  Other years, there are many deserving winners (Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank Redemption both lost Best Picture to Forrest Gump), so that any way the results go can be at least a little bit satisfying.  I went into last night understanding that there was top-heavy quality in this year’s group of movies, artists, and performances and some results, despite not aligning with my desires, would still be deserving.  For me, two nominations stood out in this fray of subjectivity: Leonardo DiCaprio’s nomination for Best Actor in The Wolf of Wall Street and Alfonso Cuarón’s nomination for Best Director for Gravity where nothing short of a win would be a gross injustice (a relative term – these are only awards).  This is not to take anything away from Matthew McConaughey (an incredible performance in his own right) or deserving directors like Steve McQueen or Martin Scorsese, but DiCaprio and Cuarón’s work last year represent the absolute apex of artistic possibility and expression from two men who have already established themselves as two of the best at their craft working today.  It was justice for Alfonso Cuarón’s direction to be honored with an Academy Award.  If voters are going to get one thing right, this bestowment is where you must begin.  (More on DiCaprio’s loss in a bit.)

Alfonso Cuarón

How either 12 Years a Slave or Gravity could have won Best Picture: These are two exceptional motion pictures, and although Gravity was my sentimental favorite, you cannot go wrong either way here.  It was a joy to watch Steve McQueen’s boyish exuberance onstage and I found that my initial disappointment dissipated rapidly.  12 Years a Slave is a brilliant work on subject that is essential to tell well and correctly, and Mr. McQueen and Mr. Pitt, aided by an incredible group of actors, did just that.

Steve McQueen and Brad Pitt

Lupita Nyong’o and Jared Leto’s speeches: Both deserving supporting actor winners were all class in their acceptance speeches.  Nyong’o’s extraordinary words of acknowledgement (“It doesn’t escape me for one moment that so much joy in my life is thanks to so much pain in someone else’s. And so I want to salute the spirit of Patsey for her guidance. And for Solomon, thank you for telling her story and your own.”) and inspiration (When I look down at this golden statue, may it remind me and every little child that no matter where you’re from, your dreams are valid.) typified what seems to becoming a universal industry truth: she is really something special.  Leto’s salute had a similar resonance, focusing so eloquently on his mom (“In 1971, Bossier City, Louisiana, there was a teenage girl who was pregnant with her second child. She was a high school dropout and a single mom, but somehow she managed to make a better life for herself and her children. She encouraged her kids to be creative, to work hard and to do something special. That girl is my mother and she’s here tonight. And I just want to say, I love you, Mom. Thank you for teaching me to dream.”) and on the population of people that were and continue to be so impacted by the struggle his character faces (“And this for the 36 million people who have lost the battle to AIDS and to those of you out there who have ever felt injustice because of who you are or who you love, tonight I stand here in front of the world with you and for you.”) in Dallas Buyers Club. Both moments were definitive highlights of the night.

Lupita Nyong'o

Jared Leto

Spike Jonze won Best Original Screenplay for HerAs I explained in my 2013 Year in Movies column and in 5 ThingsHer is a special picture and will be one of the lasting memories from this year for decades to come.  Her was not going to reasonably compete for Best Pictureso the win in this category is almost as satisfying and well deserved.  Spike Jonze’s executed a most original, relevant, and resonant concept so beautifully.

Spike Jonze

U2’s performance of “Ordinary Love”: First, I must provide some full disclosure on a few key points. Fact: U2 has been my favorite band for eighteen years.  Fact: It is a thrill to both see them perform at the Academy Awards and to have them be nominated.  Fact: I was not too excited about “Ordinary Love” for my first several listens.  Fact: If I had an Oscars ballot, I would have voted for eventual winner for best song, “Let it Go.”  Within this realm of objective (as possible) subjectivity, I thought U2 absolutely killed it.  Bono was as “in voice” as I have heard him over the last twenty years (well done on the falsetto, Mr. Hewson) and I appreciated the decision to go with the more acoustic version of the song that had been previewed on The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon a few weeks ago (although without any QuestLove shout outs this time).  When those four men – Bono, Edge, Larry, and Adam – stepped forward to their instruments at the beginning of the performance, I was watching rock royalty personified.

U2 at the Oscars

The presence of Daniel Day-Lewis: Speaking of royalty, it is always an honor and a privilege to see the best actor on the planet live and in person (at least through my television lens).  The announcement of his next movie role cannot come soon enough.

Daniel Day-Lewis

Almost all of Ellen: Hosting the Oscars is often a thankless job. Commonly, you are either at the center of the day after’s criticism maelstrom (as Seth MacFarlane and James Franco, more justifiably, found out) for a lackluster performance or you stay out out of the way enough to become irrelevant to the proceedings (Franco did a little of both).  Ellen, through her gracious, humorous, and infectious humanity,  managed to find a balance of involvement that fit well. Her monologue (with one exception noted later), devoid of “been there, done that” musical pageantry, had a “let’s do this” pop to it.  It was not as biting as Ricky Gervais at the Golden Globes, but equally smart.  It was not as dynamic as the Tina and Amy collaboration, but her obvious connection to the stars in front of her created a similar effect.  Most of her appearances the rest of the show involved improvised crowd surfing, the breaking of twitter, and pizza delivery and payment collection that effectively broke the tension and showcased how A-Listers enjoy pizza too (Marty Scorsese working with that pizza slice was everything). Even Harrison Ford seemed interested in pizza!

Ellen and pizza

Idina Menzel’s performance: Sure, “Idina” may not be the easiest first name to pronounce on a first try, but I am not sure (more on this later) a full name could have been mangled more.  Idina, ever the pro, just went ahead and did this.

Idina Menzel

Social media during the Academy Awards: The power of twitter selfies and Billy “On the Street” Eichner: Social media has transformed many things (much is not for the better), but live events, particularly live events as big and universally watched as the Oscars, are much more fun with communal participation.  If you spend any time on Culture Challenged, you will be familiar with my adoration for the comedic genius of Billy on the Street and his twitter feed.  There is no better night of the year to spend with this magician of laughter than the Oscars.  Here is a sampling:

That Muppets commercial for Lipton: I am not a particularly passionate fan of Lipton Tea, but maybe I have to #bemoretea.  In one of the few television experiences that I still watch live, I was not able to skip over the commercials and last night, this was such a good thing.  I can’t wait for Muppets Most Wanted to open later this month, but for now, this Muppets commercial (In 2014! Everybody is talkin!) during the Oscars will have to do.


Leonardo DiCaprio lost Best Actor: 2014 is the year of McConaughey and I genuinely enjoy him and his performances, eagerly anticipate Interstellar, after a rough start, am totally drinking the True Detective kool-aid, and thought he was outstanding in Dallas Buyers Club.  In another year, I would have put my full range of support behind this native Texan.  Unfortunately, this year Leonardo DiCaprio gave the best performance of the year and of his career.  This was his year.  He should have won.

Leo and Matthew

Ellen’s “sir” joke about Liza Minelli: Ellen referred to the person in the audience as a “Liza Minelli impersonator” and then said, “good job, sir.”  Liza and the audience had a reason to be uncomfortable.

Liza’s reaction

Liza's reaction

The return of Pharrell’s hat: This is what I tweeted at the time…

He cleaned up nicely after the performance, so Pharrell, why the hat?

Pink’s breathing technique: Voice teachers and students of voice teachers were distraught over Alicia Moore’s tendency to breath between words in the middle of verses.  I think Pink is incredible, but this vocal trope was a bit standoffish during the iconic “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”


The Jimmy Kimmel sketch in the Oscars pre-show…about mean tweeters was just bad.

The energy level of Harrison Ford while presenting: It was just a little low. Thankfully, Ellen’s pizza delivery livened him up.

Harrison Ford and pizza



The John Travolta “Adele Dazeem” Incident: So this actually happened.

The Darlene Love singing outburst: Don’t forget about Darlene…

Bette Midler’s performance of “The Wind Beneath My Wings”: There is just a whole lot of emotion here after the in Memoriam segment.

The appearance of Kim Novak: Why was Kim Novak included this year and why was she linked to Matthew McConaughey?  I am so confused, and apparently, so is she.  You can’t write this stuff.

and finally Liza Minelli hugs Lupita Nyong’o: Liza is the just the person you look for when you win your first Oscar.

Lupita and Liza hug

The 2013 Year in Movies – 50 Awards and Superlatives, My Oscar Ballot

With the Oscars fast approaching on Sunday night, the time has come to look back on the 2013 year in cinema.  Yes, I am aware that it is the end of February, but if it is good enough for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to have the year end award celebration two months after the year’s end, it is good enough for me too!  2013’s movie year had its share of groundbreaking achievements (Gravity, 12 Years a Slave), box office and critical disasters (The Lone Ranger, Man of Steel), movies about attacks on the White House (two more than we asked for), memorable and career-defining performances (Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street, Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club), and a throwback Disney animated movie that, along with its signature song, is still sweeping the nation.  Speaking of letting go, we had to concede that Oz was more bad and terrible than Great and Powerful, that in modern times Superman destroys city property and opponent necks without reservation, and that Jodie Foster’s performance in Elysium may have been as awful we originally thought.  We saw Tom Hanks return to his vintage prolific acting form in Captain PhillipsWe witnessed the much anticipated return of Alfonso Cuarón’s brilliant directing in Gravity after a seven year break between releases.  We even lived through the return of Bruce Willis’ Die Hard franchise to unnoticeable cultural significance.

At best meaningful or magical, at worst disappointing or depressing, and at times utterly confusing (everything to do with Ridley Scott’s The Counselor), 2013’s twelve cinematic months were always memorable.  First, I present fifty awards and superlatives to help put all of this into a clearer perspective.  Then, I delve into my rankings and selections (if I filled out a ballot) for the six major Academy Award categories.  Brace yourselves.

50 Awards and Superlatives for the 2013 year in movies

2013 motion pictures: Gravity, 12 Years a Slave

2013 movies that could be motion pictures in the future (depending on Academy Award wins): The Wolf of Wall Street

The best acting performance of 2013: Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

5 most memorable sequences and scenes of 2013: the endless, opening one shot of Gravity;

the almost lynching from 12 Years a Slave;

the lunch between Leonardo DiCaprio and Matthew McConaughey in The Wolf of Wall Street;

that sex scene from Blue is the Warmest Color; the Tom Hanks emotional release at the end of Captain Phillips

5 movies, performances, etc. we will most remember from 2013: “Let it Go” from Frozen, DiCaprio’s transcendent performance from The Wolf of Wall Street; the wholly unique viewing experience of Gravity in an IMAX theater; the emotional roller coaster ride of 12 Years A Slave; the prophetic future of Her

Most unexpected narrative turn of events: Superman’s mode of punishment at the end of Man of Steel

The Benedict Cumberbatch casting we all saw coming: Khan in Star Trek Into Darkness

The Benedict Cumberbatch casting we least saw coming: Little Charles Aiken in August: Osage County

Age has been kind to you: Jurassic Park 3D, Sandra Bullock, Dame Judi Dench

Age has not been kind to you: most of this act of Robert DeNiro’s career, Jodie Foster character choices, any interest I might have in Woody Allen movies

Most overrated movies: American Hustle; Dallas Buyers Club

Most underrated movies: World War Z; Her

Most overrated performances: Amy Adams in American Hustle; Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club, Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine

Most underrated performances: Will Forte in Nebraska; Margot Robbie in The Wolf of Wall Street

Best use of bones: Dr. “Bones” McCoy in Star Trek Into Darkness

Worst use of bones: the at times hard to watch weight loss of Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club

The “a great excuse to take a nap” award: Oblivion

The I was awake, but totally exhausted when it was over” award: 12 Years a Slave, The Wolf of Wall Street

Most unrealistic portrayal of a city’s population: Man of Steel

A sequel that was not as good as the first one: Star Trek Into Darkness

A sequel that was better than the first one: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

The “I want my money back” award: Blue Jasmine; Oz the Great and Powerful

The “at least it was really colorful” award: The Great Gatsby; Nebraska

Best sidekick experience: Josh Gad as Olaf from Frozen; Jonah Hill as Donnie Azoff in The Wolf of Wall Street

Worst sidekick experience: James Franco as The Wizard from Oz the Great and Powerful for all the other characters that followed him around

Can we please find better work for Morgan Freeman: Oblivion; Olympus Has Fallen; Last Vegas; Now You See Me

Least justifiable destruction: Man of Steel

Most justifiable destruction: World War Z

The plot was just so hard to follow” award: Oblivion, American Hustle

“The play was better” award: August: Osage County

“The book was better” award: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, The Great Gatsby

Best performance by a voice: Scarlett Johannson as Samantha in Her; Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel singing in Frozen

The most peculiar accent award: Jodie Foster in Elysium

The most peculiar performance award: Jodie Foster in Elysium

The “did that really come out in 2013? It felt more like 2010” award: Iron Man 3

The screenplay that wins the figurative 2013 heavyweight fight for writing: Terence Winter’s treatment for The Wolf of Wall Street

The 2013 “The Academy forgot us” award: Saving Mr. Banks, Lee Daniel’s The Butler, Fruitvale Station

Most plausible future: Her

Least plausible future: Elysium

Favorite Amy Adams performance: Amy from Her

Most wasted use of Amy Adams: as Lois Lane in Man of Steel

The Amy Adams performance in which I wasn’t sure anyone knew what was going on: as Sydney Prosser in American Hustle

The “failed by the director” award: Man of Steel (Zack Snyder); August: Osage County (John Wells); The Great Gatsby (Baz Luhrmann)

I just don’t know why people liked it so much: American Hustle, Dallas Buyers Club

Worst use of an amazing actress: Rachel Weisz in Oz the Great and Powerful

The “I mailed in the Oscars. Why not mail in a beloved cultural institution too?” award: James Franco in Oz the Great and Powerful

The “this is f-in real” award: Gravity; 12 Years a Slave, Nebraska, Blue is the Warmest Color

My favorite movie of 2013: Gravity

The best movie of 2013: Gravity

My Oscar Ballot


Oftentimes the Best Supporting Actor is the strongest and most stacked group of actors of any of the four major acting categories.  Each nominated actor last year in this category had already won at least one Academy Award prior (Last year’s losers include all-time greats like De Niro and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman whose legacy of outstanding, brilliant work and the magnitude of his tragic loss will be a haunting reality engulfing this year’s ceremony).  This year’s group of actors lack some of the same longevity, staying power, and reliability.  There are three first time nominees: Native Somali Barkhad Abdi is entirely new to the scene and landed his first agent after filming Captain Phillips.  Jared Leto (Jordan Catalano lives!) is just back from a five year acting hiatus and is oftentimes a little bit enigmatic (his band Thirty Seconds to Mars seems aptly titled) and a little bit inaccessible.  Michael Fassbender, although delivering strong performances for sometime, may still be on the precipice of full arrival.  Both Bradley Cooper (last year’s Silver Linings Playbook in the Best Actor category) and Jonah Hill (Moneyball) have been nominated before, but we are only beginning to consider them more closely as serious actors.

Although prognosticators see this category as Jared Leto’s to lose (and he may be one of the surest bets of any of the major awards), I struggled to place these performances in some kind of relative order of deserving merit.  Abdi’s ruthless Somali pirate wins the “just happy to be acting, let alone nominated for an Academy Award” nomination and was effective in his dogged determination, but falls short of some of the other performances.  Bradley Cooper had a great time in American Hustle and he and his hair stole a few scenes, but I am not sure his performance (nor the movie for that matter) amounted to much.  Jared Leto’s portrayal of Rayon, a transgender, HIV-infected drug addict from Dallas Buyers Club is a wonderful piece of acting, but the summation of the character (and the movie as a whole) holds me back from appreciating it more.  This leaves me with a choice between Michael Fassbender’s sadistic plantation owner from 12 Years a Slave and Jonah Hill’s sadistic stockbroker partner of Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street.  Fassbender gets the nod for me because his Edwin Epps portrayal seems to have taken a more courageous and uncomfortable departure from his true self in a setting and through a subject matter that just matters more.

My rankings:

1) Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave

2) Jonah Hill, The Wolf of Wall Street

3) Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club

4) Bradley Cooper, American Hustle

5) Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips

Michael Fassbender


I didn’t like Blue Jasmine, I don’t like Woody Allen’s writing, I don’t like Woody Allen’s direction, I don’t get what all the fuss is about Woody Allen’s women, and I didn’t connect with Sally Hawkins performance in the least bit.  June Squibb was wonderful in Nebraska, but I had trouble discerning how much of her work was actual performance versus how much of her work was just playing a slightly dramatized version of herself.  What she pulls off is certainly incredible at age eighty-four; a nomination stands by itself as an unbelievable accomplishment.  Poor Jennifer Lawrence, fast becoming David O. Russell’s cinematic muse, was woefully miscast in American Hustle (her youthful age was painfully apparent).  Notwithstanding, her performance is electric, especially when she engages jab for jab with a methodized Christian Bale, and deserves so much credit for making something so dynamic out of a casting decision so ill-conceived.  Julia Roberts knocks Barbara in August: Osage County out of the screen, certainly gives one of her most fearless performances, and may even deliver one of my favorite performances of her career.  Unfortunately, this less than cinematic execution of this brilliant stage play by Tracy Letts leaves so much to be desired despite creating a series of strong performances (Julianne Nicholson was most successful as Barbara’s younger sister, Ivy).  The performances, especially Miss Julia’s, are sucked up into individual vacuums that should have been left as the dusty familial messiness that the stage version so successfully exploited.  Lupita Nyong’o’s Patsey, a strong-willed slave and the object and victim of Michael Fassbender’s character’s lustful and abusive ownership, is a courageous and revelatory screen debut.  Her poise, confidence, physicality, and subtle and personalized self awareness deliver an inspired and moving embodiment of one of the many awful human subplots of the American slavery story.

My rankings:

1) Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave

2) Julia Roberts, August: Osage County

3) Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle

4) June Squibb, Nebraska

5) Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine

Lupita Nyong'o


Chiwotel Ejiofor, Christian Bale, and Bruce Dern all give outstanding performances in their respective movies.  I am not even sure if Bruce Dern was acting in Nebraska, again, toeing the June Squibb line of authenticity mentioned above.  He deserves a nomination and nothing further.  Christian Bale is Irving Rosenfeld in a another high achieving performance in a career of so many, but, as was also the case with Bradley Cooper, the disjointed messiness of American Hustle does not do Christian Bale’s award deservedness any favors.  Chiwotel Ejiofor carries the weight (and at times burden) of Solomon Northrup’s journey in 12 Years a Slave on his shoulders and largely delivers at a most exceptional level, but, likely out of a combination of factors (Steve McQueen’s focus and direction, the adaptation of a real person), it never reaches a transcendent level.  This leaves me with a decision between what I consider to be the two best acting performances of 2013.  Both are in movies that I did not particularly like, although, albeit exhausted afterward, I did totally enjoy The Wolf of Wall Street experience (the same cannot be said for the “let me check my watch/iPhone/iPad constantly” experience that was my iTunes rental of Dallas Buyers Club).  It is a good time to be a viewer of Matthew McConaughey’s work as True Detective fans can attest and Interstellar excitement grows by the minute.  His living with HIV/AIDS Ron Woodruff and the forty seven (painful to watch at times) pounds he lost for the role are all components of this tour de force work of acting.  I just think Leo was better.  Fatigued, I left the the Coolidge Corner theater on that cold, December night after The Wolf of Wall Street with the strong, guttural belief that I had just witnessed the best acting performance of the year.  I have not wavered since.

My rankings:

1) Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street

From my 5 Things You Need to Know: “Leonardo DiCaprio is absolutely phenomenal in The Wolf of Wall Street.  His performance as the morally incompetent, but toxically charismatic wolf, Jordan Belfort, is physically and emotionally fearless, breathtaking scene after scene after scene, and as naked (literally and metaphorically) as I have ever seen Leo.   Here, he is the movie star he was always destined to be – free from any inhibition and constraint to cruise control (and frequently out of) his way through an unyielding barrage of the baddest behavior.  His scene work and chemistry with fellow actors is the best of his career and rivals his work with Kate Winslet, his professional star-crossed lover.  Although content-wise, I would not recommend The Wolf of Wall Street to many in or out of my circle, for anyone who enjoys the movies, you must see this pinnacle performance of Leo’s career.”

2) Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club

3) Chiwotel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave

4) Christian Bale, American Hustle

5) Bruce Dern, Nebraska

Leonardo DiCaprio


I am surprised at how dispassionate and ambivalent I am about most of this category.  The performance of Amy Adams is the embodiment of the unlikeable, sloppy messiness of American Hustle (and I usually love her!).  Meryl Streep is Meryl Streep.  She is expectedly extraordinary in August: Osage County, just too young, to encumbered by some unwise casting and directorial decisions, and too restricted by the cinematic medium in a story best told on stage in front of an audience.  Dame Judi Dench is amazing (as expected and as usual) in Philomena and the story intrigues, but it is not a performance (or a movie for that matter) that moves the needle to be something really special.  As for frontrunner and likely award winner Cate Blanchett, as repeated from above, I didn’t like Blue Jasmine, I don’t like Woody Allen’s writing, I don’t like Woody Allen’s direction, and I don’t get what all the fuss is about Woody Allen’s women.  Cate Blanchett plays one of these aforementioned Woody Allen women and admittedly owns her performance of Jasmine Francis (with a very high difficulty level I might add), but when a movie amounts to so little (Blue Jasmine is the antithesis of Her.  Her is one step into the future, but at the same time entirely current.  Blue Jasmine is several steps into the past and unintentionally dated), it’s hard for the performance to reach Best Actress heights.  When I saw Gravity, I did not expect Sandra to be the last woman standing in this category and inevitably the woman to win my heart for this award, but here we are, and she deserves it.

My rankings:

1) Sandra Bullock, Gravity

From my 5 Things You Need to Know: “In a movie that requires the audience to face unwavering vulnerability, it is Sandra’s most human guide that so successfully grounds our own most realistic and immersive movie encounter.  The level of difficulty (she spent the majority of her time in a 9×9 box, carefully and precisely marking each movement and emotion so that CGI post-production could do their thing) could not have been higher, and she nailed it.”

2) Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine

3) Judi Dench, Philomena

4) Meryl Streep, August: Osage County

5) Amy Adams, American Hustle

Sandra Bullock


Four of these directors made outstanding films.  Scorsese, McQueen, and Cuarón are all deserving of the highest praise.  Alexander Payne is an acquired taste, but for those who dig his dark humor and dull toned emotional palettes, Nebraska is your jam (Even David O. Russell’s messy narrative cannot get in the way of his ability to bring out the best in his actors).  The decision in this category lands with the answers and the scaling of the following two questions: “Is this monumental and transcendent work?” and “Was the director integral to this transcendence?”  In the case of Alfonso Cuarón, the answers are “without question” and “Not only integral, but central and essential.”  Gravity is Gravity because of the visual, conceptual, and directorial brilliance of Alfonso Cuarón.  His work is unrestrained, ambitious, and resets the ceiling of cinematic possibility.

My rankings:

1) Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity

2) Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street

3) Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave

4) Alexander Payne, Nebraska

5) David O. Russell, American Hustle

Alfonso Cuarón


My rankings:

1) Gravity

From my 5 Things You Need to Know: “Gravity is a motion picture that takes the cinematic medium leaps and bounds forward, giving its audience an unforgettable ride that both touches our deepest vulnerabilities and allows our most expansive imaginations to have no limits.  It is shot (the first being almost twenty minutes long) after shot of beauty, wonder, and the most pristine filmmaking execution (so worth the delayed release!).  Mr. Alfonso Cuarón has created a movie masterpiece that should be considered a classic of the medium from this point forward.”

2) 12 Years a Slave

From my 5 Things You Need to Know: “12 Years a Slave is a motion picture that will sit next to Roots as one of the two definitive cinematic depictions of American slavery. Its prolific form is only matched by its unyielding, unrelenting, and unafraid delivery of this horrific stain on this nation’s history.”

3) Her

From my 5 Things You Need to Know: “Her is a film set in the future that has both currency today and will have continued resonance as it ages.  Although very much a byproduct of a soon to be now, its timeless relationship truths are as universal as its title.”

4) The Wolf of Wall Street

From my 5 Things You Need to Know: “The Wolf of Wall Street is a movie, unlikeable, oftentimes unwatchable, and certainly interpretable as not an indictment, but rather a glorified celebration of the filthy excess and monetary tomfoolery of the protagonist’s world, that provides an exhilarating, exhausting, awesome cinematic ride.  It is not out of contention as potential motion picture in the foreseeable future as either a tentpole of DiCaprio and Scorsese’s outstanding careers or sooner, if critical momentum leads to some Academy Award success.”

5) Captain Phillips

From my 5 Things You Need to Know: “Although Captain Phillips may at first glance be well-fit in the classic “great rental, but don’t need to see it in theatres” category, such a movie of pristine competence, execution, and entertainment value, deserves a cinematic viewing.  Most importantly, Captain Phillips delivers the best performance by the best modern movie actor of the last twenty-five years without the first name “Daniel” and the last name “Day-Lewis” in over a decade.  With Saving Mr. Banks on the holiday season horizon, it is a pleasure to have Tom Hanks back in the conversation and Captain Phillips is a most meaningful way to start it.”

6) Dallas Buyers Club

7) Philomena

8) Nebraska

9) American Hustle

From my 5 Things You Need to Know: “American Hustle is a movie that, despite its on paper goods, fails to connect, to entertain, and to inspire any passion.  Without a full understanding of what it aims to do and be, the audience are the ones who are left feeling hustled.”


Enjoy the Oscars Sunday night and the realization that not only are U2 performing “Ordinary Love” (nominated for Best Song), but there is a strong possibility that Bono could be giving an acceptance speech.  I digress. Stay tuned for a whole new year of 5 Things You Need to Know in 2014 and more movie commentary, musings, and news on Culture Challenged.