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It’s hard to believe the year is almost halfway over and soon enough we’ll be back to debating potential Oscar nominees. Although we’re not quite in the Oscar season, this year has had a few spectacular films that may get lost in the sea of sequels and superhero flicks.

When formulating a list based on only the first half of 2016, I expected to struggle with finding a minimum of ten films that I deemed worthy. The Oscar season benefits by having unique and risky films that may have their disappointing box office results masked by their reception of awards. Unfortunately, the early half of the year and summer time are either a dumping ground for terrible movies or a box office play of superhero movies and sequels. We’re in the sad state where original film ideas are deemed too “risky” and “unmarketable.” Studios have little faith that audiences will want to take a chance on something new, and instead dump sequel after sequel or remake after remake instead of lowering the budget and taking a chance on a unique idea.

While audiences take chances on television series such as Game of Thrones, that may be seen as “too genre-y,” or Breaking Bad that may be seen as “too serialized” or “too dark,” films are rarely afforded this luxury. A film lives or dies by its opening weekend and audiences rarely want to take a chance on a survival film about a punk rocker who is stalked by a group of neo-nazis, a coming-of-age tale of a British rock bank, or a buddy cop comedy that feels like a throwback to the fun action films of the 1980s.

Instead, audiences crave familiarity (or studios think they do), with film adaptations of books, comic books, TV series, etc. constantly topping the box office and release schedules. Of course there are exceptions, with both The Jungle Book and Captain America: Civil War not forgetting the escapist fun of going to the movie theater, while other films forget to do this (I’m looking at you, Batman v. Superman).

Either way, I know I’ll look fondly back at the year in film of 2016. There are some unappreciated films that I truly believe would receive more love if they were given an actual chance.

DISAPPOINTMENTS: A few films this year disappointed me based on their talent involved or my high expectations. I still love the Coen Bros. but HAIL CAESAR! left me wanting more. TRIPLE 9 had one of the best casts of the year, but unfortunately made a film that wasn’t bad but instead was boring. ZOOLANDER 2 was dead on arrival, but my love for the original still made me hope for the best. I appreciate Ryan Reynolds’ committed performance in DEADPOOL, but the film felt like it was written by a 14 year old boy and just didn’t reach the levels I hoped. BATMAN V. SUPERMAN doubled down on the dark grittiness and forgot to make a fun film.

HONORABLE MENTION: A few films this year surprised me, either by my lack of knowledge of their quality, or by my lowered expectations. EYE IN THE SKY is an incredibly taut thriller that will leave you on the edge of your seat. I worry about the replay value so it just missed the cut in my Top 10. KEANU had hilarious moments from Key & Peele, demonstrating their sense of humor is still sharp as ever, but the film was a bit too long for such a limited concept. KUNG FU PANDA 3 was so much fun to experience in the theaters and may make it to my Top 10 when I rewatch all the films. Unfortunately, today it didn’t hold on to a Top 10 spot. 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE was intriguing and superbly acted all around, with John Goodman more than worthy of an Oscar nom. However, I wasn’t satisfied with the way it chose to end the film, which lowered its quality in my mind.

10. POPSTAR: NEVER STOP NEVER STOPPING

I know this will be seen as a ridiculous pick by many people and the film’s box office results have been disastrous. I’m sorry, but this film had me laughing harder than most I’ve seen in years. It’s a love or hate film that depends on how you feel about The Lonely Island guys. I consider them brilliant satirists in the dumbest sense, but I love them for it. It’ll never reach THIS IS SPINAL TAP levels, but I know I had a great time watching it.

9. MIDNIGHT SPECIAL

Jeff Nichols continues to prove that he’s one of the greatest writer/directors working right now. His ability to analyze the familial relationship between father and son is unmatched, while he also benefits from casting Michael Shannon and Joel Edgerton, who are two of the most under-appreciated actors working today. Knowing as little as possible about the plot of this film may be best for your viewing experience.

8. GREEN ROOM

I read a one sentence description of this film, never saw a trailer, and just bought a ticket to go see it. It’s not for everyone, but anyone who doesn’t mind a bit of gore and loves B-movie level thrillers may fall for this film like I did.

7. CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR

It’s hard to believe the Marvel film with the lowest stakes turned out to be one of the best superhero films of all time. Full disclosure, I don’t consider myself a Captain America film at all, but this film is so expertly crafted despite the plethora of characters and opposing viewpoints. While it carries heavy political themes about what is right, it somehow remains exciting and more fun than practically any other film this year.

6. THE JUNGLE BOOK

I had the lowest of expectations for THE JUNGLE BOOK. Why remake a Disney classic as another live-action money grab? Fortunately for millions of viewers, our fears were for naught. Jon Favreau remembered how beautiful of a story this is, through its visuals and the core of the story: Mowgli. Newcomer Neel Sethi carried the film as Mowgli and gave us such a joyous experience. I don’t think I’ve smiled more in theaters this year than when The Bare Necessities was incorporated into the film’s score.

5. EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!!

Following up his critically acclaimed BOYHOOD, Richard Linklater decided to make a spiritual sequel to his hilarious and poignant DAZED AND CONFUSED. EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!! deals with trying to discover your place in the world and figure out how you define yourself in a very funny and relatable way. Anyone wondering how they are perceived by others or worried about what to do with your life should definitely see this film. Additionally, the cast was pitch perfect and will most likely see the success seen by those in Dazed and Confused.

4. THE MERMAID

Stephen Chow’s environmental comedy is such a strangely unique film. It continues his streak of mixing melodramatic love stories with slapstick comedy reminiscent of the Looney Tunes, and I couldn’t be happier.

3. SING STREET

SING STREET is a personification of an unbelievably catchy song. Although it’s disguised as a romance, the film is ultimately about chasing your dreams and not letting anyone get in the way of what you want out of life. Additionally, the true love story is the brotherly love seen between Connor and Brendan, rather than any romance.

2. ZOOTOPIA

It’s undeniably refreshing to see a Disney movie with a female lead and absolutely no romantic subplot. The film plays out like Disney’s version of CHINATOWN, yet remains laugh-out-loud funny and remarkably uplifting. Ginnifer Goodwin gives the voice performance of the year through Judy Hopps, who teaches us to never give up on our dreams and to remain positive even when facing overwhelming adversity.

1. THE NICE GUYS

My favorite movie of the year was a tough decision to make, but after seeing it twice I have to go with THE NICE GUYS. It’s the perfect mixture of quality characters, funny moments, and entertaining action. Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe show that they are much funnier than ever given the chance, while Shane Black proves he can still make buddy cop films as good as LETHAL WEAPON.

Hopefully this list will help people discover some films that they may have not given a chance to before. Ultimately, we go to the movie theater to be drawn into a new world which can be quite an experience if we give a chance to something new.

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2015 is a year that should be fondly remembered. Although some people may say it lacked truly great films, the year was able to show remarkable depth as it went on.

This year was full of spectacle over substance and performance over plotting. Multitudes of films demonstrated their technical prowess or captivating central performances, yet many of those failed to become an outstanding achievement overall.

It was also a year of (debatable) repetition versus nostalgia. Sequels upon sequels assailed upon us, yet three films from a series cracked my Top 10.

I personally loved this year in film and have many many movies I’d love to talk about, considering I went to the movie theater around 60 times in 2015…

(Note: I have not seen ANOMALISA yet, and am positive that I would love it.)

Honorable Mention:

 Spectacle over Substance: or the Maddening Issue with Max

MAD MAX is an expertly crafted action film, full of spectacle, practical effects, and awe-inspiring action sequences. Yet, I have no earthly idea why it’d be in the conversation for Best Picture of the year. George Miller deserves all the accolades he’s receiving as the director, but the film is a glorified chase sequence that I’d put on par with FURIOUS 7.

Other stylish pictures that I thoroughly enjoyed, yet didn’t make the cut include MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E (which nearly made the list) and FURIOUS 7 (I’ll see you again, and again, while enjoying a few beers).

Performance over Plotting: or Whose DiCaprio does he need to get on to win an Oscar?

This year featured more quality acting performances than I’ve ever seen in my life. Yet, the films I’m about to list just didn’t have that wow factor for me to include as the best of the year. THE REVENANT gave us an Oscar-worthy Leonardo DiCaprio performance, but dragged on and on much like Leo through the mud. It was a marvelous achievement that will yield another Oscar nom for Alejandro Iñárritu and a cinematography win for Chivo, but that’s all I believe it deserved. THE BIG SHORT is a huge mess of an entertaining film. With a rewatch, I believe it’ll either jump into my Top 10 of the year, or become entirely forgettable. But regardless of where it ends up standing, the cast is my second favorite ensemble of the year, with Ryan Gosling as the standout and Christian Bale right behind him.

ROOM introduced a mainstream audience to how perfect Brie Larson can be, which should win her an Oscar next month. CAROL didn’t meet my expectations with how loud the buzz was, but central performances from Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara make the film entirely watchable. TRUMBO featured a top-notch Bryan Cranston and scene-stealing John Goodman, but not much else. 99 HOMES demonstrated why Michael Shannon is one of the best actors in this generation. LOVE & MERCY was forgotten, but should be remembered for a stellar Paul Dano performance, supported by Elizabeth Banks and John Cusack. BEASTS OF NO NATION had memorable performances by the always wonderful Idris Elba and newcomer Abraham Attah, yet was too cold a feature to appear in the Top 10.

THE HATEFUL EIGHT (Walton Goggins, Samuel L. Jackson), LEGEND, (Tom Hardy, Tom Hardy), STEVE JOBS (Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet), COP CAR (Kevin Bacon), MISSISSIPPI GRIND (Ben Mendelsohn), BRIDGE OF SPIES (Mark Rylance, Tom Hanks), and THE END OF THE TOUR (Jason Segel, Jesse Eisenberg) all deserve mention for their outstanding featured performances.

Other Films Worth Mentioning: or What Me and Earl did The Night Before in the Shadows

ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL, WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS, THE PEANUTS MOVIE, MAN UP, and THE NIGHT BEFORE all impressed me in some way this year.

And now for the actual countdown (in case somehow reads this far):

10. Slow West

I’m honestly still trying to wrap my head around this movie. It moved meticulously slow, hence the title, yet kept me hooked to the screen with a strange look on my face. SLOW WEST is a western (duh), yet saunters through the plot as if a part of some strange dream. It’s hilarious, heart-wrenching, and beautiful all at the same time.

9. Spy

Melissa McCarthy can be such a grating performer…until this movie. Playing off of known spy tropes and featuring a plethora of MVP supporting performances (Rose Bryne, Jason Statham), this film truly was the funniest of the year.

8. Mission Impossible V: Rogue Nation

The first sequel in my Top 10 was easily one of the most fun experience I had in theaters this year. The always gung-ho Tom Cruise led this absurd film, which finally embraced the FURIOUS 7 method of one-upping the previous installment.

7. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Yes, I have on nostalgia goggles. Yes, it’s a near copy of A NEW HOPE. But, come on. IT’S STAR WARS. I get to see Han Solo, Princess Leia, and the gang again. Plus, talented actors John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, and Adam Driver all bring passion to characters that we instantly love. And most of all, we are introduced to Daisy Ridley, who became one of the best female characters I’ve seen in years.

6. The Martian

Quite possibly my favorite lead performance of the year came from this crowd-pleaser. Matt Damon is insanely lovable and charming in this space odyssey, while we cheer on his every move. Additionally, Ridley Scott is nearly 80 years old, yet may have delivered his most entertaining film yet. Movies like this are why I love going to the cinema.

5. Inside Out

This movie is literally about emotions, yet I still wasn’t prepared for what was to come. Pixar delivers another hilarious and moving picture that we can all relate to. Amy Poehler and Phylis Smith also provided two of the best voice-acting performances I’ve ever heard in my life.

4. Sicario

Not for the faint of heart, SICARIO is the most tense I’ve ever been in a theater. Emily Blunt deserves (yet won’t receive) Oscar love for her powerful performance as an idealistic FBI agent who gets in way over her head. Supporting performances from Josh Brolin and Benecio Del Toro would be no brainer Oscar noms in any other year as well.

3. Ex Machina

The less I say about this movie, the better experience it’ll be for those who see it for the first time. It’s a tense, yet often darkly hilarious, look at what it means to be “human” and what truly makes us who we are. Plus, it features two of my favorite actors with award worthy performances: Oscar Isaac and Alicia Vikander.

2. Creed

This film is technically the 7th in the ROCKY franchise, yet far surpasses the quality of each movie in that series. It featured a young and inspired Michael B. Jordan, demonstrating why he’ll be on the A-List any minute now. Director Ryan Coogler is 2 for 2 after FRUITVALE STATION, already making him one of my Top 5 directors working right now at the young age of 29. This film is the truest form of crowd-pleasing. You root for Donny and cheer on his triumphs and gasp at his defeats. Additionally, it features my favorite performer of the year: Sylvester Stallone. Finally raw and open, he gives the aging Rocky Balboa more depth in 2 hours than we’ve seen in 6 films.

1. Spotlight

Easily my favorite film of the year, SPOTLIGHT digs into deep social issues regarding the abuse of power and a victim’s shame. What makes this film so truly gripping are its central protagonists, not glorified, just doing their jobs. Even though we know the true story and are watching reporters just do their job, no ensemble is better this year. Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, and Rachel McAdams all give award worthy performances and sharing the spotlight (no pun intended).

Today is the Super Bowl for movie fans, and I couldn’t be more excited.  Although many people are saying this year was not a very strong year for films, I’d have to disagree. There were some outstanding films, performances, and unique stories being told this year. I’d agree that there may not be a film that is head and shoulders above the others, like last year with 12 Years a Slave, but there were a great deal of high quality films that everyone should seek out.

Once again I’ve been able to see all Best Picture nominees before the award ceremony so I’m able to provide an educated base for my opinions.

Personally, I would not have nominated American Sniper and The Theory of Everything, despite agreeing with all their acting nominations, but those films seem to have their own strong support.

I found Selma to be well made and timely, but the film as a whole did not provide as much of a unique tale as I had hoped, given its incredibly rich subject matter. However, I do believe David Oyelowo was fall-out snubbed for his outstanding portrayal of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Another acting snub was that of Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler. He was haunting, yet hilarious, but I’m glad the film at least received a Best Original Screenplay nomination.

Enough of my issues with this year. Without further ado, listed below are my opinions about who “should win” versus who I think “will win” in each category:

Disclaimer: I’m not going to predict any of the shorts or short documentary because I haven’t seen the nominees.

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Should Win: J.K. Simmons
Will Win: J.K. Simmons

This is the easiest category to predict. Simmons has won every single award prior to the Oscars and given such genuine acceptance speeches at each stop. He’s the most lovable “that guy” and his success could not be more deserving. Whiplash was my favorite film of the year so of course I agree with all the love he’s received.

I do admit that I found Edward Norton’s performance to be brilliant and the best acting he’s done in years. And that’s coming from someone who isn’t head over heels in love with Birdman. I didn’t catch The Judge, but I figure that nomination is a Robert Duvall thing more than people actually loving The Judge. Ethan Hawke was natural and charismatic, just like every time he works with Richard Linklater so I’m glad he got the nomination, even though he has no chance at a win.

The only nomination I completely disagree with is for Mark Ruffalo. I love the actor, but just didn’t enjoy the movie, except for one performance. And it wasn’t that of Ruffalo. If anyone in that movie deserved a nomination, it was Channing Tatum. Who would’ve thought someone would ever say that about Tatum?

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Should Win: Patricia Arquette
Will Win: Patricia Arquette

Another category that is 100% wrapped up. I loved Boyhood and was completely drawn in by its naturalism and its subtlety, which was heavily due to Arquette’s wonderful performance. I’d argue that she is more “Lead Actress” than “Supporting Actress,” but that’s just my opinion.

I also enjoyed Emma Stone in Birdman, once again showing my love for the performances more than the film itself. Keira Knightley was quite good in The Imitation Game as well, for another case of me respecting acting more than the film. This seems to be a trend this year.

Animated Feature

Should Win: Big Hero 6
Will Win: How to Train Your Dragon 2

I know everyone is furious about The Lego Movie not being nominated, but I was actually fine with that. It’s a glorified commercial with more winks to the audience than someone suffering from an epileptic seizure. And that’s coming from someone who loves Chris Pratt and Phil Lord/Chris Miller.

I absolutely loved Big Hero 6. It combined the best parts of a Marvel movie with the best parts of a Disney animated film, creating a hilarious movie with a greater amount of heart than you’d expect from seeing its commercials.

I’m perfectly ok with a How to Train Your Dragon 2 win, mostly to make up for the first film’s loss. Although I didn’t love it as much as I adored the first, it’s still a mature and gorgeous animated film.

Best Costume Design

Should Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Will Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Grand Budapest Hotel is another film that I respected more than I loved. However, the film excelled in Costume Design and Production Design so I’d love a win for the film in both those categories. After rewatching The Grand Budapest Hotel, I liked it slightly more, but still found it very standard for Wes Anderson. I will admit that it’s a gorgeous film with outstanding acting.

Best Documentary Feature

Should Win: Last Days in Vietnam
Will Win: Citizenfour

I’m assuming Citizenfour will win this category, despite me not having seen a single nominee.  I’ll be sure to rectify that, but based solely on its trailer, Last Days in Vietnam seems like a more special film.

Best Film Editing

Should Win: Whiplash
Will Win: Whiplash

I know most people are saying Boyhood will win, due to its twelve year production and the difficulty of editing all of the footage together. But I’d argue that more than any other nominee, Whiplash benefitted from its Editing as a supporting character. The way the film was edited never let its audience of the hook and kept the intense jazz rhythm throughout its run-time.

Best Foreign Language Film

Should Win: Wild Tales
Will Win: Ida

Full disclosure: I’ve seen none of the films. Based on other nominations the film received, I assume Ida will win. From a story standpoint, Wild Tales just seems more interesting to me.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Should Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Will Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel

I thought Steve Carrell looked atrocious in Foxcatcher, mainly due to the terrible makeup. So I obviously disagree with that nomination. The Grand Budapest Hotel deserves this award more than any other nominee, and probably more than any film that wasn’t nominated.

Best Original Score

Should Win: The Theory of Everything
Will Win: The Theory of Everything

There were three things about The Theory of Everything that were outstanding: the acting, the cinematography, and the score. I found it to have the most beautiful Original Score of the year and I hope it will take the win as well. I also liked the whimsical score for The Grand Budapest Hotel and the emotionally satisfying score for Interstellar as well.

Best Original Song

Should Win: Glory
Will Win: Glory

The best song of the year.

Best Production Design

Should Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Will Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel

No one deserves it more, but Interstellar does deserve special recognition as a close second.

Best Sound Editing

Should Win: American Sniper
Will Win: American Sniper

Great acting by Bradley Cooper and well edited sound. That’s all I can say about American Sniper.

Best Sound Mixing

Should Win: Whiplash
Will Win: Whiplash

Sound mixing wasn’t more important to any other movie than it was to Whiplash. I’m sticking with my gut, but American Sniper and Birdman are likely to snatch a win too.

Best Visual Effects

Should Win: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Will Win: Interstellar

They have to give something to Interstellar, right?

Best Cinematography

Should Win: Birdman
Will Win: Birdman

Gorgeous movie and a second win in two years for Lubezki. I’d be fine with a Grand Budapest Hotel upset though.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Should Win: Whiplash
Will Win: Whiplash

This was an incredibly tough category for me. First of all, Whiplash is an Original Screenplay so I don’t know why the Academy can’t realize that. Most people are predicting a consolation prize for The Imitation Game, but I just don’t think/want that to happen. It’s been a mostly weak year for Adapted Screenplays, but at least that means there are more great Original Screenplays these days.

Best Original Screenplay

Should Win: Birdman
Will Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel

This is the toughest category of the entire ceremony. Besides Foxcatcher, all the other films deserve the win. This year’s film most likely to sweep is Birdman, but I think the Academy will be more about sharing the wealth this year.

Best Actress in a Leading Role

Should Win: Rosamund Pike
Will Win: Julianne Moore

This category is all wrapped up. But can we take a moment to recognize Pike’s outstanding performance? Gone Girl was snubbed in many categories, but I’m glad it at least received the nomination that it deserved the most.

Best Actor in a Leading Role

Should Win: Michael Keaton
Will Win: Eddie Redmayne

What a stacked year for Best Actor. People such as David Oyelowo, Jake Gyllenhaal, Oscar Isaac, Joaquin Phoenix, Miles Teller, etc. were all left off the nominees list just because of how great this year’s performances were. The only nominee this year that I’d take off the ballot would be Steve Carrell. The rest all were phenomenal.

Redmayne has won pretty much every award before the Oscars so he’s all but assumed to win. However, Keaton gave a performance of a lifetime and deserves it for his passion for this film. Any time he’s won an award, his speech has been a combination of pure gratitude and awkwardness, which I’d love to see one more time for the guy who truly deserves the attention he’s received lately.

Best Directing

Should Win: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Will Win: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

This will be a tough matchup between Inarritu and Linklater, with Inarritu having the edge due to his DGA win.

Best Picture

Should Win: Boyhood
Will Win: Birdman

One of the toughest Best Picture races in years. Lately, Birdman has been racking up every award so of course it’s the favorite. Birdman is a technical marvel with outstanding acting, but I don’t think it touches the emotional chord that many Best Picture winners touch.

Boyhood is about the universal experience of growing up and trying to find your way in the world. Birdman is about redemption and proving your self-worth, but it feels almost too Hollywood insider to deserve a win, in my opinion. However, The Artist and Argo both proved that Hollywood loves itself so expect a win tonight.

There you have it. My assortment of opinions and predictions. Hope its a great show tonight and I can’t wait to see what amazing films we have for next year.

What an incredible year of television. Years back, TV comedies consisted of broadcast series, with a few prestigious HBO sitcoms thrown in the mix. Now more and more television networks have taken risks and made an effort to stand out from the crowd, either through provocative concepts or innovative creative talent. While most people talk about living in the Golden Age of television dramas, I believe the comedy realm has more diverse and high-quality programming than ever before.

Although some of my favorite sitcoms have lost a [tiny] step, their quality still remained well above average. The reason a few series I love didn’t make the list, is because of how many outstanding new TV comedies have arrived. HBO has reached all-time highs, Comedy Central started its own Renaissance, taking risks on unique comedic perspectives. And now, providers such as Netflix and Amazon Prime have created risky and incredibly profound original programs. I watch more TV than almost anyone I know, and I still can’t keep up.

Keep in mind that I define “comedy” in the same way that award shows do. Although some FUNNIER series may exist, I consider these programs the BEST comedies of 2014.

Honorable Mention: Community, Key & Peele, The Mindy Project, New Girl, Parks & Recreation, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

The toughest part of writing this article was leaving off my Honorable Mention series. Each of these programs have become must-watch TV for me, yet they still could not crack the Top 10 of such a stacked year. A lot of that has to do with five new series on my list and one series that has not been on air in over nine years.

10. Bojack Horseman

Those people looking for a “funny cartoon” may want to avoid Netflix’s Bojack Horseman. It’s such an over-the-top cartoony concept, following a horse actor on his comeback trail, but the show dives into incredibly dark and poignant areas. Although I still found the series funny, its inclusion on the list has more to do with its willingness to embrace the dark territory of feeling isolated and depressed, rather than play it safe.

9. Broad City/Nathan for You/Review

Yeah, I cheated for this spot on the list. It’s just so hard to make a choice among these three brilliant Comedy Central series. In the first season of Broad City, it became what Girls should have been: a hilarious slice of life from the perspective of two charming, and sometimes crazy, girls living in New York. The second season of Nathan for You is so uncomfortably awkward, yet provides some of the most genuine laughs I have had this year. In its first season, Review starts with concepts ripe for comedy, but takes it a step further and finds itself pushing the boundaries into darker territory (I’m starting to sense a trend here).

8. Silicon Valley

The only reason Silicon Valley isn’t in the Top 5 is because of its slow start. However, once the first season reached its midway point, the series became one of the funniest shows on TV. Although the series could have fallen into “nerd” stereotypes (ahem…Big Bang Theory), Silicon Valley provides a more realistic portrayal of those people who should be incredibly successful, but just need some help with confidence. Plus, TJ Miller is the show’s secret weapon.

7. The Comeback

With a nine year hiatus, there was a lot for The Comeback to live up to. Its first season was way ahead of its time, perfecting the “mockumentary” before it became the go-to for single camera comedy. Lisa Kudrow’s portrayal of Valerie Cherish’s need for celebrity and her willingness to sacrifice everything to achieve that status was flawless. Nine years later, Valerie is still chasing that dream. However, this season became much darker (trend continued), and provided incredibly insightful commentary on how tough it is for females in the entertainment industry. There’s no word if it will have a third season, but season two’s pitch perfect ending should satisfy fans either way.

6. Bob’s Burgers

It’s hard to believe Bob’s Burgers was just renewed for its 6th Season. Not so long ago, it felt like Bob’s Burgers was the weird younger brother to Fox’s established series The Simpsons and Family Guy. Now, Bob’s Burgers is fresh off an Emmy win for Best Animated Series and continues its comedic hot streak. The show is pure eccentricities, in one scenario establishing musical versions of Working Girl and Die Hard, but there’s also an underlying sweetness in the series. There really is no animated comedy on TV with more heart and familial love than Bob’s Burgers.

5. Rick & Morty

On the other end of the animated spectrum, you have Dan Harmon’s demented brain child, Rick & Morty. This show has no fear and will often push more boundaries than any other show on TV. One scene involves traveling to an alternate universe and killing that universe’s version of themselves so they can take over that life. Yeah. It’s no Flintstones. It’s basically a hard PG-13 version of Back to the Future, with more alcoholism and unabashed dark and hilarious comedy.

4. Veep

When Veep first started, I found it intermittently funny, mostly through its one-line insults. As it found its footing, the show became funnier and funnier and evolved into the single greatest ensemble on television. Julia Louis-Dreyfus has won the Emmy for Best Lead Actress in a Comedy for all three seasons of the show. And she deserves every award for her no-holds-barred portrayal of the Vice President just trying to do her job with tons of insanity around her.

3. Brooklyn Nine-Nine

Brooklyn Nine-Nine has slowly evolved into the series Parks & Recreation once was, which makes sense due to having the same creative team behind it. It’s one of the most laugh-at-loud series on TV, with the highest joke per minute ratio currently on television. Even though its hilarity would put it near the top of the list, the love you can tell these characters have for each other pushes it even higher.

2. Transparent

This is probably the least funny “comedy” of the entire Top 10, but it’s just such a brilliantly made series about familial ties and self-discovery. Jeffrey Tambor’s portrayal of a transgendered father is the single greatest television acting of the year. The entire cast, consisting of his daughters and son, also provides top notch acting in one of the most heartfelt series on TV. What’s so impressive is how a little known original content distributor (Amazon Prime) was able to deliver such an impactful series. Hopefully people discover this touching show that will have you laughing one minute and crying the next. But ultimately the series is about discovering who you are and living life to the fullest.

1. Louie

I fully believe there is no better “comedy” on television than Louie. Yes, it lacks the laughs that other series may have, but its unflinching representation of life wins me over every time. After a significant hiatus, Louie came back with a vengeance, providing more serialized and riskier story-lines. Whether it was a feature length episode that consisted primarily of a flashback to his youth, or his romance with a woman who did not speak English, Louie has always provided humor in natural and poignant ways. Each year, he takes more risks and I could not be more excited to see what he continues to do. The risks he takes can be perfectly summarized by the brilliant 7 minute monologue by Sarah Baker in “So Did the Fat Girl.”

2014 was a strange year in cinema. In my own opinion, there were a large number of “good and almost great” films, but not a huge amount of “outstanding” films. That made my Top 10 list so difficult to make. Plotting out the Top 5 was easy, but films ranked 6-15 took a little more thought.

Some films this year that people seemed to love, just didn’t strike a chord with me. The Lego Movie, Foxcatcher, Intersteller, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Theory of Everything, and Inherent Vice all had pieces I thoroughly enjoyed, but just didn’t reach the quality of the films on my list.

My Honorable Mention films finished just outside of my Top 10 so I think they deserved a shout-out for their high quality, and enjoyable final product.

Honorable Mention: Big Hero 6, Calvary, Chef, Love is Strange, Obvious Child, Top Five

Getting straight to the point, here is my #10 film of the year.

10. A Most Violent Year

This film snuck its way into the Top 10 due to its two powerhouse performances by Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac. Overall, the film had some pacing issues and a few spots that could have been cut, but the strong performances and quality writing/directing by JC Chandor, as always, made this gritty tale one of my favorites of the year.

9. Nightcrawler

My initial thoughts after seeing this film saw it as just an outstanding performance surrounded by a tired premise. But just like Jake Gyllenhaal’s character in the film, Nightcrawler got under my skin and couldn’t lose my attention. It’s disturbing and darkly funny satire that delivers a few very poignant takeaways about the media industry. Also, Gyllenhaal deserves an Oscar nomination for his fully committed performance.

8. The Raid 2

While the first “Raid” film was nearly 100% action, as one of the most intense action movies I’ve ever seen, the sequel decided to broaden its scope. It becomes a story more like The Departed in its execution. While some may be off-put by its length and it trying to have an actual story in its second go around, I was in awe of the sequences shown on the screen, made for a tiny percentage of most action films’ budget.  The Raid 2 also includes my favorite action scene of the year, and quite possibly the best car chase I’ve ever seen.

7. The Guest

The Guest was the most unexpected entry on this list. The writer and director’s last film was the criminally underrated You’re Next, which put on display their ability to blend horror and dark comedy through a 1980s-like cheesiness. Now the duo came back together for another 1980s-esque throwback in the same vein as John Carpenter. It’s the only film on the list that had me rolling on the floor with laughter right after being disturbed by what I saw on the screen.

6. Birdman

Birdman might be the most unique film of the year from a technical standpoint. It featured outstanding acting, meta commentary on working in Hollywood, and some of the most impressive long takes that I’ve seen.  Michael Keaton delivered a towering and hilarious performance, while Ed Norton showed his finest acting since American History X. After my first viewing, I respected the film more than I loved it, but I’m sure rewatching would put it in my Top 5.

5. Gone Girl

Gone Girl was one of the most entertaining books I’ve read, yet it had a weak ending. The film gave us pretty much the same thing. It featured incredible performances from Ben Affleck, Carrie Coon, Rosamund Pike, and shockingly, Tyler Perry. The film has such biting comedy that many will be afraid to laugh at, but if you fully commit to how dark and twisty the film becomes, you’ll be sure to love it.

4. Guardians of the Galaxy

I saw Guardians of the Galaxy four times in theaters last year. The only other film I saw more than once in theaters was Boyhood. Both provided a story that made me feel like a kid again. Guardians gave us this loose and fun tale that felt like this generations own Star Wars. I had a smile on my face the entire time and I’m sure yet another rewatch won’t change how I feel.

3. Locke

I was so in shock the first time I saw Locke in theaters. It took place solely in a car and featured only Tom Hardy onscreen the entire running time. I respected how the film made a concept so captivating. However, when I watched it at home for a second time, I realized just how much I love the movie. Tom Hardy gives such a powerful performance, often diving into Shakespearean territory, while carrying the film all by himself. It’s a movie about a man who does what he believes to be right and deals with the consequences.

2. Boyhood

From my review of Boyhood:

“Life is a series of moments. At the time, each moment rarely requires a second thought, but these moments add up to become the life we have lived, representing the choices we have made. Too often we’re taught to “think of our future” or plan the next step in our lives instead of stopping to appreciate experiences in this small bit of time. In this tiny slice of life, there is nothing else. Just who you are and what you are doing at this precise second.

That is what Boyhood is about. It’s about these moments in life that may not have the magnitude of larger expected milestones, but shape who we are and what we become.”

That is why the film is my #2 film of 2014.

1. Whiplash

My favorite film of the year, and one of my favorite theater going experiences of my life, goes to Whiplash. The film is pure 100% adrenaline and features two of my favorite performances of the year by J.K. Simmons and Miles Teller. Instead of most motivational films where the teacher is nurturing the student, this film throws that concept on its head and says “what are you willing to sacrifice to become the best at something?”

To quote the film: “There are no two words in the English language more harmful than ‘good job.'” Whiplash isn’t for the faint of heart, but it’s a ride worth taking.

A man wanders through a desolate wasteland, his face obscured. He enters an ancient structure and removes his protective helmet. We see the face of the unlikeliest of heroes, yet the one who shows the most promise.

The film is Guardians of the Galaxy and the man is the goofy man-child also known as Chris Pratt. When it was revealed that Pratt would be headlining one of the strangest of the Marvel properties, reactions ranged from “wait…the chubby guy from Parks and Rec?” to “who the hell is Chris Pratt?”,  yet the film is poised to have the highest grossing August opening weekend of all time and bring him the fame and acclaim he so justly deserves.

Audiences first began to take notice of Pratt as the lovable doofus, Andy Dwyer, on the NBC sitcom Parks and Recreation. In what was supposed to be a guest starring role of a jerk ex-boyfriend, Pratt made the role his own and soon became the true heart of the fictional town of Pawnee and the series itself. Six seasons later and Parks and Recreation is entering its final season, setting Chris Pratt up for a bright and well-earned future. Some may wonder how an actor who has never led his own film, besides the animated hit The Lego Movie, has been gifted two franchises, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy and the Steven Spielberg produced dino-pic Jurassic World. All one needs to do is observe Chris Pratt to understand why we “deserve” and “need” him as our next Hollywood leading man.

When watching Chris Pratt on screen, either in his acting performances or in his interviews, the first thing you notice is just how warm of a person he appears to be. You can hear and feel his enthusiasm in every word he speaks. Even as he prepares to lead two film franchises that are poised to become box office behemoths, Pratt keeps that child-like joy in all his actions. In such a cynical industry, the contagious excitement of watching Chris Pratt “the actor” and Chris Pratt “the human being” is such a pleasure that will soon be experienced by millions of individuals across the world.

Marvel’s superhero films rely on attractive and charming actors to bring in droves of viewers, and so far their chosen actors have done well in that regard. While Chris Pratt was able to get in shape and has always been an attractive actor, he doesn’t quite fit the mold of the leading man/superhero. Maybe it’s because he’s an actor who feels just as comfortable planting a kiss on his love interest and he does falling into a bush and planting his face on the ground. The one aspect of Guardians of the Galaxy that differentiates itself from all other Marvel movies, and reflects Chris Pratt’s personality, is its refusal to take itself seriously. The film was made for pure entertainment value and succeeds in keeping a huge grin on each audience member’s face from start to finish, just as Chris Pratt’s performance.

While remaining mostly under the radar, Pratt has slowly worked his way into highly acclaimed films, appearing in supporting roles in Best Picture nominated films for three straight years: Moneyball, Zero Dark Thirty, and Her. He has always shown his oddball charms through his television work, but in the last few years he has shown the dramatic weight he was able to carry in his smaller but pivotal roles in each of those celebrated films. Even through his transition from comedy to drama, Pratt never lost his unique sense of humor and his lively spirit that will soon make him one of the actors most rooted for in all of Hollywood.

While there is a minuscule chance that Guardians of the Galaxy and Jurassic World won’t succeed at the box office, the most likely outcome is each of those films garnering the same notice that Chris Pratt has finally achieved. With his representation of the everyman in his roles and the lovable nature of his personality, nothing but good things should come his way.

Guardians of the Galaxy opens in the U.S. on August 1, 2014. The official trailer is included below.

As a bonus example of the effortless charm and sweetness that exudes from Chris Pratt’s personality, below is a recent interview with Star Lord himself.

 

“Who do you want to be, Mason? What do you want to do?”

Life is a series of moments. At the time, each moment rarely requires a second thought, but these moments add up to become the life we have lived, representing the choices we have made. Too often we’re taught to “think of our future” or plan the next step in our lives instead of stopping to appreciate experiences in this small bit of time. In this tiny slice of life, there is nothing else. Just who you are and what you are doing at this precise second.

That is what Boyhood is about. It’s about these moments in life that may not have the magnitude of larger expected milestones, but shape who we are and what we become.

Just like the “Before” trilogy (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight), Richard Linklater takes viewers on a journey of self actualization and literal maturation in the twelve year journey of Mason (newcomer, Ellar Coltrane). I won’t spoil any plot details, which don’t really matter, since the plot itself is not important in this nearly three hour experience. Instead, it’s about watching this child grow up and live life.

Often times films will rely on deeply significant and contrived plot points, Linklater instead trusts the audience to become invested in these characters simply through seeing their lives through their own eyes. Just by watching Mason observe the trials of love, the never ceasing pressure to fit in, and the journey of self discovery, we’re treated to such an emotionally resonating work.

The reason this epic tale of growth succeeds is Linklater’s talent for naturalism in his dialogue and in the stories he tells. While the “Before” series illustrates the romanticism and sometimes cynicism of love, Boyhood perfectly captures the naiveté, uncertainty, and often times fear from childhood to reaching adulthood.

Richard Linklater is absolutely correct when Mason Sr. (an outstanding Ethan Hawke) says to Mason that “we’re all just winging it.” Through the acknowledgement of “winging it,” Linklater admits that these insecurities and uncertainties in life that we’ve all experienced may never go away. What is truly important is acknowledging who we are and finding faith in yourself for your own good. Even though other people may ask something of you and try to help you along the way, ultimately your own drive and passions shape who you become and the fulfillment you find in life.

Besides the outstanding writing and free-flowing direction of Linklater, the film benefits from outstanding performances all around. In addition to Ellar Coltrane carrying the film through his journey to adulthood, his parents are played by Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke, while his sister is played by Richard Linklater’s daughter, Lorelei Linklater. Each actor fills their role perfectly, with Ethan Hawke once again showing how perfectly suited he is for Linklater’s words. Hawke has this natural charisma that feels so real when he’s speaking. If there was any Academy Award justice, his name will be heard for an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

Through these wonderful performances, beautifully natural dialogue, and these universally relatable experiences, Boyhood truly is a marvel. While Summer will be bombarded with superhero films and shoot ’em up action movies, Boyhood stands out above the rest with such an intimate story of the human experience. So many summer blockbusters will be forgotten as soon as you’ve left the theater, but this film truly is a once in a lifetime work of art that should be sought out.

Grade: A+

“Boyhood” opens in select cities on July 11th. I strongly urge everyone to seek it out.