The Best Books in 2014 + Five Books I’ll Be Reading in 2015

Although we’re a solid three weeks into January, I am still wrapping up all of my lists for last year. I have a flurry of “Best of” posts waiting to be published, with my top ten list of movies post coming out sometime near the end of this month. I’m still holding out to see Selma and Foxcatcher, although I’m unsure if I’ll be able to make both before I need to publish my list. All of that said, let’s get back to the point of this post.

Here’s my ranking of the best five books I read in 2014:

5. Son (2012)
by Lois Lowry

I really enjoyed Lowry’s YA quartet of stories that all started with The Giver, a book that has inspired countless popular dystopian stories today. While I think all four books are well-written, I enjoyed Son the most out of the three sequels because it concluded the stories and tied together all of the primary characters we got to meet in The Giver (1993), Gathering Blue (2000), and Messenger (2004). Lowry intertwines the overall themes of sacrifice and love, with good overcoming evil in the end. I’m thankful that I didn’t discover the series until last year, because I’m not sure how much I would have wanted to wait 19 years for a conclusion.

4. The Giver (1993)
by Lois Lowry

No doubt The Giver is the strongest, and perhaps most thrilling book in Lois Lowry’s quartet of stories that start with a boy named Jonas. Bestowed upon him at the transitional age of twelve, the title and job of being the Receiver of Memories casts a burden on the shoulders of a boy who starts to question the world in which he lives. An unsuccessful and inferior film based on the book was released in 2014, starring Jeff Bridges and a misplaced Meryl Streep. I’d recommend The Giver because its simple plot keeps you thinking after you’ve read the book. After reading multiple popular dystopian YA books over the past few years, I realized that The Giver stands apart from the mass not only for being published in the early ’90s, but also for its unique position in having inspired so many other stories.

3. Ready Player One (2011)
by Ernest Cline

Given the premise, I originally thought Ernest Cline’s first book would appeal more to gamers than the average person. And I imagine that in some sense, it does. But it’s a fascinating story that takes place in a virtual world, yet asks a deeper question that proves relevant for any person today. If you appreciate the pop culture of the 1980s, then I suggest you read Ready Player One immediately. If the past gets you nostalgic, if you have a soft spot in your heart for the Back to the Future films, or if you have a deep love for RPG games, then Ready Player One is the book for you. If you like adventure stories, underdog tales, superheroes, and squeal when the smart guy gets the girl, then you should probably get your hands on a copy of Ready Player One. If none of those reasons apply to you, and you enjoy a good book, then download Ready Player One on your device and start reading it. Need I give you more reasons?

2. Gone Girl (2012)
by Gillian Flynn

“Thrilling” and “dark”: those are the best two words to describe Gillian Flynn’s novel. Most people are familiar with both the title and the story by now, after the novel was adapted into a critically-acclaimed film last year. Having read the book and then seen the movie, I would no doubt admit what most people would: the book was better. The film was good, yes, but there’s something much creepier when you are alone in discovering the mystery behind Amy Elliott Dunne’s death. While I would have preferred less language, and could easily chalk up Gone Girl to a whodunnit mystery thriller starring Mr. and Mrs. Sociopath, what makes Gone Girl so engaging is the order in which Flynn makes her reveals. Not only are we terrified to find out what happens next as we see what happens through Nick’s eyes, but we also have our belief suspended on Ms. Flynn’s impeccably-written order of events. Thanks to her brilliant timing, as readers we get to experience the rush of solving a mystery, only to nervously proceed to find out what’s happening next. Suffice it to say the movie experience did not compare.

1. Cuckoo’s Calling
by Robert Gailbrath

It is for books like Cuckoo’s Calling that we have a list of inspiring characters and stories to thank, and in this case, I would start with Sherlock Holmes and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Multiple adaptations and inspiring and visionary TV shows, films, and characters have been crafted from Conan Doyle’s best known crime solver and detective. Cormoran Strike, the protagonist of Cuckoo’s Calling, is not much like Detective Holmes, but the similarities in both what they do is apparent in reading the first of J.K. Rowling’s crime fiction novel series. As Rowling peels back the layers of the man who is Cormoran Strike, I found myself sympathizing with his personal circumstances and curious about the case surrounding Lula’s death. Rowling has a way of drawing in readers and keeping them compelled the entire time. I haven’t read The Silkworm, the first of multiple sequels in the works, but I’m planning to in 2015. Truly, the credit has to go to the creative mind of the author, because it is with explicit detail that Cuckoo’s Calling is fashioned, and it unfolds much like a TV mini-series would, where you can’t help but watch the entire series in one sitting. Whether or not one is a fan of the Harry Potter series, which made Ms. Rowling a household name not only in her home country, but also across the globe, one who enjoys an intense and thrilling crime mystery would have a hard time putting down Cuckoo’s Calling. Of course, I speak from my own experience. I found Cuckoo’s Calling to be the best book I read in 2014. It stayed with me long after I finished reading it.


A week and a half ago, I wrote a few New Year’s Resolutions posts for 2015, one of which is to read more books. I read only ten books in 2014, so I mentioned how I’d like to improve on that number by reading twenty-five this year. I picked twenty of them, and then I asked the rest of you for suggestions for my last five. Per your recommendations, these are the five I chose:

5. And Then There Were None
by Agatha Christie

4. The Night Circus
by Erin Morgenstern

3. High Fidelity
by Nick Hornby

2. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
by Stieg Larsson

1. The Fault in Our Stars
by John Green

To view my entire reading list for the year (twenty-five books total), or to see an update on where I am in my reading, check out my New Year’s Reading post here.

Stay tuned for the “best of” in music, TV, and movies this week and next. Thanks again to everyone who offered recommendations for my reading list this year! 🙂

What were the best (and worst) books you read in 2014? What are you planning to read this year?

Valentine’s Day Special: Ten Favorite Romantic Movies

Welcome to Love Week at All Eyes on Screen! Each day I’ll have a post about something that I love. Valentine’s Day is here, so I’ll be listing off my top ten favorite romantic movies that I love.

But first, I must ask, Why are they called “romantic comedies”?  Many of them are not funny, and there’s certainly plenty of comedies that are low on the romance.

Wikipedia defines a romantic comedy as the following:

a film that includes “light-hearted, humorous plotlines, centered on romantic ideals such as that true love is able to surmount most obstacles.”

Even as a chick, that definition rubs me the wrong way. There’s something annoying about the idea that everything can go wrong, but “true love” will make it all go away. It’s not that I don’t believe in true love or its power to overcome difficult times. But it seems to painted in such a pretty way that we always see that physical infatuation, that two-month period in the relationship filled with butterflies and roses. Great film rides off drama. Drama’s a natural ingredient that must be placed in film in order get the protagonist from point A to point B. And such is the job of all storytelling, regardless of the format or channel.

Perhaps the genre “romantic comedy” receives the great beating in film today. Maybe it’s the lack of good drama that drags it down. We have all of these unrealistic situations occurring, such as the film Life as We Know It (2010). Really? A romantic plot born from a couple dying and willing the care of their child to two complete strangers who dislike each other? (Sorry – I’m not much of a Katherine Heigl fan, all.)

Yes, some romantic films work well in a more dreamy-like state, such as 13 Going on 30. But perhaps that success lies in that the movie doesn’t attempt to take itself seriously like Life as We Know It. Romantic films like My Best Friend’s Wedding set the bar for more realistic romantic flicks. Or maybe the idea of an ending that didn’t end happily became more accepted because we deem happy endings as unrealistic.

Regardless, there’s not a more popular genre to receive low scores from critics than romantic comedies. Speaking for myself, I don’t care to watch romantic films for their critical acclaim; I’ll admit wholeheartedly that I watch them for that feel-good feeling, even if they have (multiple) fluff moments.

Honorable Mention: A Walk to Remember (2002)

This movie almost made my top 1o list. Mandy Moore and Shane West are probably each credited most for this film. Neither have made as successful films since, although West stepped it up when he joined the main cast of the TV show remake, Nikita. Moore also has upcoming television plans. Regardless, this film is typical Nicholas Sparks crap. And I enjoyed it. It’s almost painful to admit since I abhor Nicholas Sparks’s obsession with pairing characters together and then ripping them apart for unrequited love, death, mean relatives, war, the list goes on and on. I did love Mandy Moore in this film, though. She has a great singing voice and gets to showcase some of her vocal talents on screen as well as on the soundtrack.

10. The Wedding Singer (1998)

The Wedding Singer is one of my favorite Adam Sandler films. He’s absolutely hilarious, especially in some of his older movies like The Longest Yard (2005), Mr. Deeds (2002), and Happy Gilmore (1996), but I think he hits his stride in this film. He helms this obnoxious humor while still earning some sympathy from viewers. He and Drew Barrymore work great against one another, although I much prefer The Wedding Singer over their second attempt 50 First Dates (2004). This scene is one of my favorites; the Billy Idol character really adds to the humor of it all.

9. The Wedding Date (2005)

The majority of critiques on The Wedding Date is negative. I know, I know. I would call The Wedding Date a guilty pleasure, but I guess it doesn’t add up much to the idea of “guilty pleasure” when people are calling Jersey Shore and all shows Kardashian “guilty pleasures.” Why do I like this film? It’s hard to say. I guess I just love Debra Messing and Dermot Mulroney together in it. I like that it takes place in London, and I love the score by Blake Neely. Not to mention, Michael Buble and Maroon 5 make up much of the film’s soundtrack. If you’re a fan of this movie, you might want to check out the new TV show Smash, starring both of The Wedding Date‘s Debra Messing and Jack Davenport.

8. How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (2003)

Kate Hudson is hysterical in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey are another one of those duos that play great against one another, although their second attempt Fool’s Gold (2008), fades in comparison. Hudson puts McConaughey through hell, and it’s only fitting for us to watch him suffer. The video is one of the funniest scenes in the film.

“You killed our love fern!”

7. (500) Days of Summer (2009)

Many people do not consider (500) Days of Summer to be romantic, but it just happens to be one of my favorite romantic movies. Yes, I know it follows the same pattern as My Best Friend’s Wedding, which I’ll get to soon. But Marc Webb’s creation is wholly original and altogether enjoyable and romantic in many scenes. I love his storytelling method in the film, and one of my favorite scenes is of Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt walking through IKEA, as well as the dance sequence to the tune of Hall and Oates I included. The scene I’m most moved by though is one of the scenes near the end, when Gordon-Levitt gives a little speech about love in the middle of a work meeting. He’s clearly lovesick and brings a hint of irony about how as greeting card writers, they tell people’s loved ones that they love them for them. And what is the specialty in that when you can tell a person yourself how you feel?

6.  My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997)

The first time I saw My Best Friend’s Wedding, I had no idea that Julia Roberts and Dermot Mulroney would not end up together. In fact, I was stunned to see Cameron Diaz whisk Mulroney away at the end. I love the idea that two people, who happen to be best friends, made plans to someday marry if they never found another person. And then off goes Mulroney and finds the youngest, most naive girl to fill the shows Roberts decided that she should have filled instead. She hatches a plan to steal the soon-to-be groom, and it makes sense. They have this brilliant chemistry, and of course they ought to end up together. But they don’t; such is life. The end leaves a bittersweet taste in your mouth, because the fight is finally over, despite her losing it. I love the use of Union Station and the old Comiskey Park (home of the White Sox, yo!)  in this film. It’s nice to see some Chicago scenery be taken advantage of! Check out the video for what I think is one of the best scenes in a romantic movie.

5. It’s Complicated (2009)

On Christmas Day in 2009, a few friends and I planned to see the first Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes. We were pumped until we found out that it was sold out and that we had to settle for It’s Complicated, the rom com starring Meryl Streep, Steve Martin, and Alec Baldwin. The unfortunate affair turned out to be a fantastic film after all. It’s Complicated is proof that Meryl Streep is capable of playing normal, every day people. There are so many hilarious scenes in this film, that it’s one of the few rightly dubbed “romantic comedy.” From Steve Martin and his divorce tapes, to John Krasinski playing the lovable son-in-law, It’s Complicated has become one of my favorite go-to romantic movies.

4. You’ve Got Mail (1998)

You’ve God Mail is a classic romantic movie in most people’s books, and it’s definitely one in mine. It’s one of three films that Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan star in together, and they do so with a perfect connection. It brings me back to the time when AOL was the big thing around the Internet, and we had to listen and wait for the dial connection before we could use AIM or send an email. It’s the recycled story of two people who hate each other, and later learn to like one another as they start to learn and understand more. Meg Ryan has done her share of these films, and Hanks really isn’t a stranger to the genre either. The end scene is pitch perfect. Enjoy it!

3. Notting Hill (1999)

Notting Hill is another romantic movie with Julia Roberts that I love, and my first one including Hugh Grant that makes the list. I really like both in the genre, although I’m of the belief that both made their best romantic films in the 90s or early 2000s as opposed to more recent times. I love this film. It’s completely a dream gone reality, bringing everyman Hugh Grant into the movie star sphere of Julia Roberts, where an unlikely connection is formed. She experiences time around his humble friends and family, while he starts to wonder if she’s stringing him along or truly into him. She brings her world into his when she says the famous line, “I’m also just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her.”

2. 13 Going on 30 (2004)

Jennifer Garner seems to be more accepted acting in rom coms these days, and one of her best ones I think is 13 Going on 30. She bears all the youthful innocence necessary for her character, and the very underrated Mark Ruffalo does a nice job playing opposite her. It’s also pretty hilarious to watch Andy Serkis actually play a human on screen, much less his giddy character in this movie. The film does a nice job of putting life in perspective. Although must of us probably won’t have our futures defined by the friends we had in high school, we will have memories of that time that will stay long with us. It also does a nice job of showing us that who we pick as friends often influences our behavior and changes us in the future. Overall, 13 Going on 30 fits the description of being light-hearted and sweet. Oh well.

1. Never Been Kissed (1999)

Never Been Kissed is my favorite romantic movie. It’s about a dork who returns to high school on an undercover assignment to find out about today’s teenagers. Drew Barrymore blossoms at this geeky character who desperately seeks to fit in. I haven’t seen another movie similar enough that showcases a character quite like the one Barrymore creates in Never Been Kissed. My favorite scene is when she tells her story via voice over. It’s a great way to wrap up the film. I included the final scene of the film because it’s all I could find on YouTube. It’s also one of my favorite film kisses.

OK, your turnWhat is your favorite romantic movie? Or what is one of your favorite scenes from a romantic movie? Don’t be shy . . . 

Trailer Friday – The Raven

When you hear the name John Cusack, you do not think character role. You do not think historical character, and you most certainly do not think historical character role. Why? Because it’s John Cusack. John Cusack is the guy in the rom coms, holding the stereo over his head to get the girl in Cameron Crowe’s Say Anything (1989) or leaving fate to decide his destiny in Serendipity (2001). Yes, Cusack has filled various roles over his long career, such as a Jewish art dealer in Max (2002) or as a puppeteer in the Oscar-nominated Being John Malkovich (1999). He’s even in dipped his toes in the screenwriting business when he co-wrote and starred in the political film War, Inc (2008).

No matter how you look at it though, his most well-known roles are romantic comedies or thrillers such as the over-the-top 2012 from 2009. Cusack is your everyman who looks and talks the same in just about everything he’s in. He’s usually very likable, but it seems like there’s often an “X-factor” that he’s lacking. Or maybe it’s that most of us are so accustomed to watching him play the underdog, that his talent is far more underrated. Born in Chicago, Cusack has retained a low profile, staying out of the media limelight.

And now we have this awesome trailer for The Raven, which actually came out in early October of last year. Perhaps I was sleeping or completely unaware of its release, but after a viewing, I was immediately pulled in. Now I have to see this movie. From the trailer, one can assume a few things:

–John Cusack is playing the legendary Edgar Allen Poe

–The movie is more of an action/thriller than a drama

–There’s a story being told here that is atypical of what many of us assume Edgar Allen Poe is about

Cusack’s done the thrillers before, as well as portrayed a writer in Stephen King’s adapted book-to-movie 1408 (2008), and now he’s playing the historically dark and edgy writer Edgar Allen Poe. As someone commented on the YouTube video, the movie appears to have a very Sherlock Holmes-like feel and look to it, as well as similar type story line.

Director James McTeigue is no stranger to the action genre, having assisted in directing both Matrix sequels (1999, 2003), V for Vendetta (2005), and Star Wars: Attack of the Clones (2002). Watch for The Raven to open in theaters March 9.

Backstage Spotlight: 2011 Film Scores

To my own surprise, I didn’t find Oscar winners Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo score as interesting as their award-winning score that accompanied 2010’s The Social Network. I felt let down by the second installment of Sherlock Holmes in part due to Hans Zimmer’s lacking, all-over-the-place score. I was especially underwhelmed with Cameron Crowe’s decision to feature only Jonsi on the We Bought a Zoo soundtrack.

With those disappointments in mind, I still found three scores surprisingly well-fit for the movies they served.

  • Michael Giacchino’s score for Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

While director Brad Bird was a newbie to live-action film directing until the latest installment in the Mission Impossible franchise, he took with him music composer and collaborator Michael Giacchino, who is known more for his stellar work on animated films such as his Oscar-winning score Up, or Cars 2. Giacchino isn’t a stranger to composing for live-action film, however. His work extends not only to film, but also to the popular show Lost. One of my favorite Giacchino’s scores is the latest Star Trek reboot.

Giacchino did a nice job of subtly blending the well-known Mission Impossible theme while creating new themes for the locations the IMF team traveled, such as the track titled “A man, a plan, a code, Dubai.” The fast-paced, entertaining soundtrack well complemented the adrenaline-pumping film.

  • Alexandre Desplat’s score for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 2

You don’t need to be a fan of Harry Potter to be a fan of this exciting, beautifully composed score. Well-set theme tracks for certain characters to a gorgeous, sweeping end theme accompanying the epilogue, The King’s Speech composer Desplat pulled out all the stops to deliver one of the better scores for the Harry Potter franchise. With the likes of John Williams (composed for the first 2 films), Patrick Doyle, and Nicholas Hooper to follow, Desplat was given probably an easier opportunity to compose when he was writing for the epic finale in the series. Nonetheless, I applaud him for making one of the more listenable soundtracks that entertains in its entirety, unlike some of its predecessors.

If you buy the soundtrack, you’ll also get a Behind the Scenes music video featurette of Desplat conducting the final song on the soundtrack, “A New Beginning.”

  • Henry Jackman’s score for X-Men: First Class

X-Men: First Class introduced me to Henry Jackman, who I had never heard of before seeing the film. While I was seeing the film, I couldn’t help but wonder who had composed it, because it was unlike anything I had ever heard before. Suitably entertaining, powerful, and emotional, Jackman’s score lends the needed feeling to both the action scenes and the more emotionally-focused moments. He retains a similar theme throughout the entire soundtrack, making it memorable in viewer’s heads. This was easily my favorite score from 2011.

Even one of the trailers for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy featured the track “Frankenstein’s Monster,” from the score:

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Patrick Doyle’s score for Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Patrick Doyle’s score for Thor

Ludovic Bource’s score for The Artist

What film scores from 2011 were you a fan of? Did you like any of the ones I didn’t?

Sherlock Holmes 2: All Looks, No Depth

A Game of Shadows reminds me of the pretty girl in the room that every guy wants to meet. She’s hot, she’s confident, she’s available. And then a guy meets her, and within about 10 minutes, he realizes why no guy is wasting his time talking to her: she’s all looks and no substance.

In a nutshell, that’s the best way I can describe the second installment of Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.

What Was Good

  • This film was visually appealing in so many ways. My biggest comparison of it was last year’s TRON: Legacy that came out right around the same time. The story line lacked, the writing was weak, but it was pretty to look at. One of the very first scenes in the film where Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) fights off four guys at once was incredible. At one point in the scene, the camera made a complete 360 degree turn. It was visually dazzling. The other memorable scene, visually, was the run through the forest. The slow motion action, the fight sequences, the explosion–by far, one of the most stylistic scenes of the movie. I had thoughts go back to when I had seen 300, but I found myself more enthralled with the visuals and special effects in Game of Shadows than I did in 300 or in the previous Sherlock Holmes installment.
  • Robert Downey Jr. Need I say more? Although I’m of the strong opinion that there are far better British actors out there to portray the famous criminal investigator, RDJ has a special magnetism to crowds of people. He’s funny, he has great facial remarks, and he knows how to make people laugh without blinking. He talks fast, moves fast, and looks good all the while doing so. Although he makes a far better Iron Man than Holmes, he knows how to attract a crowd and then hold its attention.
  • The bromance between RDJ and Jude Law. No one can deny the hilarious chemistry between Holmes and his partner in crime-solving, Dr. Watson. Although Watson is practically forced to accept his sidekick role, he keeps Holmes alive and works as a pretty good support system when needed, be it shooting at people, shooting him with adrenaline, or completing part of a mission. And at the end of the day, there’s this unspoken care for one another.
  • Perhaps one of my favorite parts of this movie were the fight scenes. Not only were they visually appealing, but they were also fun and interesting. The choreography, the narration preceding what RDJ was about to throw down on the villains, and then Professor Moriarty’s interruption in that final narration–all captured and edited well.
  • The ending stayed true to the story. While the movie franchise is utterly miscast, poorly written, and held together by a storyline that is both confusing and disjointed, the ending proved to be a rare part of the movie, with both Sherlock Holmes and the professor falling to their deaths. This is how Arthur Conan Doyle wrote it. And yes, Holmes does come back to life. This is the only scene I would applaud Ritchie for forming.

What Was Bad

  • I’m very disappointed to admit that the soundtrack was a letdown. Hans Zimmer is one of my favorite film composers today, but this soundtrack didn’t do it for me. While it held onto some of the same themes as the first film, it failed to go anywhere beyond that. It was all over the place, and it lacked the build up and the originality of the first soundtrack.
  • The writing is probably the most obvious problem with the film. Difficult to follow, with random things happening, and no one understanding why. Lots of running, fighting, shooting, and overall craziness, but not much point to them. Or is there a point, and we just don’t know it because it’s just bad storytelling? I’m going to have to hand this baton to the screenwriters, Michele and Kieran Mulroney. While the first movie lacked the spunk, thrill, and overall enjoyment that the second offered, Game of Shadows failed to explain itself and decided that looking pretty was a far bigger priority than making much sense or explaining itself.
  • Although the cast really brought it together for this second film, it added great actors, but misused the supporting cast in practically every way. Stephen Fry, who played Holmes’s brother, was funny and added a nice element to the movie. So what’s the problem? In the Sherlock Holmes books, Holmes does have a brother–a twin brother. While this may seem like a nit-picky dislike, the fact that RDJ and Fry share literally no level of similarity in look is just a poor choice. With today’s CGI capabilities, why not use RDJ for his twin? Noomi Rapace, another great addition to the cast, was also poorly used. While she did the best she could with the material, she really had nothing to do except function as an onlooker. This is disappointing when you have such a great physical actress on set. The choice for a better villain was then utilized, bringing Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris) into the story. Harris, portraying an intimidating foe to the much-loved Sherlock Holmes, was great. What wasn’t great is that Moriarty rarely, if ever, talks in the stories. Someone is always playing messenger for him. This is just another big, purposefully-made mistake–we lose the ability to be surprised or taken aback when the villain is constantly showing himself when mystery could have been played well here.
  • Guy Ritchie’s direction is the biggest issue to blame, bad writing taking second place. While he likes making visual beauty on screen, it seems that he wasn’t interested in creating a Sherlock Holmes franchise that is much like Sherlock Holmes in the least. From the onset of poor casting choices, to forcing the stories to be more of summer popcorn flicks with big explosions and witty dialogue than anything much like is true to the story of Sherlock Holmes, Ritchie’s misguided attempts at making a good Sherlock Holmes has proven itself to be a failure once again.
  • As much as I appreciated the ending, as Richard Roeper mentioned in his review, Ritchie decided he rather have the audience leave on a happy note than leave anything to mystery by ending the movie with the return of Sherlock Holmes. As funny as it was, Ritchie blew a great opportunity to leave viewers in the dark and be able to present a great surprise in the next film while leaving everyone in suspense. It’s ironic, seeing that viewers felt completely lost during the movie, but had all suspense removed at the end.

December ’11: Entertainment vs. Oscar Hopefuls

While 2011 hasn’t been an altogether disappointing year for film, it hasn’t entirely sparked a whole new generation of moviegoers to enter the film arena, or blown away even the most dedicated cinefile. Now, that isn’t to say there haven’t been some gems found amidst the crap, or some really decent, fun movies that critics have torn apart for this reason or that, but put it on the month of December to impress viewers the most. The November/December season usually holds the majority of the Best Picture noms as well as many of the other nominations for the upcoming Oscars in February.

For Entertainment Purposes:

1) Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Although the first SH in this series was pretty good, the only hit for it at the Oscars was its score by Hans Zimmer (which was very new and original). Although I’d love to see a movie like this gather some Oscar chatter, I don’t consider it a possibility given RDJ’s askew British accent and the film’s focus on more comedy/entertainment than story line (see either trailer to get a good look at RDJ dressed as a woman for one of his disguises). Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunate) for RDJ, his sarcasm and sense of humor has taken the lead in marketing for the more recent movies he has been or will be in (see both Iron Mans, trailer(s) for Game of Shadows, trailer for The Avengers). The special effects, however, do look pretty incredible, and the cinematography looks similar to the likes of 300, as well as the previous SH.

2) Mission Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol

While I’m tired of hearing the argument–how can there be one, much less MULTIPLE impossible missions–I do respect the point and have to give it a little credit. This fourth movie in the franchise, however, looks promising as well as ending for the series, at least when it comes to Tom Cruise’s role as Ethan Hunt. The story line looks promising and more complex than past movies, and the stunts look even bigger and crazier. My hope is that the series ends after this film without a new start-up starring Jeremy Renner (geez, he’s already started that with The Bourne Series, let’s not do this with MI too!).

3) The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

From what I’ve heard, the Swedes have done this series right in every way, and now we’ll see whether America can follow suite with the fictional book series and do it justice. Although there’s possibility for this movie to touch the Academy (past series have done so before–LOTR!), the odds are not in the favor of a fictional book-to-film adaptation unless you’re Peter Jackson. Still, this movie looks entertaining and interesting and different, and it looks like there’s a great cast ready to tell the story.

Oscar Hopefuls:

1) Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Now when I call them “Oscar Hopefuls,” I mean that I hope that these films do something at the Oscars. And I think they have a good possibility as well. I wrote more about this movie in this post. I do think its talented British cast and interesting storyline, if well-played out, could possibly touch the Academy. The Brits have been reeling (pun intended) about this movie, and many critics have already awarded high marks to this movie since its earlier release in the UK.

2) The Iron Lady

Of all the movies I have listed, this is the film I have read or heard the least chatter about. For a political film starring Meryl Streep, I’m practically stunned that I’ve heard so little about this film. Streep has phoned in multiple Oscar-nominated (and won) performances, and it’s doubtful that this one will not join her other remarkable and stunning performances. Coupled with coming out during Oscar season and being part of a political thriller genre, it’s setting up all the right moves for gaining it’s own slot in the awards season. Stay tuned and watch out for this movie. I have a good feeling about this one.

3) We Bought a Zoo

I also wrote more about this movie in this post. Although Crowe has yet to get a film talked about at the Academy since Almost Famous, I think We Bought a Zoo has great potential. The Crowe and Damon alliance has happened for the first time, and it could reap great results. Crowe’s real-life, person-centered storytelling honed in, with the right cast, could earn him a spot.

4) Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

This is surprisingly my first mention of this film. The trailer for this movie kind of came out of nowhere for me, and having people like Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock head this project makes that especially shocking. A new take and perspective on 9/11, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is already making viewers cry during the preview. I really look forward to this movie and could see it moving critics as well.

That’s my take on December! I’ve certainly seen a share of entertaining and critical films that have already been talked about for the next Oscar season. We’ll see what December holds for moviegoers. What are looking forward to watching the most this month? And do you think any of the films listed (or others not listed) have Oscar potential?

Happy Birthday, Rachel McAdams!

Today, Rachel McAdams is 33. In celebration of her birthday, below is a list of my top 5 favorite movies of hers:

5) Morning Glory

Morning Glory is one of her more recent films to come out. This is just a cute little film where she receives top billing, although Harrison Ford steals most of the scenes in it. This is the typical character McAdams has been cast as. Since this film, she’s gotten herself into the latest Sherlock Holmes films, although her casting is most questioned by critics and fans alike.

4) The Time Traveler’s Wife

Although I will probably never watch this movie again, I really did enjoy the film. Based off a novel (of course!), McAdams owns this role by fighting between being a woman in love with a man (played by Eric Bana) that can stay only a short time and trying to live her life.

3) Red Eye

Red Eye is a great Wes Craven film that stars McAdams against Cillian Murphy, who is better known for Nolan’s gems such as Batman Begins and Inception. This is a great creepy film, and I couldn’t imagine anyone else playing a scared-to-death young woman sitting next to a psychopath threatening to end her father’s life.

2) Midnight in Paris

This movie bring McAdam’s back to her glory days in Mean Girls. Although Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris is not anywhere closely related to Mean Girls, McAdams does play a stuck-up, wealthy girl opposite a down-to-earth writer played by Owen Wilson. The two teamed up again (since Wedding Crashers) and played a couple that saw life from very different places. Midnight in Paris is probably my favorite movie with Rachel McAdams in it to date.

1) State of Play

Based off a much more successful British miniseries, State of Play stars a rich cast including Russell Crowe, Helen Mirren, Rachel McAdams, and Ben Affleck. I would consider State of Play the most complex film McAdams has been in yet, despite her role being supporting and one-dimensional. Perhaps next month’s Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows will supersede State of Play in complexity.

I Would Like to Thank the Trailer Makers

. . . for the awesome music that they put in trailers.

As of late, I’ve made some new introductions with bands, thanks to some great music selections put in trailers.

“Everything in Its Right Place” by Radiohead in the Anonymous trailer

Radiohead is clearly capable of making some great music, and the movie trailer business had benefited greatly from their talent. The first Radiohead song I was really blown away by in a movie trailer was “Creep,” performed by The Vega Choir in The Social Network trailer. To this day, I think it is one of the best trailers, thanks in part to that song.

“Infinite Legends” by Two Steps from Hell in the Breaking Dawn Pt. 1 trailer

Although I’m not a Twilight fan, I was really curious to find out who performed the song in the trailer. Two Steps from Hell has made quite a few creative songs in both their albums, Invisible and Archangel.

“Unstoppable” by E. S. Posthumus in the Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows trailer

E. S. Posthumus is considered an electronic music group. I really loved the use of this song, especially in the second trailer that came out for A Game of Shadows. Their interesting use of different instruments really brings the trailer to life.