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1.Whiplash - 8.5/10
We’ve all had asshole teachers in our lives but I doubt any of us ever ran into one as abrasive as the one J.K. Simmons plays in this film. He’s absolutely phenomenal in a career defining role, teetering between psychopath and genius for the entirety of the film. Much like most great teachers, he never quite lets you see completely behind the curtain of what he uses to motivate while Miles Teller struggles to push himself to meet his teachers’ unbelievably high standards. And breakout star Miles Teller handles his own as the young hopeful drummer, overcoming his own doubts and imperfections while pushing himself to achieve his high aspirations as one of the most prominent jazz drummers in the country. The story of Andrew’s ambition triumphing over the tribulation he faces along the way is incredibly engaging and spectacularly tense all throughout Damien Chazelle’s breakthrough directoral outing. It’s an enthralling look at someone struggling to follow their passion no matter what obstacles they might face. Inspiring, honest, suspenseful, heartfelt and the most entertaining film I saw this year.
2.Interstellar - 8.5/10
Think what you might about Nolan’s Batman trilogy, it’s hard to deny the ingenuity he brings with each of his original films. And now that his turn with the Dark Knight has ended, watching him spread his wings with a film as ambitious as Interstellar is absolutely captivating. Jaw dropping visuals, heart wrenching performances, edge of your seat action sequences, Hans Zimmer’s most captivating score to date and another signature cerebral script from the Nolan brothers brings you into an experience that assaults every one of your senses for nearly 3 hours; blowing your brains right out of the back of your skull. But much like Inception, there’s quite a bit of time taken up explaining the rules to Nolan’s universe, which doesn’t bode well for repeat viewings. And as smart as the script is, it’s certainly not without it’s flaws. But Nolan’s such an intelligent filmmaker it seems that his films warrant more of an unfairly critical eye on his scripts than others might receive. Nevertheless, Interstellar was an unbelievable journey to regions of space no other film has tackled so brilliantly. At times bordering on 2001: A Space Odyssey, this is the best space opera we’ve received in sometime. As imperfect as it may be.
3.Birdman - 8.5/10
Michael Keaton's hilarious return to the spotlight in this dark comedy about ego and adoration is phenomenal. The story of an aging one time super hero staging a comeback on broadway is handled marvelously and as brilliantly as the themes and storyline are handled, the technical aspects of the film are just as striking. The film's continuous running shots give the film a frantic energy unlike any other, and provide an experience as close to a broadway play as you could get. One long passionate monologue after another, the film is neck deep in Oscar worthy performances but surprisingly enough the stand out for me was Emma Stone. Previously only sought after as the snarky redhead with a crude and biting sense of wit and charm, Stone knocks it out of the park as Keaton's drug addicted daughter delivering the movies' most memorable dialogue as she tears her ego-maniacal father apart. A true breakout performance from her and a career best from Keaton, who holds back nothing in this candid and personal tale of pride and ignorance.
4.Boyhood - 8.5/10
Richard Linklater's near decade spent filming the growth and maturation of a young boy in modern times is a one of a kind cinematic experience. Visiting all of the moments of insecurities, development, and uncertainties that growing up can bring. And Patricia Arquette's heart wrenching performance as the mother is so captivating that it almost over shadows the central character. Watching her move from a struggling single mother to embattled Wife of an abusive drunk to successful college Professor and then back to being alone again as her son goes on to college is a stark portrayal of what a parent will go through for the good of their children. Linklater's on some roll here lately and an unprecedented achievement like this may just cement this understated director a place in cinematic history.
5.Gone Girl - 8.5/10
David Fincher's latest film is his most complete combination of cerebral and aesthetic entertainment since Fight Club. It's got his signature dark over tones matched with a twisting, turning plot that will have you grasping for answers right up until the surprising climax. Rosamund Pike gives a phenomenal performance as Affleck's missing spouse and while I can't speak for the source material, the script is absolutely incredible. It's a captivating look at modern relationships, questioning both the male and female counterparts equally. It's the anti-date movie, taking a dark and intellectual exploration of relationships in a way that no film since the underrated Rules of Attraction. Haunting, candid, riveting, and occasionally pretty funny. Everything you've come to expect from a Fincher film and it's nice to see him back at his best.
6.Inherent Vice - 8.5/10
Paul Thomas Anderson has delivered some incredibly stark and challenging films with his last two works, The Master and There Will Be Blood. In his latest film, he seems to be returning to his more light-hearted roots, with a haze-induced love letter to early 70’s Los Angeles. And while the purposefully convoluted plot may turn off many, the swirling fuzz of consciousness it induces creates an experience that’s incredibly vivid and unique. Anderson’s precise attention to detail makes the trip back in time to the drug induced 1970’s an incredibly authentic one that you instantly want to take again after’s it all over. It’s a hell of a trip, just one you won’t want to waste your time thinking about the cloud of smoke whodunnit hovering over it. This isn’t the typical cerebral journey PT Anderson takes his viewers on and while I dug the hell out of this picture, I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t his weakest outing to date. But that’s not saying much considering his resume. Just think of it as his Big Lebowski, After Hours or Jackie Brown. A lighter, ensemble character driven noire piece that grows more and more potent with each intake.
7.Nymphomaniac - 8/10
Love him or hate him, Lars Von Trier has established himself as one of the most unique filmmakers of our time. And with his 4 hour semi-pornographic epic about a woman detailing her experiences as a nymphomaniac, his reputation's not about to change anytime soon. Von Trier's an incredible director but like most visionaries, it seems he needs to work a bit on editing. Nymphomaniac is an incredibly well written film about sexuality but there's really no need for it to be 4 hours long. Much like Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill, the film really struggles to pick up momentum in the second chapter after leaving the first half of the film on such a high note. There are a lot of moments in the second half that seemed to be stretched way too long but that also may be due to uncomfortable nature of the scenes themselves. Once Charlotte Gainsbourg takes over the starring role in the second half of the film, it seems delve into excessively graphic material without much cause for it in the script. The film on a whole is much more graphic than you'd expect from a major motion picture but this is coming from the guy who brought you Willem Dafoe cumming blood in Antichrist so you had to expect a film he titled Nymphomaniac to push some boundaries. And while Nymphomaniac isn't as monumental as Melancholia or Antichrist, it's certainly a captivating and thought provoking exploration of human sexuality. Even if it's a bit drawn out and excessive at times.
8.Nightcrawler - 8/10
Jake Gyllenhaal’s turn as Lou Bloom is riveting. Gyllenhaal plays an almost alien-like sociopath, not unlike Christian Bale’s portrayal of Patrick Bateman. He’s completely disconnected socially and emotionally from everything around him and feeds off of information like someone studying the human race from another planet. The exploration of how exploitative television and entertainment has become sends a horrible and shamefully accurate message about where we are as a society. And while the story of TV news film crews is definitely engaging in it’s own right, it’s Gyllenhaal’s performance that makes the film as unnerving as it is. His embodiment as how detached from humanity the information era has become serves as the creepiest and most unsettling character of the year.
9.Stretch - 8/10
As cheesy as it can be at times (especially with the sometimes overbearing voice over), Stretch is such a kinetically charged bag of black comedic gold and Hollywood satire that it's impossible not to be charmed by Joe Carnahan's self-produced action-comedy epic. I really wish this would have gotten a major theater release because it absolutely deserves it. I've never been a huge fan of Carnahan's work previously but this is clearly his best work and his sense of humor and personality oozes through everything he touches and Stretch is soaked in it. The big surprise with stretch for me though, were the incredible performances from the unlikely comedic lead, Patrick Wilson, and Chris Pine as the enigmatic playboy Wilson spends the majority of the film catering to. Pine's been so-so as a potential leading action hero outside of the Star Trek franchise but he absolutely crushes his eccentric role in Stretch and gets laughs you'd never think this guy was capable of getting. And the same goes for Wilson. Easily the biggest surprise of the year, Stretch may be the most film most likely to assemble a cult following in coming years.
10.Edge of Tomorrow - 8/10
Tom Cruise really can't rise past this whole scientology scandal can he? Even when he puts out an incredibly original (though admittedly similar in appearance to Oblivion and Source Code), the guy can't catch a break. Edge of Tomorrow's the action blockbuster all of us soaked in super hero fatigue have been waiting for. It's smart, action packed, and incredibly well-made on all fronts. Doug Liman does an incredibly good job of keeping the film fresh and frantic despite the stories' requirement for repetition, with quick cuts and slick visuals throughout. And the story here has much more depth to it than Oblivion or Source Code, so don't let your disappointment with those films hold you back.
11.This is Where I Leave You - 8/10
In what has to be one of the most understated films of the year, Jason Bateman delivers another fantastically dark and dram-edic performance in this film about consolation and spiritual perseverance. And while the film is billed as a comedic ensemble powerhouse, outside of Bateman the rest of the cast seems to be sleepwalking. Especially Tina Fey, who is surprisingly awful playing against type as the recklessly dimwitted sister. It's the incredibly heartfelt and often hilarious script that elevates this flick past any other Shawn Levy film and Jason Bateman is the perfect lead to pull it all off. It's an incredibly grounded and dark comedy about dealing with loss and coming to grips with your shortcomings without coming off as overly sentimental or pushing a barrel full of "cheer up, everything will be alright" cliches down your throat.
12.Chef - 8/10
Looking back at writer/director/actor Jon Favreau's humble beginnings writing and starring in a low key, cult classic like Swingers and comparing that to his blockbuster popcorn epics of the past few years, it doesn't take a brain surgeon to draw parallels between this film's story and Favreau's own career experiences. But rather than fester on the negativity and use Chef as an "I told you so" to his critics, the movie is more about using the criticism to build upon yourself and what you're creating. In fact, the very things that lead to his demise at the restaurant (twitter and a nasty food critic) are in the end what helps to revitalize his career and help him rediscover his passion. Favreau's cranked out his best script since Swingers and a truly heartfelt story about discover and re-evaluating your priorities in life.
13.Selma - 8/10
In a year with so many racially charged national stories, the telling of Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic march to Washington feels like a lock at this year’s Oscars. And I can’t argue that it’s not deserving, much worse films have won. The film also stands as a landmark for cinema itself, which could be the first to honor an African American woman director. But all award talk aside, this film is spectacular. The portrayal of the hardships faced during the race wars of the 1960’s in Selma, Alabama is incredibly poignant and harrowing. And while the film can lack in momentum at times, the picture is carried by it’s spectacular performances. Tim Roth and Tom Wilkinson play evil white man brilliantly but David Oyelowo and Carmen Ejogo’s roles as Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta King carry the heart and soul of this film. Oyelowo establishes himself as one of Hollywood’s hottest young actors with his captivating embodiment of MLK, which is easily the best portrayal of the civil rights movement we’ve seen.
14.Sin City: A Dame to Kill For - 7.5/10
After a 9 year break, Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller decided to delve back into the world of Sin City and for the most part, I think it was a trip worth taking. Measuring A Dame to Kill For up against it's predecessor is unavoidable and while it's a serviceable entry, it never quite escalates to the heightened sense of urgency that the final segment of the original film reaches. Although the follow up revolving around Nancy's plot for revenge certainly stood out to me as the best segment in the new film. But the bulk of the film is spent on the titular story "A Dame to Kill For" and while it's one of my favorite comics of all time, it doesn't quite translate on the big screen. The biggest thing holding it back is probably also the biggest thing bringing in the meatheads that are trashing the film - Eva Green. Of course she's beautiful but having her parade around topless for 80% of her screen time just serves as an unnecessary distraction that serves no purpose to the story. And Eva Green seems understandably uncomfortable shooting a majority of the film nude. She's been fantastic in everything she's been in thus far, including going toe to toe with Johnny Depp last year in Dark Shadows but here, she's awful. And maybe I'm reading too much into this but regardless of the cause, she's unwatchable in this (unless you're trapped in a world without internet connections and still only watch R-rated movies for potential nudity). Alba and Dawson, on the other hand, somehow look even better than last time and the rest of the cast is spot on. And even though it's not better than the first film (was anyone really expecting that?) A Dame to Kill For is still a hell of a good time.
15.Dawn of the Planet of the Apes - 7.5/10
Even though Rise of the Planet of the Apes far surpassed my incredibly low expectations, I was still reluctant to get my hopes up for the sequel but yet again, Caesar delivered. Though I would have liked to see a little more than an opening credits montage of how human civilization started to crumble, Dawn picks up where the original left off, providing another incredibly intelligent sci-fi thriller. And just like the first film, the CGI Apes are front and center and render their human counterparts virtually irrelevant. Andy Serkis' Caesar has developed into one of the most captivating characters currently in film. When you take a moment to stop and think that you're watching scenes almost entirely computer generated, it's unbelievable to think of how far technology has come and how human the entire experience of "Dawn" feels. With the action also picking up, it's fascinating to see how this evolution of the Planet of the Apes is playing out but I'm still struggling to see how we get to a point where these thoughtful and intelligent Apes are riding horses and netting humans but I guess that's what the third film is for.
16.Life After Beth - 7.5/10
I'm as worn out by the zombie craze as anybody but when I saw the cast this film had, there's no way I could pass this up. Aubrey Plaza and Dane DeHaan are absolutely hilarious in this horror/comedy hybrid about a relationship gone sour and then brought back from the dead. Dane DeHaan totally won me over last year with The Place Beyond the Pines and has enough versatility to carry a dark comedy like this wonderfully. The script has a wicked sense of humor that really carries the film. Seeing everyone so calm and apathetic towards Beth's re-animation (outside of DeHaan that is) makes her even more ridiculous. The metaphor of trying to keep a dead relationship alive and inevitably having to bring it to it's ugly end was phenomenal, making this easily the best zom-com since Zombieland.
17.The Babadook - 7.5/10
Horror's been a dying genre for over a decade now but every once in a while, a movie sneaks in under the radar that pumps some fresh new blood into the industry and this year's film is The Babadook. Writer/Director Jennifer Kent's feature debut is a startling and emotionally charged film that engulfs the viewer in the incredibly fragile state of it's central character. And in that lead role, Essie Davis absolutely crushes it. It's a psychological thriller grounded in the development of our two central characters and how they're coping with their lives after the death of the family's father. In what's been a rather weak year in horror, Babadook gives us plenty of hope that there's still potential to craft a compelling and grounded film within the horror genre.
18.The Skeleton Twins - 7.5/10
Kristen Wiig’s definitely had an unprecedented career path after her breakout success in Bridesmaids. She continues on that unexpected journey alongside fellow SNL alumni Bill Hader in a dark and funny look at a set of twins dealing with the hardships of growing up and realizing as fucked up as their individual lives may be, their relationship with one another will continue to help them through their misguided lives. It’s incredibly bleak, yet filled with hope in that both of the titular “Skeleton Twins” may be different but as long as they have each other, they can find their own untraditional paths to happiness.
2014 was a pretty underwhelming year for movies. TV has pulled away as the superior choice for original cinematic entertainment and while there wasn't an abundance of great films to choose from, there weren't many terrible films either. Just a lot of average ones. Thus, the overpopulation of what I like to call The Middle.
19.The Interview - 7.5/10
With all of the controversy surrounding this film, it seemed that surpassing the hype would be nearly impossible. But keeping my expectations in check (this is the same group responsible for 'This is the End' after all) I found myself having a pretty damn good time with the Interview. But it's definitely not without it's flaws, first and foremost being it's leading man James Franco. While Seth Rogen is often chastised for playing the same character in virtually everything, Franco takes on the role of playing a narcissistic talk show host and is so unbelievably bad at it, you're left thinking "why is James Franco such an asshole?" He's atrocious and without hilarious supporting roles from Seth Rogen and Randall Park this movie would have been crushed under his inability to play anything other than Rogen's man crush. The other thing holding the film back is the rather amateurish look of the film. Obviously the film can't be shot in North Korea but watching the film for $6 on YouTube, I felt like I could have been watching something made on a direct to video budget. The sets are empty and leave the movie looking cheap and unfinished during most of it's time in North Korea. Like I said early, it's nearly impossible to try and recreate a North Korean atmosphere that none of us know but I would figure a little more imagination would have been dispensed from Rogen and long-time writing partner Evan Goldberg when creating the setting. Their roles as inexperienced directors show through, even if it's their script that ultimately redeems the film from any of its inefficiencies. Incredibly well written and often hilarious, The Interview is another solid (if imperfect) entry into the Seth Rogen cannon of comedy.
20.X-Men: Days of Future Past - 7.5/10
While the X-Men stand out as my favorite Marvel comic, I'd be lying if I told you I wasn't suffering from franchise fatigue with what is now the 7th entry into Fox's lone surviving comic book series. But Singer's return to the franchise gives us the best X-Men movie since he left the series after X2. Having the two worlds of X-Men films collide in a time traveling action epic was fantastic but the story has to devote so much time explaining to it's audience how this all works, that we're left with far more exposition than action. Which is usually a strong point for most sequels, but X7 spends way too much time trying to sort out all of the loose ends left by the previous films and tie it into an easily digestible scenario to resolve the entire X-Men universe. But Singer does pull it off and sets up the next film very nicely, it's just a little frustrating to get a film 6 movies deep into a franchise that gives you so little action and is only really serving to prep you for the next installment.
21.Captain America: The Winter Soldier - 7.5/10
With the current cannon of Marvel superheroes, you're usually in for a much more fantasy based blockbuster. That is, except for Captain America. I seemed to enjoy the first film more than most but the sequel is just as entertaining, with a much larger scale and much larger action scenes. The Winter Soldier has more in common with a Mission Impossible style espionage action film than a super hero flick and I absolutely loved that. The Russo Brothers deliver a slick and engaging thriller that doesn't waste any time pandering to younger audiences with cute jokes or sight gags. This is a very grown up movie and I admire that, especially after sitting through Guardians of the Galaxy.
22.Fury - 7.5/10
David Ayer was a director a lot of people were talking about in the action genre, that is until he soiled his rising reputation with his previous release this spring with Sabotage. But Fury makes up for that immediately, returning to his deep character development amongst brutal and griping action scenes. Fury's got an outstanding ensemble cast lead by Brad Pitt, who somehow stands out despite playing an almost identical looking character in another World War 2 flick (Inglorious Basterds) just a few years back. It's an incredibly grounded and raw look at war but this isn't the gore fest you might expect. Okay, there's definitely some awesomely grizzly action scenes but what stands out in Fury is the phenomenal cast of characters and the time spent getting to know them all that makes the action much more enthralling.
23.About Alex - 7.5/10
First off, there are some major plot points that didn't really sit right with me in this film. Both of which are events that revolve around the titular Alex (played by Jason Ritter), but I'll try to avoid giving anything away but let's just say he does two fairly unforgivable things in the film that his friends just seem to shrug off nonchalantly. Which bugged me a lot, because I really enjoyed everything else about this film. It's a fairly standard blueprint of a group of friends reuniting and catching up with one another but the cast of characters and the outstanding young cast portraying them did a phenomenal job. The standout for me was Max Greenfield, playing the overly blunt yet lovable asshole. Maggie Grace and Aubrey Plaza also come up huge in phenomenal supporting roles. It's funny, touching, and really makes you feel like you're reuniting with this group of estranged friends as well.
24.Foxcatcher - 7.5/10
I was incredibly intrigued by this film due to it’s cast and director but the biggest takeaway for Bennet Miller’s latest film is it’s brilliant script. Based on true events, Foxcatcher is much more than a film about olympic wrestling, it’s a film about America. One of the most brilliant encapsulations of our country’s personality since Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood. But there’s a huge shadow cast over the incredible script by the aforementioned cast and director. The film is shot in a rather disconnected way that lacks the power and scale Miller’s previous films showcased so well. The direction leaves a lot to be desired with a script this poignant. But even more damning is the performance from Steve Carell. I was really hoping he’d deliver in this, since he seems condemned to only play sad 40 year old romantic dads, but he’s awful. And the prosthetics only add to his awkwardness. He’s so horribly miscast that nearly every line of dialogue he delivers takes you right out of the film. Ruffalo and Tatum deliver incredible performances as the olympic wrestling brothers Carell hires but their efforts go to waste in a good film that should have been great.
25.Bad Words - 7.5/10
Jason Bateman makes his directorial debut in a film about a man exploiting a loophole in the National Spelling Bee that enables him to compete against a bunch of middle schoolers. As the story unfolds, Bateman's motives become more and more evident. But it's not his bitter taste for revenge and snarky attitude that carry this film, it's Bateman's relationship with a young hopeful competitor that brings the film a lot of unexpected gravity. The film feels similar to Bad Santa in that way, with crude and dark humor throughout but also displaying an authentic sentimentality at the same time. A phenomenal first outing for Bateman as a director, a funny and heartfelt script and one of his best starring roles to date.
26.A Most Wanted Man - 7.5/10
It's incredibly tough to pull of putting together an intelligent espionage film that's realistic and still doesn't bore your audience to death (looking at you Tinker, Tailor) and Most Wanted Man makes it look like a walk in the park. And most of that, for me anyways, anchors itself to the incredible performances from the stellar cast. It's the last reminder of what a great talent we lost in Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who delivers a career performance where in a role unlike any we've seen in him in and yet plays it as naturally and involved as he has with all of his roles. The film packs in the tension of a terrorist tale like Zero Dark Thirty with a much more satisfying ending. Especially the unexpected final 20 minutes or so, when the film finally lulls you into feeling safe and comfortable about where the film is headed only to almost literally blindside you out of it.
27.Men, Women, and Children - 7.5/10
Jason Reitman seems to have never fully recovered from his “Up In the Air” Oscar loss. However, his social commentary on technology and how it effects our relationships and everyday communication is definitely his best film since. No punches are pulled in the raw examination of how we all have changed due to the surge in technology and how inconsequential our endless interactions ultimately are. And while all the congruent story lines are engaging (even though they might be a bit overly dramatic at times) all of the characters seem trapped in a static environment that never changes. It’s a roller coaster without any hills. But it’s definitely an insightful ride and Ansel Elgort gives us more reason to believe he’s got a huge future ahead of himself.
28.Lucy - 7.5/10
Luc Besson returns to the summertime action blockbuster with a most unusual and unprecedented spectacle that starts out like any other shoot 'em up and evolves into a psychological exploration unlike any other major production in recent memory. The story seems to be split in half with your typical futuristic shooter and an ideological psych lesson which is both highly ambitious and also a little clunky in execution. The ideas explored are fascinating and I for one enjoyed a cerebral film in the midst of summer but as much as I enjoyed the mental exercise the finale provided, the film felt too disjointed to really work. The action drops out of the film way too abruptly, leaving you feeling like you've watched two halves of two separate films. It's a thought provoking and engaging look at human evolution, it's just not quite assembled properly.
29.The Guest - 7.5/10
Director Adam Wingard seems to be aiming for a Terminator-like nostalgia piece shot through the scope of a Nicholas Winding Refn, engulfed in b-movie 80’s cheese. The problem is he’s got nowhere near the talent of Refn and Dan Stevans is nowhere near Ryan Gosling. But even with all of it’s faults, like a rather hard to believe plot involving a complete stranger shacking up with a family for an undisclosed amount of time, it’s still quite charming. The music and Halloween setting are really the only things pegging this as a horror film but regardless, that atmosphere is handled wonderfully and creates a throwback funhouse environment that harkens back to the simple 80’s horror of yesteryear. It’s a fun trip through memory lane with personality oozing out of every scene. Far from perfect, The Guest is a solid addition to the recent string of nostalgia porn circulating the horror genre.
30.Oculus - 7.5/10
One of the biggest surprises of the year, Oculus is an old time ghost story carried by phenomenal young actors giving incredible performances. On the surface it may appear to be another run of the mill paranormal thriller but the flashback sequences of Kaylie and Tim set this film apart. The present day storyline pales in comparison and is what keeps this film from being great instead of good. The grown up central characters seemed to bogged down in the series of jump scare cliches that plague the horror genre these days while the heart and soul of the film is established in it’s origin story.
31.Enemy - 7.5/10
Prisoners’ Denis Villeneueve and Jake Gyllenhaal re-team in another psychological thriller, this time much more cerebral and metaphorical than the grizzly detective story they brought us a year ago. Enemy’s a film sure to annoy most casual viewers, looking for something straightforward like Prisoners, but this film is much more in the vein of a David Lynch or Kubrick flick. And while that may sound like incredibly high praise for a director only two films into his career, it’s the only fitting description to what he’s accomplished here. However, just because it emulates the style of Lynch, doesn’t mean he succeeds at it. The film has a lot of ambition and does some really interesting things but it doesn’t quite tie things together as nicely as a Lynch or Kubrick film might.
32.The Fault in Our Stars - 7.5/10
While I usually try to avoid movies with this kind of audience, I found myself intrigued enough by the premise and Shailene Woodley's performance to check it out. And I'm glad I did. For the most part. It's an incredibly human story about finding your first love, even through the most dire of circumstances. There's an abundance of quotable lines sprinkled throughout (almost too much at times) and some really genuinely moving scenes with Woodley and Ansel Elgort. Both deliver breakout performances that should mark the beginning of long and fruitful careers. But considering the entitled tween girls this film is aimed at, who feel like their life is so hard that they're coping with cancer, I felt like it may have been a bit overly dramatic. I understand the levity involved with the subject matter, it just seems to beat you over the head with it at times. Even still, it's a very charming and heartfelt romance story with authentic characters and a great young cast.
33.Grand Budapest Hotel - 7.5/10
As light hearted and quirky as Wes Anderson films always are, I felt like Grand Budapest underachieved a bit here. Ralph Fiennes and Adrian Brody deliver some fantastic performances and the direction is spot on but the script left a lot of room for improvement. There's always so much detail and personality put into the sets and characters Wes Anderson brings with each new world he builds but this time around, it seems he could have spent a little more time on the developing a story line. It's certainly not as dry as Anderson's worst effort (Darjeeling) but it's a big drop off after Moonrise Kingdom. The Wes Anderson formula is becoming a little too predictable at this point and to avoid becoming the next Tim Burton he needs to start shaking things up a bit.
34.Guardians of the Galaxy - 7.5/10
Chris Pratt is having a hell of a year and without his charismatic lead role in this flick, I think Guardians would have fallen flat on its face. Bradley Cooper is fantastic and all but you can't bank on a film this odd without a solid leading man to keep it somewhat grounded. And as funny as this film is, there's really not much else here other than some snarky bits of comedy from Pratt and Cooper. Sorry, I didn't see the charm in this that everyone else did. Not bad, but nowhere near great.
35.Neighbors - 7.5/10
It was nice to see Nicholas Stoller return to a straight comedy after the disappointing Five Year Engagement but without Zach Efron and Seth Rogen's hilarious chemistry, I'm not sure Neighbors would have succeeded either. The blue print of the aging party guy adapting to adulthood with a frat house landing next door was great but it's never fully utilized. Instead the film veers off into sight gags and jokes already beat to death by film's merciless ad campaign. But again, Rogen and Efron shoulder the load beautifully after the story abandons the film about half an hour in. But it's mindless fun that makes for a nice way to kill a couple of hours instead of something a little more substantial, which is kind of a let down coming from the guy who brought us Forgetting Sarah Marshall.
36.Calvary - 7.5/10
Right from the opening confessional scene, Calvary presents a premise that engages the viewer right up until the final confrontation on the beach. Brandon Gleason's portrayal of an embattled priest dealing with his own morality, his commitment to the church, and seemingly endless scrutiny from the community makes for a fascinating exposition. Anchored by Gleason's phenomenal performance, Calvary shows the very human side of someone working for the Church and all the hardships that accompany that. And as intriguing as the film starts, I have to say that the film's ending left a lot to be desired. The film really could have been great but instead just settles for interesting.
37.Maps to the Stars - 7.5/10
David Cronenberg's become quite the polarizing filmmaker as of late. And while Maps to the Stars has some devastatingly dark and haunting moments, I'm still not sure I'm ready to call it a return to form. There are a lot of moving parts in the film that never really align into a coherent narrative, rather just a collection of momentary achievements. Julianne Moore is as brilliant as ever in her portrayal of a Lindsey Lohan-like actress staging a comeback, completely out of touch with reality and Evan Bird's role as a child actor struggling with his own personal demons following him in his every day life is incredibly eerie and quite tragic. And while both of their stories standout as the most memorable portions of the film, providing pitch black scenes of hilarity and moral erosion, they just never really fit together cohesively.
38.American Sniper - 7.5/10
Clint Eastwood’s been on a bit of a dry streak as of late but what better way to hop back into the good graces of the Academy voters than to launch a war biopic? Okay, maybe I’m being a bit over cynical but I haven’t been all that impressed with the barrage of Oscar hopeful, military themed films released in the wake of the success of The Hurt Locker. And while Bradley Cooper does a phenomenal job depicting an American hero, there’s really not much we haven’t seen here before. There are some great moments sprinkled throughout but as a cohesive start to finish narrative, the film lacks purpose. Which is fairly ironic considering the wars depicted in the film. A gruesome look at the life of a soldier that serves it’s purpose but never quite reaches the heights of modern classics such as Blackhawk Down or The Hurt Locker.
39.John Wick - 7.5/10
I never knew I missed Keanu Reeves until I saw this fairly simple revenge flick somewhere in the forgotten months of fall. After his wife passes away, hit-man John Wick retires to a life of solitude with the Beagle puppy she left him for companionship - until it's murdered by the son of an Eastern European gang-lord during a home invasion. And if you thought there was heavy gun violence from Keanu in The Matrix, Wick cranks it back up to 11 as Reeves piles a body count I haven't seen in quite some time. And does Keanu always find himself in techno clubs? Who cares, this movie is a mindless hard-R action revenge flick, calling back to the shoot 'em ups of yesteryear with fantastic looking action sequences and just enough character development to keep you're intrigue throughout. A fun and harmless way to kill a couple of hours and reminisce about the way action films used to be.
40.About Last Night - 7.5/10
This movie really caught me off guard. I went in expecting a fairly safe romantic comedy and came out with a very authentic and humorous love story. Kevin Hart and Regina Hall are used in supporting roles, so their time on screen leaves you wanting more. Which is good because both comedic actors can bludgeon an audience with "LOOK AT ME!" moments and as cartoonish as they are at times in this film, they're still somehow relatable. Michael Ealy and Joy Bryant shine in the staring roles, developing a realistic relationship that carries the bulk of the weight for a film that's truly more romance than comedy. Hot Tub Time Machine & Accepted director Steve Pink delivers another modestly sized, sentimental comedy to add to his growing resume.
41.Top Five - 7.5/10
It’s nice to see Chris Rock taking another stab at Hollywood but proclaiming this as the best Chris Rock movie ever is like calling The Hot Chick the best Rob Schneider movie ever. Who cares? Top Five plays like a Woody Allen picture for Adam Sandler audiences, with candid and seemingly real life inspiration wrapped in sometimes overly goofy gimmicks. But it works. It’s a funny and endearing film that captures an inside look from one of Hollywood’s funniest comedians and the behind the scenes drama that can follow. Rock still needs to work on balancing the slapstick and drama a bit more believably but he’s certainly made the best film of his career with Top Five, I just hope he can continue to improve his cinematic presence to what he brings in his stand up act.
42.Frank - 7/10
In a surprisingly well written little film about egos, Frank is a quirky and emotional look at what goes into the creative process. Playing the role of Frank almost entirely inside of a giant fake head, Michael Fassbender's character of Frank brilliantly conveys the blind confidence and bravado needed to plunge into an artistic endeavor like creating music. Although the band's cabin hibernation writing process takes up the majority of the film and stalls a lot of the momentum built up in the beginning. However, the ending is a terrific resolution even if not an overly exciting one.
43.The Theory of Everything - 7/10
Aside from Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones’ charming and heartfelt performances, there’s really not much more to look at in what I saw as one of the most overrated films of the year. Watching the story of a young Stephen Hawking was intriguing enough to grab your attention but the film never really delivers anything too enthralling once you reach the 2/3 point in the film. Hawking’s career gets brushed over as the relationship between he and his wife eats up the majority of the screen time in one of the most blatant Oscar-bate films of the year. With subject matter so interesting, how did this turn out so boring?
44.Obvious Child - 7/10
While I definitely admire Obvious Child in it's anti-romantic comedy story about a struggling stand-up comedian getting an abortion on Valentine's Day, there's just not enough here to keep it afloat. Jenny Slate gives the film plenty of charm and personality in an incredibly grounded comedy but most of our central character's actions are fundamentally flawed. Her fascination with fart jokes and verbal diarrhea as a comedian is really off putting. She's only marginally funny on stage and really just gets drunk and tells people about her life, even when it it's not funny. Like telling her baby's daddy she's having his abortion. Totally irredeemable but the rebound hook-up stands by her regardless. Jenny Slate shows ton of promise but I question the writer/director behind this that seems to be getting so much praise.
45.Amazing Spiderman 2 - 7/10
As much as I hated 2012's Amazing Spider-Man, surprisingly enough, I didn't hate the obligatory follow. In a matter of fact, in a cheesy 90's blockbuster kind of way, I kind of liked it. But there are way too many dismal portions of this film to overlook. The biggest problem going for it is that the plot is stretched way too thin and being pulled in way too many directions. For the first time in the franchise, Spider-Man gets way more screen time than Peter Parker, which makes all of his real-life relationships (including his romance with Gwen Stacy and the forced reunion with Harry Osborn) way less meaningful. The stunning action sequences and epic climax are what sold me on this film. And while those scenes are great, the film never feels like a fluid cohesive story; more a collection of scenes that culminate in the finale. But at least it's different. My biggest beef with The Amazing Spider-Man was that it retreaded so much of what Raimi had already done with the character in his trilogy. And with ASM2, we're at least taking the character into new places. If you can't stomach through some mind numbing dialogue and hold out for the CGI eye candy, I actually thought it was worth the ticket price this time around. Just maybe not a ride I'd want to get on more than once.
46.Joe - 7/10
I'm a huge fan of David Gordon Green but this film just never escapes the shadow that the eerily similar "Mud" casts upon it. Even down to using the exact same young actor from "Mud", Joe never establishes itself as a unique southern tale. It's a bit more graphic and not nearly as uplifting as McConnaughey's breakout performance but Gordon Green's direction and an incredible score give the film plenty of atmosphere and personality, even if it lacks in originality. And Cage's role as the title character is easily the best thing he's done since The Weather Man, it's just a shame the story goes absolutely nowhere. His character is very well crafted, the script just does nothing with him.
47.Exodus: Gods and Kings - 7/10
Ridley Scott has been pretty hit or miss as of late and his biblical epic showcases that inconsistency incredibly well. The film’s biggest achievements are all technical, with the enormous effects sequences really shining through as the biggest thing selling this movie. The acting, storyline, and direction all seem to be after thoughts which is a true shame considering the talent assembled here. Which is what I said after Scott’s last film, The Counselor, which was released a little over a year ago to date. I’m not sure why the man has been cranking out a picture a year but it seems to me the end result comes out a little under cooked and not nearly as fully developed as we’re used to seeing from Scott. And while Exodus isn’t a bad film per say, we know Scott’s capable of so much more.
48.Godzilla - 6.5/10
Starving for a summer blockbuster without a comic book origin, I went into Godzilla expecting a throwback to the popcorn flicks of yesteryear. Instead, we somehow ended up with a Godzilla that's on screen even less than Roland Emmerich's. And while the final battle scene is handled beautifully by Gareth Edwards, in between that and Cranston's inexplicably early exit from the film is an mind numbingly dull. Too many military board rooms and not nearly enough action. Even Aaron Johnson and Elizabeth Olson don't get nearly enough screen time as their character development goes almost entirely neglected. Cranston provides the only character of any interest and he doesn't make it passed the first third of the film. A total let down, do yourself a favor and skip to Aaron Johnson parachuting down on the city. Those final 20 minutes or so are the only thing worth watching.
49.Big Eyes - 6.5/10
I’m a huge fan of Tim Burton, so seeing him drop the hot topic look and Johnny Depp caricatures was a huge relief when going into Big Eyes. However, just because it’s different doesn’t mean it’s good. Burton obviously realized he needed to change his career path after so many financial and critical misses but this film feels like he’s simply burned his fingerprints off rather than re-invented himself. It’s devoid of any of the cliche Burton-esque personality we’ve come to know and love (and more recently cringe at) but there’s no personality to it whatsoever. The story is mildly entertaining and paints a bleak portrait of women’s place in society but other than that, the film is rather bland and uninspired. I’m glad to see Burton making strides towards more adult material but it feels like he’s scared to be himself anymore.
50.22 Jump Street - 6.5/10
Branching off of the self deprecating surprise hit, Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum return in what may be the most unlikely sequel of all time for more of the same. And while half the movie is spent acknowledging the fact that they're doing the exact same thing, that doesn't make it okay. I had the same problem with Cabin in the Woods, just because you're self referential about your own films' shortcomings, doesn't make it acceptable. The chemistry between Hill and Tatum is still running strong and fluid enough to squeeze a few laughs out of an otherwise dry and predictable sequel that probably should have never been made in the first place. And hopefully a third film is as tongue in cheek as they play it out to be because this recipe wore tired before the first film even ended, to drag it through a second sequel would be a massive mistake. Cut your losses and move on, this recipe for success has run dry.
51.Noah - 6.5/10
4 years since his last film, 2010's Black Swan, Darren Aronofsky's passion project finally made it to theaters this March to be greeted by a collective shrug. There's no denying Aronofsky's talent behind the camera, especially in sequences like the one in Noah where he depicts the creation and evolution of Earth, but Noah doesn't do much to stand out. It's bland and predictable, even if stark and surprisingly dark at times. It begs the question I asked the very moment I heard the news that Aronofsky was choosing this as his next project, "why?" There's nothing here that showed me this is worthy of the time of one of our greatest directors working today. None the less, the cast all delivers in spades with Winstone, Watson, Crowe, and Connelly all putting out the high quality of work we'd expect from them. But again, even though it's well made, there's just nothing remarkable here to warrant the adaptation of a story we've heard ad nausea since Sunday School.
52.The Monuments Men - 6.5/10
George Clooney's World War 2 saga about saving paintings from the Nazis got bumped from Oscar season to February and while you hate to judge a film by it's release date, that move pretty much sums this movie up. Murray, Damon, and Blanchett do the most with what they're offered but the story moves at a snail's pace and even at it's most heightened sense of intrigue, it's entirely forgettable. It's a unique story in the WW2 setting but not enough to stand out from the far more interesting background it's set upon.
I try to include a preface to my list of "worst films of the year" every year to clarify that I try to avoid most films that look god awful. These are simply the worst films that looked interesting enough for me to see. Unfortunately the interest wasn't quite warranted for these, the bottom feeders of 2014.
53.The Equalizer - 6/10
Despite finding commercial and critical success throughout most of his career, Antoine Fuqua has some dreadfully slow paced films. Especially for action films, like this re-team with Denzel, that takes way too long to get moving for the audience to still be invested by the time the action finally kicks in. Washington plays the retired mercenary coming out of retirement to save a prostitute he sometimes runs into at a coffee shop after his job unloaded trucks at a hardware store. And as predictable a premise as that may seem, the film still spends the first 60-80 minutes establishing said premise until you're fully up to speed on that complex situation. And when the story finally does kick in, it's too little too late for me. The film's as formulaic an action flick as they come with surprisingly little action and way too much slow motion for a film that moves slowly enough without it.
54.The Rover - 6/10
I'm all about zombie free post-apocalyptic movies (the Road being one of the best examples of said genre) so I went into The Rover with fairly high expectations. Guy Pearce chasing down some kids who stole his car? Sounds simple, but could be fun. Well, I got the simple part right. Without any prior knowledge, there's really no inclination that you're in a post apocalyptic world at all. Sure you could assume it's a scorched Earth but if you're channel surfing and stop in the middle of this you'd probably just be confused about why the Twilight guy is acting so stupid in the middle of Australia. Ok, that's a bit of a cheap shot, Pattinson's post Twilight career has actually been pretty fascinating. But this film, was anything but fascinating. A couple of intriguing lines of dialogue and an eery sense of atmosphere but that's it. An almost entirely empty film that has you waiting for the storyline to kick in until the end credits start rolling.
55.Under the Skin - 6/10
I like to keep an open mind when it comes to indie flicks but Under the Skin falls into way too many art-house cliches that it's beyond defending. The almost nonexistent dialogue, over the top imagery, artsy (yet still just as unnecessary) nudity, a flat uneventful storyline, and no likable characters. The cinematography and music are both great but you could say the same about a car commercial. It's a flat-out boring exercise in aesthetic achievement and at that I suppose it succeeds. As for being a real movie with an interesting plot, well developed characters, or any underlying theme whatsoever? Not quite. But hey, Scarlet Johansen gets naked so...
56.The Sacrament - 6/10
Ti Wests' first person voyage to a Jonestown-like cult massacre is another decent entry into his filmography that still lacks a knockout punch. And while the Sacrament does a good job of portraying the situation, there's really not much unexpected that happens along the way. Wests' films are notoriously straight forward and predictable and that's not really a characteristic you want to align yourself with this early in your career. Gene Jones' horrifying performance as the cult leader is the only thing driving the film once the premise is established and delivers one of the best supporting performances of the year. Sadly, it's lost in a very bland horror film that kind of deserves to be overlooked.
57.VHS: Viral - 5.5/10
I've had a love/hate relationship with the VHS franchise and this latest entry, VHS Viral, pushes me further towards the hate category. Okay, hate's a little strong, but underwhelmed seems to fit pretty nicely. The first film was far from perfect but last year's vastly improved VHS 2 was a huge leap for the franchise and one of my favorite horror films of the last decade. But this latest anthology regresses to the lowest of lows for the series, kicking off the disappointing segments with a big on magic. And there's nothing less scary than a magician. Magicians are such a joke, that even the most successful magicians today (Penn and Teller) spend half of their show explaining how ridiculous magicians are. So it's a horrible start for the film and as cool as machete wheeling skateboarders fighting Mexican demons was, there's not much to snap you out of the disinterest these boring segments create. Especially when we only get three different stories this time around.
58.The Expendables 3 - 5.5/10
Stallone has done a pretty stellar job of assembling action heroes for his Expendables series but this third installment takes on too many characters for its own good. While the addition of Snipes, Ford and Banderas are the films' only bright points (especially Snipes, who shines brightest in his return to the spotlight), the entire cast of young mercenaries Stallone brings on are absolutely Expendable. As is the entire plot, which is as predictable as Mel Gibson's "eccentric" turn as the villain, which was supposed to be the film's saving grace. I for one thought JCVD did a hell of a job in the last film, making for a much better hand to hand finale than the laughable face off Gibson and Stallone gave us in this entry. It's simultaneously crowded and empty, leaving us with another roll call of action stars and no plot, no character development, and most egregiously - surpassingly little action.
59.Ride Along - 5.5/10
Kevin Hart is right on the verge of becoming the next big comedy star and while financially Ride Along seems to be his breakout hit, there's no getting around how awful a movie it is. It's as formulaic and predictable as it's January release date implies it is. And unlike other mediocre, yet star launching comedies like Billy Madison or Ace Ventura where the lead comedic actor carries the film, Kevin Hart is unbelievably annoying in this movie. His energy really helped a grounded flick like About Last Night but here, it's nauseating. He's comes off as the obnoxious class clown under the impression that if you say it loud and goofy enough, you can make anything funny. Which is a shame because the guy is truly hilarious. His stand up material is phenomenal but if this movie is your first exposure to him, I feel like might leave exhausted with his rise to fame before it ever really got going. You can turn down roles Kevin, please don't become the Jason Statham of comedy.
60.Sabotage - 5/10
The latest effort in Schwarznegger's less than stellar post-mayoral cinematic comeback is easily his worst to date. It's an unnecessarily brutal action/extortion film about the D.E.A. that provides you with 0 likable characters and 0 interest in the "who-dunnit" angle the film leads you down in the first 15 minutes. After that the film takes a nose dive and only gives you reasons to root against it's cast of characters rather than for them. The film is so sparse on action and story that it seems to over compensate every time action breaks out, making it inexplicably graphic to make up for the long droughts in the film without action. It's a good thing Ayer responded so quickly with Fury or I think I may have sold all my stock in him as a director after this.
61.Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return - 5/10
This long delayed animated Oz follow up clearly missed it's opportunity to thrive after Disney's prequel took off last March, but I still wanted to give it a chance despite it's atrocious box office performance. And in this case, the numbers don't lie. Sometimes we forget how far we've come technically until you catch something like the Mummy Returns on a Saturday afternoon on TBS to remind you why "CGI" used to induce a knee jerk cringe reaction. Dorothy's Return has some offensively bad animation and even worse music. Outside of Frozen, animated films have lately shied away from weighing down their films with original songs and Dorothy's Return shows us why. Bland, uninspired, and flat-out boring are the only ways I can describe this painfully bad attempt at building a franchise. Right around the 40 minute mark, my niece and nephew asked if we even had to finish it. I wonder if the filmmakers were wondering the same thing as this film sat in distribution limbo the last two years.
62.Robocop - 5/10
While the premise of Robocop seems more real today than it did in 1987, the remake never really expands upon the initial concept laid out in the original. In fact, once Robocop is assembled, the film kind of just meanders towards the finish line. The fantastic supporting characters that made the original so memorable are all replaced with cookie cutter villains and underdeveloped family members. The thing that kept Robocop the most interesting in the original was his evolving relationship with his partner Lewis and she's nowhere to be found in the remake. Also missing is all of the brilliantly dark social commentary and over the top '80s action. And with characters this underdeveloped, it's hard to replace the social and moral exploration of the first film with a sympathetic pull towards Murphy's family that leaves you feeling anything but bored.
63.Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - 5/10
While some might argue that it really doesn't matter whose voices are coming out of the turtles' mouths, I'll argue that you sound like a jackass. And so does Leonardo for the entirety of TMNT. For his entire "acting" career, Johnny Knoxville has really only been Johnny Knoxville. And hearing his voice in the new Ninja Turtles flick, you can't picture anyone but Johnny Knoxville. It just takes you out of the flick every time he speaks. Same goes for "Monk" as Splinter to a lesser extent but it's not nearly as obnoxious as Knoxville. The turtles lack the charm of the original series and stoop to fart jokes and sexual references for laughs. And with so much of the film done in CGI, you eventually feel like you're watching someone play a video game. So it's pretty much exactly what you'd expect from a Michael Bay film at this point.
64.The Purge: Anarchy - 5/10
While the first Purge film was far from perfect, it at least had enough intrigue with it's unique premise that it kept you engaged through the entirety of the film. The second film makes the classic horror sequel mistake of showing too much of the mechanics behind the mystery. The original film had a great sense of claustrophobia, as you were trapped in with the family during the entire purge. But the sequel takes you out into the streets and exposes even more plot-holes than the original did. It's way better to imagine the chaos erupting in the streets than to show some cheesy dirt bike gang with blank masks or some dingus driving around with a mini gun in the back of a box truck. The mystery made the Purge scary, when there wasn't really much on screen to be scared of. The Purge Anarchy eliminates that mystery and evolves into more of an action/suspense-thriller, without a whole lot of action or suspense.
65.Tusk - 4/10
I was pretty bummed to hear Kevin Smith so disheartened by the criticism of his recent films as to push him into retirement, so I've been rooting for the guy to return to his former glory. Red State and Zack and Miri were both worthwhile additions to his filmography but he's clearly struggled outside of the View Askew-niverse. And Tusk is his worst film to date. It's atrocious. The first half of the film is decent (even if it's a bit self-indulgent and reaches way too hard for jokes that don't really pay off) but once Johnny Depp shows up, this film completely implodes. I can't recall a time when one actor sabotaged a film so horribly as Depp's Saturday morning cartoon of a French inspector. The film is so poorly constructed that you can almost see the different trains of thought happening as Smith tries to stretch this flimsy podcast segment into an entire feature length film. And lucky us, this is the first in a trilogy with Depp and Haley Joel Osmont. The comedy is so low-brow and desperate that it's incredibly easy to see why so many have turned on Smith at this point in his career.
66.Dumb and Dumber To - 4/10
All that talk about "waiting for the right time" to tackle a Dumb and Dumber sequel is absolute bullshit. This film looks and feels like something that could have been a tv movie on Fox eight months after the first film came out. It's awful. And while Harry and Llyod are obviously dumb in the first film, they come off as mentally handicapped in the follow up. Like, these guys wouldn't be allowed to operate a motor vehicle in real life. It's ridiculous. The laughs are cheap and lean far too much on shock value to really work. And the script is so asinine and overly complicated in its finale, trying to trick you into thinking it's smarter than it is, it's hard to imagine that this is the same team that tackled the original. In a career of awful comedies, this may be the Farrely Brothers' worst to date.
67.Walk of Shame - 3.5/10
Let me just start by saying that I love Elizabeth Banks. She's gorgeous, charming, and absolutely hilarious. But Walk of Shame is her first film front and center as a comedic lead and by the looks of this, it'll sadly probably be her last. Which is unfair because what she's handed to work with is horribly stale and unfunny. Director Steven Brill's last film, Drilbit Taylor, felt about 15 years passed it's expiration date and Walk of Shame falls under that same category. It's like something Molly Shannon probably passed on after leaving SNL. And while Banks looks as breathtaking as ever, she's absolutely drowning in this painfully unfunny film about a news anchor trying to make her way back home after a one night stand. Hopefully she gets another crack at a starring role because no one deserves a walk this shameful.